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.
- The Writings of the New Testament by Luke Timothy Johnson – This is more of a real textbook (full color, heavy, expensive), but it’s an incredible overview of each book of the New Testament, and it fairly explores the critical issues of authorship and historicity in each. It also makes a strong argument that the New Testament is far more egalitarian than today’s literalists would have us believe. (I also wrote about his views on the pistis Christou debate, something about which you need to know.)
- Amos: The Prophet and His Oracles by M. Daniel Carroll R. – This marriage of Amos to South American liberation theology was fascinating and sobering. Carroll R. also included some incredible modern-day reimaginings of Amos’ oracles, condemning instead the excesses of modern-day America. This book put me on my journey to better understand what God expects from us as Christians in a democratic society in which we hold tremendous power.
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.
- Church History, Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual and Political Context by Everett Ferguson. This is the true textbook of the group, as it’s in full-color and hardback.
- The Medieval World View: An Introduction by William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman
- Documents of the Christian Church by Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder
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!