What We’ve Been Reading: Fall 2018
Here at Conciliar Post, many of us are avid readers, both within and without our varied vocations. These are just a few of the good books we’ve been reading lately!
Jeff Hart, Presbyterian
If you’ve ever wondered why it is so difficult to live out and share your faith in our modern context, you will benefit from reading Disruptive Witness. Drawing on the work of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, Alan Noble diagnoses the aspects of our secular age that make it challenging to maintain and share your faith. Noble highlights two key challenges: first, the way our culture prizes immediate gratification, stifling serious reflection; and second, the way the Christian faith has come to be seen as just one of many viable options for belief. Noble also provides a number of helpful strategies for living and sharing your faith in this context. While some readers may find parts of the book challenging, I think it is well worth the effort for just about any reader.
How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World At Odds (Alan Jacobs)
This delightful little book will encourage you and help you to think better as it challenges your habits of thought. The book’s biggest strength is that it treats thinking holistically, not as a strictly intellectual activity. Jacobs emphasizes how emotions influence (and should influence) thought and how genuine thought is communal, not individual. But even more importantly, Jacobs demonstrates how thinking is not a morally neutral exercise, but a thoroughly ethical activity. In Jacobs’ view, how well you think depends very much on what kind of a person you are and what kind of character you have cultivated. Such a message is needed in every age, but seems especially appropriate for our distracted, polarized age where true thinkers like Jacobs seem few and far between.
John Ehrett, Lutheran
Surprised By Beauty: A Listener’s Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music (Robert R. Reilly)
Reilly, a longtime music critic, invites readers into a sweeping review of modern composers whose work meaningfully reflects truth, goodness, and beauty. No atonal nihilism here: the artists Reilly celebrates are those who stand athwart the postmodern train tracks, producing powerful work that—like the canon of classical music pieces preceding them—evokes awe of the transcendent.
Pointing to linguistic developments that make much KJV English inaccessible to contemporary readers, Ward argues (controversially) that the KJV has largely outlived its usefulness as a translation for use in public worship and private devotions. While he makes an interesting case, I’m not buying his argument; the logic of “accessibility” all too often leads to a deracinated “nondenominational” theology that privileges simplicity over depth. I have to think that there are more interesting arguments against the KJV—in particular, its source manuscripts are no longer the earliest available extant texts—that Ward should’ve probed in greater depth.
Twelve Lectures on Architecture (Nikos A. Salingaros)
Through a careful study of the basic principles of design, Salingaros explains the fundamentals of order (ratios, shapes, contrasts, etc.) that undergird the architectural forms humans most cherish. In so doing, he makes a powerful argument for the significance of sacred architecture (and classical design more broadly) as a means through which human beings can live joyful lives.
Wesley Walker, Anglican
The Crucifixion (Fleming Rutledge)
Rev. Fleming Rutledge is exactly what the declining Mainline traditions need. She exhibits the sentiment of what is attractive about the classical Mainline while refusing to compromise on a robust theologia crucis (theology of the cross). While I have penned some minor criticisms of the book elsewhere, this is a necessary read regardless of your theological tradition as Rev. Rutledge articulates a Mere Christian proclamation of the Gospel that lies at the heart of our faith. In modern theology, it is very easy for us to get caught up in “being relevant” that we can unwittingly leave behind the Gospel. This book is a beautiful and strong reminder of what Christian preaching needs to be centered around: the crucified Christ. Also, keep an eye out for her new book Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus.
Exclusion and Embrace (Miroslav Volf)
I picked up Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace for research I am currently conducting for my STM thesis about Hagar and Ishmael. While he does not specifically address the story, his theology concerning how we engage the other is necessary in today’s partisan and divided world than ever before. Interaction with those different from ourselves must be thoughtfully done and this book provides a solid starting point for that project.
“Apostolicae Curae,” penned by Pope Leo XIII in 1896, is the papal bull which supposedly “invalidates” Anglican orders. Supposedly, Anglicans rejected the central focus of the ordained priesthood: the sacrifice of the Mass. “Saepius Officio” was the Anglican response written by Archbishop of Canterbury Frederick Temple and Archbishop of York William Maclagan. In it, they point out that the Pope either misunderstood the Anglican position or misrepresented it while pointing out that the standards imposed by the Roman pontiff in this case would have invalidated the orders of Orthodox and Roman orders as well. This document is important for me as an Anglican because it shows that we don’t have to be apologetic about our orders. There is a strong case to be made for why Anglican ministry is entirely valid.
Timon Cline, Reformed/Baptist
Aquinas Among the Protestants (Manfred Svebsson and David VanDrunen, eds.)
Aquinas is a much-maligned figure in Protestantism, and this excellent collection of essays serves to combat that. It is helpfully divided into two sections, the first dealing with the historical reception of Aquinas by the Reformed, and the second employing Aquinas constructively to address enduring theological questions. My favorite essays are Paul Helm’s on nature and grace (a recurring Protestant critique of Aquinas is that he conflates the two), and Torrance Kirby’s “Richard Hooker and Thomas Aquinas in Defining Law.”
Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility (Ronald S. Barnes & Richard C. Barcellos eds.)
In the wake of the controversies surrounding classical theism in evangelicalism over the past few years I am repeatedly pleased to see Reformed Baptists toeing the line of orthodoxy. These essays from Reformed Baptist Press is a helpful resource on immutability and impassibility. The exegetical portions addressing scriptures that seems to suggest passibilism are highly beneficial, as is chapters 8-9 surveying the historicity of the impassibility doctrine. But my favorite chapters are actually the two book reviews included at the end. They absolutely dismantle recent publications that espouse variations of theistic mutualism and the “properties” approach to conceiving of God’s being. This volume would make a splendid holiday gift for your favorite classical theist.
Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics (Stephen J. Grabill)
I’m reading this one as part of research for an ethics paper but that has made it no less enjoyable. It was published in 2006, so I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve just now discovered it. In my view, Grabill effectively proves that the western tradition of natural law was embraced and furthered by Reformed orthodoxy, especially in the works of Vermigli, Althusius, and of course, Calvin. For a more Lutheran-centric treatment of the subject, see Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal by Robert Baker and Roland Cap Ehlke.
We invite your participation in charitable discussion of these books in the comments section.