(Warning: Beware the used or library textbook with highlighting. Do the human race a favor and don't highlight your books.)
The Holy Bible.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Eerdmans,
Lesslie Newbigin was a missionary, theologian, church leader, and cultural critic of the West whose theological instincts are acute, his observations profound, and his reading sensitive to the ways the Christian faith speaks to (and against) our western post-Christian cultures. The rise of global Christianity and demise of modern European Christianity set the stage for The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, which rethinks the contemporary relations between the gospel and the Western world. You will probably find yourself torn between those two, which indicates the extent of the problem that faces the Western Church.
Donald K. McKim, Theological Turning Points, John Knox, 1988.
McKim is a Presbyterian minister in Pennsylvania. He sees the Christian tradition as a series of "turning points" moments of epiphany that forever changed the ways Christians understood God and the faith. For instance, the doctrine of incarnation emerged with unprecedented clarity in the fourth century, and ever since the Christian faith is framed by a strong affirmation that the person Jesus Christ is both truly human and truly divine. Your church doesn't think this because it leaps right off the Bible's pages into your minds; you think this because Athanasius of Alexandria paved the way for you. The horizons of our thinking are gifts from the cloud of witnesses who came before us. We think in the ways that others have formed us to think. McKim's book will introduce us to the pivotal moments in Christian history that made us who we are, both for better and for worse. He will help us appreciate that Christian doctrine has a history, and that its history still exerts power over us.
Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious
World, Brazos, 2003. 190pp.
Camp is a pastor in the Restorationist tradition of American evangelical Protestantism, a school that is often overlooked and unevenly respected beyond its own circles. This volume is an introduction to the school of thought of the so-called 'Radical Reformation' which has recently had its most eloquent spokesman in John Howard Yoder. At every turn Camp stresses the radical challenge Jesus (and thus all true Christian faith) poses to the world, to the religious, and to his own followers. Camp's politics look liberal; in fact, they are radical in that they focus Christian faith not on the welfare of our nation-state, but on the welfare of the Church of Jesus Christ, and of the world only through the witness of that Church. Whether or not you are politically liberal, prepare to be consistently challenged by his interpretation of Jesus' life and significance.
Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, Zondervan, 2004. 290pp.
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. As Newbigin guides us through the shift, McLaren meets us along the way to unpack some of the implications on the tradition of Christian life and theology. Postmodernity has been making McLaren, a pastor, what he calls "a new kind of Christian." I don't agree with everything McLaren (or any of our other authors) says, 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.
Joseph G. Donders, Jesus, the Stranger: Reflections on the Gospels, Orbis, 1999. 290pp.
Donders is a Dutch Catholic liberation theologian who teaches in Nairobi, works with the burgeoning charismatic and Pentecostal churches of Africa, and wrote these breaktaking poems reflecting on the New Testament. I have assigned these meditations on Jesus and his Kingdom to help spark our theological imaginations, to hear Jesus preached from a remarkable disciple's passionate and prophetic perspective, and to help us see the Christian faith in the Third World of the postcolonial twentieth century — a formative time for recent Christian theology that is now becoming a historical era rather than a contemporary reality.
Vincent J. Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered, Orbis, 2003. 170pp.
Almost a century ago the missiologist Roland Allen wrote a seminal book called Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? Donovan's career as a Catholic missionary in Tanzania is fruit from Allen's work. Donovan looked at the long, frustrated history of missions in Africa, threw away the user's manual, and started afresh with the Apostle Paul as his mentor. The result was not just a discovery of Christianity among the Masai people of Tanzania, but a rediscovery of the faith by their evangelists. Christian faith doesn't just convert people once; it keeps on converting even the converted. Donovan's book shows us the faith not as a finished product for us to teach, but as a process always being taught in order to be realized.
Michael Harvey, The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing, Hackett,
This compact and very helpful guide to college writing shows students how to make their writing simple, clear, smooth, grammatical, graceful, responsible, orderly, and powerful. The book addresses the most common vices that afflict collegiate writers and cultivates the most important virtues that should characterize writers of every stripe. It is concise, unpretentious, and (for a change) inexpensive. Each of our written exercises will focus on one chapter.
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.
Alternative reading for students who elect to take this course for honors standing:
Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Eerdmans, 1989. 240pp.
Donald K. McKim, Theological Turning Points, John Knox, 1988. 170pp.
Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology, Baker, 2002. Substitutes for McLaren.
John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 2d ed., Eerdmans, 1994. 270pp. Substitutes for Camp.
Robert Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, Yale, 2003. Substitutes for Donovan.
Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, Perennial, 1959. Substitutes for Donders.
Telford Work, Ain't Too Proud to Beg: A Prayerful Exercise in Theology, in progress. Substitutes for Harvey.
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.)
There is always more reading for after the course is over. Here are guidelines on finding it and some reading suggestions from my own library.