Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Theological Works for Teens

My good buddy, Pontificator (actually, I've never met him, but I've read his blog for quite some time, and I consider it one of the most impressive I can name -- and after all, we have both studied with Robert Jenson, so we're buddies in spirit, anyway), has devised lists of Theology Books for High Schoolers, here, and Theology Books for College Students, here. Now, Pontificator has recently swum the Tiber, so his list is, understandably, a little skewed in the direction of one branch of the Roman Catholic tree of knowledge. I'm wondering how we might supplement (or revise) his list.

How about we start a list of recommended works for high schoolers and college students -- books that every reasonably read graduate should have read.

A memory to help explain why this interests me: When I began college (at Concordia, Moorhead), the first professor I met in my first college class was Joan Buckley, who taught English. Joan became an inspiration, a mentor, and a friend -- and I am proud that we are still friends. Well, one evening fairly early in the semester, I was walking across a deserted parking lot, when this huge station wagon came barreling toward me. It came to a stop, and Professor Buckley jumped out. (She claims no memory of this event, but I assure you it is not apocryphal.) She told -- well, ordered in that polite firm way Joan has -- me to come with her, and off we went to her home, where she offered me coffee and Scandinavian cookies and promptly disappeared downstairs. She returned with a stack of books about 3 feet high (that may be a slight exaggeration?): Take these and work on them while you're here, she said; no one will make you read them, but you need to read these to be well-read. The works were mostly theological, not literary (I remember Kierkegaard, but the rest of the list is mushed up with other lists I keep in my head).

Well, that made a profound impression on me: first, that she would care enough about me to take such a personal interest; second, that there was (at least according to this prof) a kind of cultural canon that ought to be absorbed as a part of liberal education; third, that education (and later I'd understand: culture) included this aspect of personal transmission.

And so, in honor of the example of newly retired Joan Buckley, I issue this challenge to you: Name five books that every young person ought to read. If you want to add a sentence justifying your recommendation of each book, so much the better.

I'll begin with two books, with the disclaimer that I have not thought about this very long, so I'll be supplementing my list. This list is in no special order.

I have trouble recommending C.S. Lewis, who seems a natural, because I find him so boring. But his science fiction should probably be on the list.

Walter Wangerin, The Book of the Dun Cow.

This is a fable which re-casts the apocalypse in a bizarre and wonderful
way. It contains the most lyric commendation of the office of the hours
that I have read. (You didn't really think there would be no liturgy book, did
you? It's appropriate to any age.
N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus

Wright is one of the brightest, most prolific, and challenging of scholars.
This book would prepare kids to take on the Jesus Seminar, the other gnostics,
and the wackos who would make of Jesus an idea in their own image. It's pretty accessible, but I'd probably put it on the "college" list.

C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, Book One)
I'd like to think that this will lead to the other two in the trilogy. It's
another fictional entre to the realm of theological pondering.

Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline
This may be on the college list, but it is a marvelous and quite accessible
introduction to the essentials of the faith, organized around the Apostles'
Creed. It's a great place for any kid to begin.

OK; it's your turn.


Eric Lee said...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Cost of Discipleship - Does this need explaining? :)

Trevor Hart: Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology - a great look at why faith and reason should be united. It does a wonderful job of dispelling the myth of ultimate 'objectivity' without falling into the opposite trap of relativism.

John R. Franke: The Character of Theology: An Introduction to Its Nature, Task, and Purpose - a well-thought-out look at theological concerns in our current 'postmodern' situation. A very helpful read.

I don't really have 5, but these are a great start that definitely lean a bit toward the Protestant angle without being, in anyway, anti-Catholic.



Jim said...

Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally. (c) 2001 by Marcus J. Borg.

Without an understanding of the scriptures which we are given to believe, all else is built on sand.

Camassia said...

I remember Jonathan Wilson's For God So Loved The World: A Christology for Disciples as being a good moderately evangelical intro text that teens might be able to understand, although I say this with the caveat that I only read half of it. (I blame Telford: he has the habit of answering a simple question by loaning me an entire book.)

Dwight P. said...

Jim, I have probably said this too many times, but Marcus Borg was my first college religion instructor -- a kind of intro to Bible. He shook our faith with his straightforward look at the Bible through a historical-critical lens (though he never told us that that's what we were doing). I haven't read this particular work, but his other books tend to be too dismissive of the "Great Tradition" for me to be comfortable recommending them. Is this one better?

Marc is also a native of my father's hometown in North Dakota! There's almost a family connection. He is bright, charming, personable, and, hence, phenomenally influential!

I will admit upfront that I am deeply suspicious of any in the Jesus Seminar -- not because of an aversion to critical contemplation of the text, but because of the expressed "agenda" of some of the members. Marc has said that he really doesn't have time for the Church, and his colleague John Crossan has expressed a desire to kill the church off -- in both cases in service of Jesus. I, of course, don't buy that as a good starting point. Hence, my reservation.

Eric, do you think a sophisticated high schooler could hand "Discipleship"? I certainly recommend the new translation (the authoritative one from Fortress) over the Reggie Fuller translation: I think it is much clearer and to-the-point (and a closer approximation of the German, too). I, of course, would have no reservations about recommending it to college students.

Camassia, my daughter accuses me of being a mini-Telford: "Dad, it's a simple question. Can't you just give me the answer? I don't need the whole story!" But the book looks interesting. The excerpt at Amazon raised all kinds of questions for me. I may have to read it myself!

Chip Frontz said...

How about Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline?

For Bonhoeffer, I would recommend Life Together rather than Cost of Discipleship. It is much shorter and far more accessible. If I were to hand Discipleship to someone, I would recommend only the first part.

Frederick Buechner's Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC was given to me by my pastor when I was a freshman in college. It is somewhat dated, but still is a good read. It also has the value of being a book you can dip your toes into wherever you find yourself.

I hear good things about Bo Giertz's The Hammer of God from a Lutheran perspective, at least. I have not read it, though. It's being republished by Fortress this year.

How about some biography? Renate Bethge has just written a new short biography called Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Life. Some people might be interested in reading about Dorothy Day or Pope John Paul II.

Dorothy Sayers might be fun, too. Great post, Dwight.

Camassia said...

I hadn't read the Amazon blurb, but it makes it sound more pomo and out-there than I remember it actually being. When I read it I was very new to church and knew very little about postmodernism (which is still true, actually), I just found it to be a lot more readable than a lot of the other theological works. Maybe the blurb was just keeping Wilson's scholarly bona fides even though he wrote something that was actually comprehensible.

Eric Lee said...


Maybe I'm a bad person to ask what high school kids should be reading: I started reading Tom Clancy's Hunt for Red October in 4th grade and just started reading all of his books after that and so I never had problems understanding stuff that was a little lengthy or certain concepts, I guess (not that Clancy should really be juxtaposed at all with formal theology!).

I don't think the concepts in CoD are really that hard to grasp. I would probably say Hauerwas and beyond would be good college stuff, though. Anybody who quotes Stanley Fish and Foucault should probably not expect their books to be read by high schoolers, although I know I would have benefitted tremendously if I had read Hauerwas' Unleashing the Scripture when it came out because I was indeed in high school then!



RevDrWAJ said...

I have but one suggestion. The book was recommended to me by a current faculty member at my seminary alma mater. Originally published in 1967, this is a book that articulates what I have struggled to say for a very long time.
Vladimir Janelevitch: "Forgiveness"

RevDrWAJ said...

Eric Crump, Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg, commended this book to me. It is one of the most important books I've read and one that well and clearly articulates what I have been unable to for many years.

Vladimir Jankelevitch:"Forgiveness"
University of Chicago Press