It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post. Work and family life gets a little hectic around the end of the semester and the Christmas season. Since 2022 is wrapping up today, I thought I would write a New Year’s post by sharing my favorite books I read this year! Hope you find some ones to add to your reading list in 2023.
These are in no particular order.
- F. LeRon Shults and Robert Cummings Neville, editors. Religion in Multidisciplinary Perspective: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Approaches to Wesley J. Wildman. (SUNY Press, 2022). This volume is a festschrift written in honor of my doctoral advisor at Boston University, Wesley Wildman. LeRon gifted me a copy of the book when I was in Salt Lake City last summer for the Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought’s annual meeting, and I quickly began devouring it. As a longtime admirer of Wildman’s scholarship, it’s not surprising that I would find a lot to enjoy in this collection. Highlights include essays not only by Shults and Neville, but Nathaniel Barrett, Michael Raposa, Kevin Schilbrack, and Robert Corrington. That being said, the book is worth it purely on the basis of Nancy Frankenberry’s essay “Wildman’s Effing Symbology,” and Wildman’s response in the final chapter (a discussion I got to see reenacted in person in SLC). For those who don’t know her, Frankenberry is an absolutely brilliant philosopher – a former radical empiricist that took the linguistic turn so hard she left skid-marks. That Frankenberry is a critic of the neo-Tillichian concept of symbolic engagement is no surprise. She critiqued Neville on this front in the festschrift she edited on his work, Interpreting Neville. She brings her critique to Wildman’s work on ineffability in this essay with precision, clarity, and delightful snark – including comparing Wildman to the Tom Hanks character in the Da Vinci Code. Watching these old friends battle it out is a joy.
- Michael L. Raposa. Theosemiotic: Religion, Reading, and the Gift of Meaning. (Fordham University Press, 2020). Raposa first developed his notion of theosemiotics in the final chapter his now classic book Peirce’s Philosophy of Religion (1989), but in this volume he takes the concept in a more constructive direction in this account of religious interpretation and meaningfulness. The book not only includes treatments of Peirce, but of Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, Emerson, and H. Richard Niebuhr, amongst others. A beautifully written book that really shows the potential of Peirce’s philosophy for philosophical theologians, and one that I think I will be returning to for years to come.
- Bruce L. McCormack. Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development 1909-1936). (Clarendon Press, 1997). I’m late to the party on this one, as this book has been a classic for 25 years, but I had never read this piece of McCormack’s before. This is one of the more insightful treatment of Barth’s theology I’ve come across, one which challenges the dominant neo-orthodox reading of Barth (following Von Balthazar). McCormack provides an intellectual biography of Barth’s development, from his break from liberalism through the writing of the early volumes of the Church Dogmatics. His interpretation sees far more continuity between the Barth of the Romanscommentary and the mature Barth of the CD, with a particular emphasis on how Barth developed (and never abandoned) his notion of dialectic. I’d read some of McCormack’s essays, as well as the volume Orthodox and Modern before, but this early book of his shows him as a matchless interpreter of Barth in the English language. If you haven’t read this, pick it up and catch up.
- Jonathan Edwards. A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World. (Posthumously published in 1765). Speaking of being late to the party…. When I was working on my final comprehensive exam for my Ph.D. I was doing some work on Edwards theology, including Freedom of the Will, Religious Affections, and The Nature of True Virtue. In the process I stumbled upon the dissertation in a collection of Edwards’ work, which had not been originally on my bibliography. I am so happy I did. Edwards writes beautifully and persuasively about the nature of divine glory, a concept which has become central to my own theology. A beautiful piece of reformed theology.
- Robert Cummings Neville. Seasons of the Christian Life. (Cascade Books, 2016). I always find it fascinating to see how theologians preach, to see how their concepts translate to the different context and genre of writing. I’ve been a regular reader of Tillich’s collected volumes of sermons for years, but I also have similar volumes by Barth and Schleiermacher, even of Wildman. The continued publication of Neville’s sermons has been a gift to the world of theology. When Neville was the Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, Neville preached the full three year cycle of the lectionary. In doing so, he has shown himself to a master interpreter of the Christian tradition, playing the symbols of the scriptures like a musical virtuoso. As Dave Rohr has pointed out, Neville’s sermons may represent the crown jewel of his philosophical theology. A beautifully written and inspiring collection.
- Amy Platinga-Pauw and Serene Jones, editors. Feminist and Womanist Essays in Reformed Dogmatics. (Columbia Theological Seminary Press, 2006). I’ve been doing a lot of work in reformed theology, both for course prep and for my own scholarship. Let me tell you, finding diverse voices in the often conservative reformed tradition can be a challenge. Stumbling across this volume was a Godsend. This collection of essays constructively engages and critiques the reformed tradition from a variety of perspectives and doctrinal loci. I have not yet read the volume from cover to cover, but every essay I’ve read so far has been fantastic. I look forward to teaching this volume in the coming year.
- Belden C. Lane. Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality. A new colleague in Salt Lake City recommended this book to me this last summer and it has been a great discovery. Lane reads the Reformed tradition with an eye for aesthetics and desire, and it is a great read. The sections on Calvin, Edwards, and of puritan thought more generally are invaluable. Although Lane is doubtless more of a religious traditionalist than I am, I found him to be a kindred spirit, intoxicated by the utter wildness of nature’s God, and attentive to the connection between God and the power of nature. A great book that helps to overcome some of the stereotypes about Calvinists, and one that helps show the potential resources for eco-theology in Reformed theology. Looking forward to reading some more of Lane’s work in the coming year. I currently have a copy of The Solace of Fierce Landscapes on my nightstand, which explores apophatic theology, and the spirituality of deserts and mountains.
- Donald A. Crosby. Primordial Time: Its Irreducible Reality, Human Significance, and Ecological Import. (Lexington Books, 2020). That Donald Crosby is 90 years old and still putting out such rich philosophical material at the rate of about a book a year is astonishing. He is truly a gift. This account of temporality is the latest development of Crosby’s pragmatist, radical empiricist, naturalist, process philosophical system and religious perspective. For an abstract topic like the reality of time, Crosby manages to be a consistently engaging writer. I often feel as if I am having a philosophical debate in my head, with Crosby and George Allan whispering in one ear, and Robert Neville whispering in the other about the nature of Time and Eternity.
- Karl Barth. Church Dogmatics, Vol. 1.1, Sections 1-7, Study Edition 1. (Bloomsbury, 2010). This is a bit of a cheat, but I’m going to count it. I’ve had a copy of the standard 14-volume hardcover set of the CD since I was in my M.A. degree. This year I began to collect the new Study Edition. Honestly, it’s a life saver. While this is the same translation, this edition is a marked improvement solely on the basis of including translations of the Greek and Latin passages. Throughout the CD, especially in the small print sections, Barth quotes the church fathers and the biblical text, but does so in their original languages. While I can do some reading in German and French, I have never had to study ancient languages. This makes engaging Barth’s opus in depth a challenge. Offering the translations as footnotes makes this far more accessible to contemporary readers. The Study Edition also includes the original pagination from the 14 volume translation, so it makes cross referencing and citation a breeze regardless of which edition you’re working with.
- Demian Wheeler. Religion Within the Limits of History Alone: Pragmatic Historicism and the Future of Theology. (SUNY Press, 2021). Another cheat. I read this book in manuscript a few years ago, but this year I got to revisit my friend and colleague Demian Wheeler’s book for the first time since it was published. I can’t stress how impressive this work is, especially for a young scholar. His account of the Chicago school of theology, and the “Iliff School” of Pragmatic historicists (e.g., Bill Dean, Sheila Davaney, Delwin Brown), is impressive enough. But Wheeler combines this with a unique take on theology of religions and comparative theology, an argument for a paleopragmatist theory of truth, and a constructive account of a Pragmatic Historicist theology of the divine grounded in a kind of apophatic pantheism. A brilliant book. That I’m mentioned in the acknowledgments is a cherry on top!
Happy New Year to you all, dear readers!