These Books Will Change Your Life! (Or, More Important, Your Faith)

Apologies once again for the light posting last week. The family was out of town, which meant late nights for me and the consequent late mornings, as well.

But last week also featured the semiannual – or a little more often – tradition for us grad schoolers: The Ordering of the Textbooks. I’m not sure if anyone else gets as excited as I do about ordering textbooks, but let’s just say it’s definitely a highlight in my year. “You mean I have to order these books about a subject in which I am intensely interested? Well, if you insist …”

I’ve now been in graduate school for a year. A lot has changed in those 12 months, and a lot of it has been because of the books assigned by my professors. Some of the best, most challenging, most worldview-changing have been:

  • Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns – A book that dealt truthfully and openly with the contradictions, inconsistencies and abhorrent aspects of the Old Testament while still treating the Bible as a book to be revered, respected and affirmed as the inspired word of God. (I wrote three posts about it back in the fall.)
  • Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch by Jean-Louis Ska – Not nearly as accessible as Enns’ book, as it’s thoroughly a piece of scholarly writing, but it presents evidence clearly and convincingly from the text of the first five books of the Bible that they could not have all been written by one person. Especially fascinating are the breakdowns of the multiple flood narratives and other evidences of editors stitching together multiple tellings of the same tradition.

This semester I’m taking Early Christianity, which I believe will follow church history through the Middle Ages. Will any of these three books join the august list above? I guess we’ll see.

My questions entering this semester, fueled largely by Reading Judas, are about the very earliest years of the church’s history. How did bishops like Ireneaus and Ignatius end up as winners while the Gnostics who wrote such books as the gospels of Judas, Thomas, Mary of Magdala, etc., end up as the losers in those early battles? Were the latter as heretical as the former made them out to be, and were they a significant or marginal voice in the early church? Is there anything useful to be gleaned from the thoughts of these early Christians whose own words have only recently come to light, or is there obscurity a sign that God did not intend for their beliefs to be widely followed? Once again, I guess we’ll see if this class will provide some answers.

Class starts two weeks from today. At the risk of sounding just a touch nerdy: I can’t wait!

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