Monday, September 19, 2011

The Best Book of 2011, plus 3 Others...

I spent some time today relaxing and reading from four books.

#1 - Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy, by James K.A. Smith. I am now over halfway through it, and have already crowned it Best Book I've Read in 2011. Today I read Smith's critique of current philosophy of religion studies. This kept slapping me silly in the face, with conviction and insights. I teach Philosophy of Religion. It is very heady, very rationalistic and Cartesian. Smith can be very heady - he's a great intellectual. But he's also a pentecostal, as I am. I am certain that, in real life, the headiness of philosophy of religion studies are way too narrow when it comes to real life. They discuss beliefs, but not worshiping believers. Most of the things we do are not evidentially (logically) arrived at. My own conversion to Christ, my own being-rescued by God, involved a revelation that there is a God who loves me, accompanied by a complete and lasting escape from drug use and alcohol abuse and their various attending behaviors. There is an epistemology of revelation, and Smith brilliantly articulates it.

#2 - "Knowing Jesus: Story, History and the Question of Truth," by Richard Hays (in Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright, Perrins and Hays, eds.). This is a Festschrift honoring N.T. Wright and his book Jesus and the Victory of God. Do you want to know what N.T. Wright is doing? Hays outlines 7 principles of Wright's methodology, and gives what he sees as strengths and weaknesses of Wright's JVC. Wright's working method, in 7 points, is: 1) critical realism (Wright rejects a naive historical positivism that thinks historical facts can be known objectively, and also rejects a radical postmodernist social construction of reality; 2) hypothesis and verification (immersion in the New Testament texts and other texts from the cultural environment of Second Temple Judaism that provide insight into Jesus' environment; 3) skepticism about form and redaction criticism, and about Synoptic source criticism; 4) extensive use of Second Temple Jewish Material (allowing Wright to "draw the map on which the Jesus of the Gospels is to be located"; 5) Exclusive focus on the Synoptic gospels (Hays and Marianne Meye Thompson challenge this aspect of Wright's methodology in JVC, and Wright responds with some agreement); 6) Inattention to the literary and theological shape of individual Gospels (for the sake of constructing the Grand Narrative); and 7) Reconstruction of a Jesus behind the canonical Gospels (the Gospels are windows throught which to see the real Jesus). This is an excellent essay, with an important, clarifying response by Wright himself.

3 - Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century, by Burton Mack. I've had this book on my Kindle for several months, and am wading through it. I read a review by Michael Ruse who said this is the book that should be read on this very important issue. BTW, this issue has become more important to me than ever, largely as a result of my reading of N.T. Wright on the eschaton.

4 - The Many Faces of Evil (Revised and Expanded Edition): Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil, by Joel Feinberg. This book gets some excellent reviews. I got it for $7 on my Kindle. In a few weeks I'll be teaching on the problem of evil in my Philosophy of Religion class. I read several pages today - so far it's mostly review for me. I hope to read it in its entirety before teaching again on evil and God.