Reading (at the bookstore or on reserve)
(Warning: Beware the used or library textbook with highlighting. Do the human race a favor and don't highlight your books.)
The Holy Bible.
Michael Jinkins, Invitation to Theology: A Guide to Study, Conversation
& Practice, IVP, 2001.
This brief introduction to Christian doctrine presents the main dimensions of theological reflection in a logical order that roughly matches the order of the course. Jinkins is a Presbyterian theologian who teaches at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas. His theology follows the Apostles' Creed, expresses the modern Reformed tradition, ranges wide, and constantly looks for creative means to train readers in how to think and live theologically. It is centered, without being narrow. It is accessible, without being shallow. It asks the right questions, and helps readers struggle fruitfully for the answers rather than answering for them too quickly. It is a little more liberal than both Westmont in general and your professor in particular, but I want you to benefit from its challenge. It can help us learn how critically to appropriate the thoughts of fellow Christians who occasionally disagree with us.
Brian D. McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further
Adventures of a New Kind of Christian, Jossey-Bass, 2003.
Our generations stand in the midst of a painful transformation from modernity to postmodernity. You have felt the tremors even if you haven't learned to name them. This book will help you name them. It is the second in this pastor's series of books whose premise is that postmodernity is bringing about "a new kind of Christian." Rather than offering a cool philosophical analysis of that claim (such a thing would be too modern anyway), it tells stories of various somewhat fictional modern believers and skeptics discovering the promise and danger of postmodern faith through friendships with a postmodern Jamaican Episcopal science teacher.
I don't agree with everything in this book, and you won't either. But I agree with its central contention: That as modernity crumbles, modern Christianity is crumbling along with it; and as postmodernism arrives, a postmodern Christianity is arriving that differs from its predecessor. We live in exciting and risky times. Whether or not you are (or become) "a new kind of Christian," now is the time, and Westmont is the place, for you to face that future.
Jonathan Wilson, God So Loved the World: A Christology for Disciples,
This course tells the story of Israel, then the story of Jesus, then the story of the Church. Is that one story, or three? One, of course. And Jonathan Wilson will help us appreciate that point thoroughly. Wilson is my former colleague at Westmont. He has been a beloved and respected voice here, and will continue to be even now that he has departed us to teach at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia. His Christology sets the story of Jesus in the context of the fulfilling story of Israel and the unfolding story of the Church. Or, rather, he sets the story of Israel/Church in the context of the story of Jesus. Systematic theology has often been inexcusably brief in describing the world-transforming ministry of Jesus, and his project supplies badly needed narrative detail at precisely that point.
Fleming Rutledge, Help My Unbelief, Eerdmans, 2000.
Preaching is one of the places where theology really breathes. This is a collection of beautiful sermons from one of America's best preachers. Her messages brilliantly tie biblical texts to most of the topics of our course. We will read them to absorb theology-in-practice, to wrestle with faithful challenge and honest doubt, and to appreciate Scripture at work in the hands of a skilled practitioner.
Anthony Weston, A Rulebook for Arguments, 3rd ed., Hackett,
Our culture, and not least the schools of our societies, do not teach logic with anywhere near the rigor they once did. Nowadays they are more likely to work to elicit and affirm assertions and reactions from students than to train students in constructing and testing claims. Well, since truth and falsehood are more than mere opinion, argument is neither mere assertion nor mere reaction. (N.B.: That last sentence is an argument with explicit and implicit premises and a conclusion, not just "the way your professor feels.") Weston's wonderful little handbook is as clear as it is brief, introducing us to the primary forms of argumentation and helping us analyze as we listen and read and argue as we speak and write. There will be at least one explicit assignment and several test questions on this text, so do not treat it as optional. I hope you will find Weston's guidance helpful in everything you do in this course, in college, and in life.
Telford Work, Clutter, http://www.westmont.edu/~work/clutter.html
I maintain a "weblog," an on-line web journal, where I write about theology, converse with others, meditate on Scripture, and respond to current events in and beyond the Christian world. It is a little self-indulgent to ask you to read this. However, checking in every few days will give you a glimpse into the way I think, react to events and texts, and merge my teaching, learning, and living. Besides, the price is right (and you get what you pay for)!
Telford Work, various articles, links on the syllabus.
As a professor of theology, part of my job is research and writing: popular articles and oral presentations, scholarly articles, lectures, and books, and institutional discourse of various kinds. I have assigned articles and chapters from books I am in the midst of writing because they can teach you theology, give you a sense of what I know and teach, and expose you to theology at the intermediate and advanced as well as beginning levels.
Some of these readings are very easy to understand, while others are very difficult. Some will be over your head. But it won't be over your head forever if you treat this course as one early step in a lifelong journey of Christian inquiry, rather than a remedial or elementary class you will grow out of as you "mature." You might choose to neglect or ignore or dismiss Christian theology though I hope you don't but you cannot outgrow it!
For students with poor writing skills, my classes also feature conditionally required reading.
Optional reading for on your own, directed study, or extra credit exercises:
Catechism of the Catholic Church (selections). Online.
One of the most important texts of recent theology is this training manual on the Christian faith for all teachers in the Catholic tradition. Beyond being the culmination of two centuries of historical and constructive theology, it offers our class a magisterial introduction to the Christian faith. As the rest of the course overlaps its teaching on the Apostles' Creed, we will concentrate on the sections on the Word and sacraments of the Church, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer.
Martin Luther, Shorter
(Also recommended: Long Catechism, http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/wittenberg-luther.html#sw-lc. )
Martin Luther (inadvertently) fathered Protestantism, a far-reaching effort to reform an unhealthy Christian Church in the sixteenth century. Luther wrote catechisms to increase biblical and theological literacy among a woefully ignorant German people. These review and apply the Ten Commandments, the articles of the Apostles' Creed, the petitions of the Lord's Prayer, and the sacraments of the Church. Well, in 2002, woeful biblical and theological ignorance is back. We will be learning the text of the Shorter Catechism to see how theology once worked as a guide to all life, and to remember how beautifully profound Luther's teaching could be. (I am providing links to optional readings from the Long Catechism if you want to read in more depth.)
Thomas Howard, Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy
and Sacrament, Ignatius, 1988.
Christian faith was born in the worship of Jesus, and worship remains the shape of Christian life. We believe the way we worship, and vice versa. Yet we worship in very different ways. Some hold up the sermon as the high point (and even the only important part) of a worship service. Others hold up singing. Still others structure worship in formal liturgy and center it in the sacraments. These last worshippers are the most poorly represented at Westmont, but I'm not going to let you ignore them. Thomas Howard began his Christian life as an evangelical, and has migrated to Roman Catholicism. In this book he shows the riches of liturgical worship, without denigrating evangelicalism. I have assigned it because it shows the riches of all evangelical traditions (such as my own Pentecostal church), not merely the sacramental ones, while focusing our attention on the practices of the many healthy churches that live beyond our stereotypes. My hope is in teaching you worship, it will help you understand the whole Church, and grow in you a love of its ways.
John Wilson, ed., The Best Christian Writing 2001,
This is a collection of essays compiled by the editor of Books & Culture, a periodical of evangelical opinion. Its articles will help us apply life to Christian doctrine and vice versa. They are written by evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and liberal Protestants. They range from very easy reading to very difficult reading. Some of them are the kind of theology you would expect to read in this course, while others are so far afield that you may have to think hard to see their relevance. But be assured, they matter to our subject.
Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, Harper, 1959.
Karl Barth is the most influential Protestant theologian of the previous century. He led a radical rejection of nineteenth century liberal Protestantism, a revival of Reformed theological vitality, a Christian resistance to Naziism in Germany, and (in all three of these ways) a thorough return to a method of Christian theology centered upon Jesus Christ. This little book is an introduction to the colossal theological work that spans his career, presented as a reflection on the Apostles' Creed (which fits into the outline of this course).
By the way, if you want to understand this book, you will need to read it slowly. Furthermore, since this book was originally delivered as lectures, it reads best when "heard," when imagined as being delivered, or best yet, when read aloud. I think the ultimate way to study Dogmatics in Outline is together, in a group, taking turns reading the text aloud, and pausing for (brief) questions for clarification.