Posted by: Dan | March 31, 2006

March Books

Well, not as many books this month, but that’s to be expected since the term is winding down.

1. Contagious Holiness: Jesus’ meals with sinners by Craig Blomberg. After completing my major paper on the Lord’s Supper last term, I sent a copy to Scot McKnight and he was kind enough to dialogue with me about the paper (William Cavanaugh also read my paper and gave me some helpful feedback). Scot pointed to Blomberg’s book and so I finally got around to finishing it. This book is an excellent study that examines table fellowship in the Old Testament, in the intertestamental period, and in the Greco-Roman world of the first century. Blomberg argues that Jesus is well-rooted in the Jewish practice of table fellowship, but what is radically new with Jesus is that he eats with the impure, the unclean, and the sinners because he believes that it is holiness, not sinfulness, that is contagious. Blomberg then concludes with a reflection on the importance of Christians recovering the practice of this type of contagious holiness through table fellowship. This is an excellent book.

2. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright. This is the new Mere Christianity, a top-notch reflection on Christian living today. I hope the folks back in Ontario that read this blog go out and buy this book. Wright breaks the book into three parts. The first part is a description of the contemporary situation defined by the cry for justice, the hunger for spirituality, the longing for relationships, and the quest for beauty. We desire these four things and yet they continually elude us, like echoes of a voice that spoke while we were sleeping. The second part is a description of the Christian story from God to Israel, to Jesus, to Pentecost, and the Church. The third part brings the first two parts together and focuses on worship, prayer, the bible, the Church, and the new creation.

3. The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform by Roger E. Olson. This book covers a lot of ground very quickly, as twenty centuries of Christianity are packed into 600 pages. However, it was a useful refresher, and a good one volume work on the history of the Church, the various movements in theology and the great thinkers from our past. The author’s biases do come through here and there (an Anabaptist bias, and one that is highly critical of any Greek influences on Christianity) but I suppose that that sort of thing is inescapable when it comes to writing history. Besides my own biases are fairly similar to Olson’s, so no harm done.

4. Kicking the Post out of Ultra-Modernity by Thomas C. Oden. This doesn’t really count as a book per se. It is a short encyclical that was originally given as a plenary address to the Evangelical Theological Society. As the title suggests, Oden is arguing that postmodernity is just a thinly disguised hypermodernity (a notion that is well inline with Lyotard’s definition of postmodernity), and thus contemporary Christians are faced with a deepening of the challenges modernity posed against Christianity. In response to these challenges Oden argues for a return to Scripture that recovers something of the broader tradition of exegesis. He also argues for a return to a “Christian world” in the sense that the world be understood at God’s world. Furthermore, in the section that I enjoyed the most, he argues that a willingness to suffer for truth is intrinsic to a Christian understanding of truth. Finally, he concludes by affirming the hope that God will continue to ensure the existence of his Church.

5. Growing in the Prophetic by Mike Bickle. Finally I find a half decent book written by a member of the recent charismatic movement. Bickle desires to bring together a serious study of Scripture and a commitment to the contemporary prophetic movement. He writes with humility, and is not afraid to illustrate his points with mistakes made by his congregation as they have journeyed through this. I don’t always agree with Bickle, but at least I didn’t get to the end of this book and want to throw it out.

6. The Question Concerning Technology by Martin Heidegger. In this work, Heidegger’s thesis is that the essence of technology is best described as a non-technological enframing that challenges humanity to reveal the actual as standing-reserve. Technology is essentially a way of revealing. It brings-forth (i.e. presences) nature as if everything is merely a supply of energy that can be unlocked, exposed, and stored. Heidegger’s definition counters the prevalent instrumental-anthropological definition of technology. His definition reveals the danger inherent to technology, for technology (as an enframing that challenges forth) blocks poesis, which is also a revealing that brings forth. Yet the discovery of the essence of technology also points the way to salvation. Thus, the question concerning technology is a question concerning the constellation in which revealing and concealing, and the essential unfolding of truth propriates. Consequently, Heidegger urges the reader to focus upon poesis as the techne which most fully reveals truth, in order to break free from the hold that technology’s enframing has upon actuality. This is a great essay, and one that has left a permanent mark on all discussions about the relationship between technology and culture.

7. Down to This: squalor and splendour in a big-city shantytown by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall. This book was a birthday gift from a friend, and it was an excellent gift. The author writes about his experience living for ten months in what was the largest hobo town in North America — Toronto’s very own Tent City. It was interesting to read this book since I know most of the neighbourhoods, places, and agencies that the author describes. He does an excellent job of providing an honest glimpse of what homelessness does to people. This is a fine example of truth-telling that does not romanticise, or villianise, the people described. Recommended reading.

8. Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut. My old tree-planting foreman has been telling me to read Vonnegut for years. I finally got around to reading this classic story about the bombing of Dresden at the end of WWII (Vonnegut was actually in Dresden as a P.O.W. when the bombing occurred — a bombing that killed more civilians than those killed at Hiroshima or Nagasaki). It’s hard to describe the feelings one gets from this book — sorrow, and laughter, and anger, and resignation. I guess the book does a pretty good job of reflecting what it’s like to live as broken people in a broken world. And so it goes.

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