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What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Every once in a while people ask me what I’ve been reading lately. Well, the last six months I’ve actually been doing a lot of writing rather than reading. I have been working feverishly on Jesus Versus Jehovah?, but I had to take a break the last month or so to write an essay and several responses to other views for the forthcoming Four Views of Providence (Zondervan) (W.L.Craig and I go toe-to-toe on this one…some of you will like it.) Still, I’ve managed to get some reading in. Here (to the best of my recollection) are the books I’ve read since last November, with little reviews.

E,. Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior. Well written and researched book wrestling with divine violence in the O.T. Seibert sets out the problem of divine violence in the Old Testament very well and, in my estimation, has all the right intuitions. Unfortunately, in my view, he gets God “off the hook” for this divine violence by arguing the texts that depict God engaging in violence are simply wrong. The events just didn’t happen, or at least didn’t happen as expressions of divine judgment. My view of inspiration doesn’t allow me this “out,” nor do I think it necessary to take this “out.” But I appreciate Seibert’s honest wrestling with the issue.

T. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament. I love the way Fretheim reads the Old Testament! He shows how the God of the Old Testament is a God who is not unilaterally controlling or capricious, but is responsive and covenantal. He fleshes out a “relational” model of creation that is just so right!

T. Fretheim, God and Natural Disasters (unpublished). This book hasn’t been published yet, but I was given an advanced copy to endorse. Fretheim does an excellent job showing, largely on the basis of the flood narrative, that while the O.T. clearly presents God using natural disasters for his own purposes, it doesn’t mean all disasters have a divine purpose or that God unilaterally causes even those disasters that he uses. One theme that Fretheim picks up on that I’ll make extensive use of in my own book is that Yahweh punishes by withdrawing his protection and allowing evil to run its course.

A. Heschel. The Prophets. This is Heschel’s magnum opus, and I’m embarrassed to say I’d never read it. Truth be told, I didn’t even read all of it this time, just those parts that seemed pertinent to the work I’m doing. But what I read was very enlightening. Heschel’s work on “divine wrath” is classic.

N. Langiulli, Possibility, Necessity and Existence. An atrociously written book. English must be Langiulli’s second language. Seriously terrible. Nevertheless, the book has some insightful sections. It explores the thought of an Italian philosopher named Nicola Abbagnano (whom I’d never heard of), and the reason it interested me is that Abbagnano correctly understood that “will” and “will not” are contraries, not contradictories. YES!! On this basis he argues, against the entire western tradition, that possibility is a more fundamental logical and metaphysical category than necessity. YES!!! Too bad he writes so terribly. I doubt more than a handful of people have ever, or will ever, bother to go through the trouble of understanding what he’s saying.

M. Hardin, The Jesus Driven Life (unpublished). I received an advanced copy to endorse. An amazingly comprehensive, scholarly, yet readable overview of the view of Jesus and the Kingdom in the early church (but really, this book is actually about theology as a whole). What I like most about this book is that Hardin demonstrates just how thoroughly the Gospel has been co-opted by the pagan values of western culture.

M. Nation, John Howard Yoder . Best thing on Yoder I’ve ever read. If you want a solid and insightful introduction into the thought of this Mennonite genius, this is it.

N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope. I’ve had this book for almost two years but only got around to reading it while on a recent vacation. As with all of Wright’s book, it’s marvelous. I wish I could write like Wright! He does a fantastic job showing how the ultimate hope in Scripture is not for God’s people to leave earth and go to heaven, but to have heaven brought down to earth. He also has some interesting reflections on what Jesus was referring to with his “end of the world” (not!) language as well as on “the intermediate state” (between death and resurrection). I wish every Christian who believes in a literal “rapture” would read this book!
John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, Vol. II. Israel’s Faith. I love how Goldingay lets the text speak for itself, even when it says “heretical” things (like God changes his mind, finds things out, travels up and down, etc.). Because he’s an exegete and not a theologian, he gets away with a lot.

Oord, J. Creation Set Free. This is the collection of essays by openness scholars discussing ways science and open theology intersect. I have an essay in this collection (“Evolution as Cosmic Conflict”) but hadn’t read the other essays until recently. Some of them are really good. The best is Alan Rhoda’s “Beyond the Chess Analogy: Game Theory and Divine Providence.” This essay alone is worth the price of the book!

R. Sterns. The Hole in Our Gospel. A former C.E.O. of one of America’s top companies discovers that the American Gospel has an enormous hole in it! The true Gospel, Stern argues, is not just about believing in Jesus, but living like Jesus and in the power of Jesus. And at the center of the true Gospel is the call to living self-sacrificially and with a heart toward the poor. This is a wonderful, compelling, hard hitting book!

And finally,

S. Corbett, B. Fikkert, When Helping Hurts. What an eye-opener! So much of what suburban predominately white churches and organizations do, with the best of intentions, to help the poor actually does more harm than good. A must read for all middle to upper middle class Christians — especially leaders of churches and organizations — who seriously want to help.

Keep reading, praying, loving and living!


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