Posted by: Dan | March 1, 2006

February Books

Well, a pretty good month for reading. Ended up reading a few I didn’t expect to read, and not reading a few that I had intended to read. So it goes. Without further ado:

1. The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World by Richard A. Horsley and Neil Asher Silberman. I’ve gotta say that I was rather disappointed by this one. I really wanted to like this book, I have always supported a counter-imperial political reading of Jesus and Paul, and so I was hoping to find an ally in the authors of this book. After all, this book is all about how Jesus and Paul were socio-political counter-cultural revolutionaries exercising a type of preferential option for the poor. Unfortunately the authors, so driven to counter voices both from the Jesus Seminar (who argue that Jesus was a wandering Cynic teaching timeless, apolitical, truths) and from mainstream American Evangelicalism (who argue that America is the Kingdom of God), push their point to the an extreme and end up throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath-water. Consequently, the authors display a type of “we know better because of recent archaeology” attitude that is really quite unfounded. Because they think they know better they feel that it is okay to pick and choose what they want from the New Testament canon, and discard anything that seems “religious”. They thus create a false dichotomy between “religion/spirituality” and “politics/economics”, and in doing so they deny the significance of the resurrection for early Christianity, and they also deny the divinity of Jesus, arguing that he preached (of all things!) a “kingless kingdom”. Oh dear.

2. Cross Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words by Stanley Hauerwas. This was a fairly simple devotional read. I always enjoy Hauerwas and this book was no exception. It should be read slowly over a number of days, not devoured in half an hour — as those of us who read many books would be tempted to do. I’m actually working on writing a response to it entitled, “Cross Shattered Lives” so I’ll hold off further comments for now.

3. Cur Deus Homo by St. Anselm of Canterbury. Within this book (whose title means “Why God Became Man” — not “Why God Became Gay” as some have supposed), Anselm tries to argue, from logic alone without an appeal to revelation or Scripture, that (1) there is no salvation apart from Christ and (2) how salvation is accomplished through Christ. Anselm breaks from the early Church Fathers who mainly understood the atonement to be God triumphing over Satan, and argues that Christ died to satisfy God’s justice. Anselm marks the beginning of scholasticism and throughout this book he seeks to prove his points using logic alone, and not appealing to Scripture or revelation. Of course, I tend to think that all attempts to do this are bound to fail but Anselm was living in a very different world than us (and had been castrated) so what can I say?

4. From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings compiled and introduced by Jean Danielou. It was interesting to read this book with Hans Boersma (one of my profs) since Boersma has a much more positive view of the Christian-Platonist synthesis that existed for several centuries of Christianity. I want to like Gregory because of his Universalism but I really struggle when it comes to reading authors who treat the bible like a spiritual allegory. I’ve got to get over that somehow, but I’m tempted to just toss the book out because the hermeneutics seem so ridiculous.

5. The Freedom of a Christian, The Bondage of the Will, The Ninety-five Theses, and Theses for the Heidelberg Disputation by Martin Luther. I had fun reading these little selections by Luther. I was struck by his emphasis upon engaging in a cruciform theology, and particularly by his emphasis (in The Freedom of a Christian) that all the works Christians perform should be motivated by their love for their neighbours. Thus, summing up his argument that Christians are both lords over all (kings), and subject to all (priests), he says, “We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself but in Christ and in his neighbour. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbour through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbour.”

6. Letters from Lake Como: Explorations in Technology and the Human Race by Romano Guardini. This pastoral reflection is actually a part of a “Ressourcement” series. Here, Guardini reflects upon the ways in which major technological changes have made it impossible for culture to remain human. This is so because human culture is premised upon an organic link to nature and a machine-based culture has severed that link. He explores this in various ways, laments much of the consequences of this, but ultimately embraces this culturally transition as an act of God. Therefore, he argues that this new technological culture must be humanised so that a new cosmos can burst forth. Guardini is a gentle writer but I do wonder if he has missed the mark a little here. Voices like McLuhan and Postman remind us that humanised media may not be as easy as we imagine. In fact, for certain media, it could prove to be impossible. Plus, I can’t shake the feeling that Hegel is haunting this book and giving Guardini a skewed perspective on history.

7. Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language by Umberto Eco. Read it, struggled with it, rather enjoyed it, and am blogging my way through it, so I won’t bother commenting here.

8. The Twelve Caesars by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. This is a beautiful little piece, written in the second century, that traces the lives of the Caesars from Julius Caesar to Domitian. The stories are well told and convey both the reality and the otherness of ancient Rome to the contemporary reader. Quite enjoyable.

9. Night by Elie Wiesel. I found it somewhat ironic that this book appeared on Oprah’s book club shortly after the scandal involving the memoirs of James Frey. There is no better way to restore one’s credibility than by exploiting the memoirs of a Holocaust survivor. However, Oprah’s thumbs-up meant that a book that I have been looking for (ever since I read The Crucified God back in 2001) was suddenly accessible everywhere. Wiesel tells a poignant and tragically insightful story that doesn’t linger on details, but also doesn’t pull any punches. He manages to walk a fine-line, not candy-coating anything, but also not using violence to titillate the reader. This book is recommended reading.

10. Naked by David Sedaris. This was just good, fun, mindless reading that made me laugh out loud several times. Sedaris’ autobiographical accounts have a way of striking a cord in a lot of people. We didn’t all grow up as obsessive-compulsive homosexuals working in apple processing plants, and visiting nudist colonies but, damn, we wished we did after reading this book.

11. Dos and Don’ts: 10 Years of Vice Magazine’s Street Fashion Critiques by Gavin McInnes. Remember when you were young and you thought is was hilariously bad-ass to say “fuck” and write rude words in the snow at Church retreats? Well, Gavin McInnes is the guy who never really stopped being like that and decided to make a job out of it by taking pictures of people on the street and writing captions about them. Honestly, these critiques crack me up more than most things. However, I should issue a disclaimer: this book does contain nudity, swearing, and vulgar humour. Unfortunately, due to the work I do, I have become quite desensitised to all of the above. Most Christians, however, have not. And if you are one of those Christians, do not even think about reading this book.

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