Promising Reads for 2012


Each year I set out to read books from a variety of categories. 2012 is no different, with an ambitious goal (for me, given the life I lead) of FINISHING at least a dozen books. Last year, it was eight, cover to cover, along with plenty of partial reads for research, study and teaching. A couple of my hope-to titles this year include Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson and Poets Thinking: Pope, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats by Helen Vendler. Both are loaded on the Kindle and sampled. But I can’t devour them until I finish this:

I ran across this book, All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert Dreyfus (Berkeley) and Sean Dorrance Kelly (Harvard), while browsing the philosophy section at Barnes & Noble. It grabbed my attention by quickly calling out the exhausting meaninglessness of modern life and the hopelessness of nihilism. Admitting that a loss of the sacred is the source of both maladies, the authors propose. . .ahem!. . .a re-appropriation of polytheism, based in the ancient Greeks’ openness to the world as a gift of the gods. The central source for the re-sacralization of postmodern life is Homer, whose attributed writings provide, admittedly, a fountain for Western culture. So far, I have found the Dreyfus-Kelly analysis of the emptiness of existentialism and its legacy to be incisive. Their narrative analysis of decline since the Enlightenment resonates with what I learned under the best seminary profs. Of course, their prescription is no cure, in my view. Neo-paganism provides no more of a moral compass for the future than did paganism in the ancient past.

I’m only about 30 percent in to All Things Shining, but I am committed to finishing it before I pick up something else. . .except for this book: Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and UnpleasantWayfaring: Essays Pleasant and UnpleasantIn a recent post, I admitted my newfound-old-love for the essay. Alan Jacobs has provided a collection of thoughtful short pieces that muse on such subjects as “the usefulness and dangers of blogging, the art of dictionary making, the world of Harry Potter, and an appreciation of trees” (Amazon.com). I hope to follow Alan’s Christian mind on a journey that will help me organize my own thought life and writing.

I have a few other books I absolutely want to read in various categories: science fiction (The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven); theology (Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth by Alister McGrath) and biography (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas). But by far, the best find of 2011 and most promising read of 2012 is a tome by newly-appointed professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, G.K. Beale.

Beale: A New Testament Biblical Theology

One thousand pages of pure fun! And a bit of redundancy.

I pre-ordered the hardcover premier of A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New based on my prior exposure to Dr. Beale’s teaching. I knew this would be his magnum opus. I was not disappointed. Two of his previously published works, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry and The Temple and the Church’s Mission are substantially summarized, applied and/or reproduced in this book, along with more of his writings including scholarly articles, and lectures. The groundbreaking (and painstaking) work of bringing the disciplines of biblical studies and biblical theology together with previously uncharted territory in New Testament theology makes this book the ONE that people with my bent–a love of the Bible-as-canon and dissatisfaction with the logical categories and proof-texting of systematic theology–absolutely must acquire and devour.

I plan to literally (figuratively) soak in this book all year long, hauling it along as a companion for Bible devotion and teaching prep as well as carefully reading key chapters and summarizing them. I’m about 80 pages in, with several other relevant sections highlighted and cross-referenced.  I could gush more–about Dr. Beale’s unassuming style, his love for the biblical text and its Author, his plain-spoken weaving of eschatalogical themes into a practical reading and application of the New Testament–but I’d better shut up until I’ve read more. If you want a better idea of the scope and significance of this book, check out the synopsis and comments at Reformation Heritage Books, where you can still get the pre-order price, I think. One critical observation: there is quite a bit of redundancy in this thousand page monster, but I’m choosing to view it as reiteration. Repetition is pedagogically (and theologically) sound, even if stylistically annoying.


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Enticed by the Essay


In my search for a genre…

Wait a minute, who starts a post, “In my search for a genre?” / The son of a son of a writer.

In my search for a genre, I’ve lately been enticed by the essay.

When I was a kid, essays and short stories were my favorite genre to read. Nearly as rewarding as reading a novel (and sometimes just as enveloping), a well-crafted essay gives us the ability to see the world in a grain of sand. It’s a compact genre, like poetry. Yet essays can appear to be meandering, following the contours of the mind and paying off in terms of the journey, even if the destination is different for various readers. The essay seems to fit my innate need to analyze, to reflect, to meditate.

Just today, I found myself nosing through the history of the essay, realizing some of my favorite literary figures–from Arthur Miller to Flannery O’Connor–have been essayists. I guess I read more short stories (both Miller and O’Connor have composed some great ones), but I seem to recall getting lost in some Orwell piece as a teenager, or maybe it was an O. Henry story. I dunno. Obviously, some education is needed before a betrothal is made.

Flirting with the essay, though, I have been doing for decades. This admission may be too much: I loved college essays! From the literary analysis questions on the SAT test to the three-hour festschrifts of graduate school, essays have treated me well and been an enduring object of my affection. But now, I feel like I should get serious. It’s time to get to know the genre I’ve used, but never really settled with.

So, anybody have suggestions for great literary essays to read? Where should I start?