Over the past few weeks, mostly while putting off study, I have been thinking through what books I would chose if I were running a kind of overview/introduction to Christianity. The kind of thing you might pull together for a reading group, Bible study, or adult confirmation class. In my hypothetical most people have had some contact with Christianity, I mean, at least enough to be interested in reading six books. I placed a couple of limitations on myself, just to add to the fun, each book had to be written in this millennium and had to be less than 250pages (not including notes, bibliography, etc). I also limited it to 6 books, therefore participants have 2 months per book. I tried to get a bit of diversity in thought and location, but I acknowledge there are blind spots.
Anyway, enough fluff, let's get to the list. Below are the books I've chosen with a little written as to the "why", have a read and then let me know in the comments what you think of my list and what would be on yours :)
1) Quest for the Living God, Elizabeth Johnson.
I've written about Elizabeth Johnson's excellent introduction to theology before. The work is accessible, fresh, and approaches theology through a glorious array of lenses. Providing succinct surveys of various global theologies, Johnson also includes chapters on ecotheology, feminist theology, religious pluralism, and the Trinity. The overriding theme of the need for a living, evolving theology to speak of a living God is an excellent launching pad.
2) Jesus: Lord, Liar, Lunatic... or Awesome, Tripp Fuller.
Another book I've written about (well, wrote about what its movie adaptation would look like). Tripp Fuller, of Homebrewed Christianity Podcast fame, wrote an excellent, pocket-size intro to Jesus. Picking up on the crazy complexity of Christology and the fact that God should be as least as nice as Jesus, Tripp highlights the problems of shallow formulaic confessions, outlines some of the major moves in the history of Christology, unpacks the Biblical scholarship on the Gospels, shows the importance of historical Jesus scholarship, and drops the "g" out of the Kindom of God. All of this is done with wit, warmth, and flair. The work finishes with some ramifications of zesty Christology, which include environmental, feminist, and political insights.
3) The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James Cone.
The work of the father of Black Theology is as relevant as ever. In this exceptional and heart-wrenching work Cone traces the link between the cross of Christ and the lynchings of Black men and women in America. He deftly shows the way the two speak into one another in a way which saves the cross from sanitised piety and gives hope and meaning to the racist violence of the lynching tree. At its heart it is a song of hope to a God of the oppressed, a God of liberation, the God of Jesus who showed solidarity to the poor and marginalised right through to the end.
4) Embracing the Other: the Transformative Spirit of Love, Grace Ji-Sun Kim.
From a feminist Asian perspective Grace Ji-Sun Kim argues that it is only through the Spirit of God, who works to restore shalom, that brokenness can be healed so that we can embrace the other, bringing about a new community of love. The Spirit, which can so often be overlooked, misunderstood, or both, is something (someone) that needs to be grappled with, and this work which reimagines and grounds the Spirit in contextual need is one of the ways to go about doing that.
5) Like Fire in the Bones: Listening for the Prophetic Word in Jeremiah, Walter Brueggemann.
After covering trends in world theology, the Godhead, and the crucifixion it's time to get into the Bible. Here, like with the following book, I decided that rather than an overview of the Old or New Testament I would go with a book on one book. And when you're talking OT, who better than Brueggemann, and when you're talking Brueggemann what better than the Prophets (ok, maybe tied with the Psalms). The benefit of this book on Jeremiah is that even as it focus the scope (allowing the benefit of depth), Brueggemann is so adept at OT scholarship that you essentially get the entire prophetic corpus thrown in for free. The other great thing about this book is it shows with clarity, the urgent necessity of prophetic voices today.
6) Matthew: a Theological Commentary, Stanley Hauerwas.
This is a "commentary" that is to be read cover to cover, almost as its own story - not a minor feat. Brimming with underline-able passages Hauerwas unpacks Matthew's Gospel is a way quite unlike any other commentary I've read. There are many of the usual Hauerwasian touches and focuses, but that is not something to shy away from. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this book is how it makes one excited to read and re-read the Gospel of Matthew searching for more about this strange protagonist named Jesus - which is why I thought it would be a good one to finish with.
On Religion, John D. Caputo. I was really sad I couldn't squeeze in a radical theologian, so this would be my first alternate if we were really fast readers or something.
Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, Kelly Brown Douglas
The Strength of Her Witness: Jesus Christ in the Global Voices of Women. Ed. Elizabeth Johnson (over 250p) Haven't read this yet, only just released - but I have a good feeling.
Our Mother Saint Paul, Beverley Roberts Gaventa (over 250p)
Reason, Faith, and Revolution, Terry Eagleton.
So, jump into the comments and let me know what you think or what you would do differently. And if anyone would actually be interested in reading these books in a group, let me know.