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.

Robert Barron, The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path, Orbis, 2002. 170pp.
Not long ago, thinkers regarded theory as something that came before practice. We can understand something before we decide to do it. Of course, at the popular level people continued to appreciate that gaining skills was a matter of training and practice, not prior conceptualization. The scientist Michael Polanyi has helped bring that insight back into the fields commonly called 'intellectual' (rather than 'practical'): to learn philosophy, or science, or history, or theology is to gain skill in a tradition's set of fundamental practices. In other words, there is no distinguishing 'systematic theology' or 'narrative theology' from 'practical theology'. To understand Christian doctrine is to perform it. (This is as true for non-believers as it is for believers.)

Barron's book shows how we know and teach Christian faith through stories and practices that embody lived Christianity. As a Catholic, he concentrates on practices that many Protestants tend to discount or neglect: the Rosary, pilgrimmage, auricular confession of sin, and liturgy. As a lover of literature, he highlights writers like Evelyn Waugh, Dante Alighieri, and Flannery O'Connor.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Eerdmans, 1989. 240pp.
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. 170pp.
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.

James V. Brownson, Inagrace T. Dietterich, Barry A. Harvey, and Charles C. West, StormFront: The Good News of God, Eerdmans, 2003. 140pp.
Californians have rarely encountered a real storm front — the violent space where two masses of air collide and produce a thunderstorm. However, those who follow Jesus Christ live on just such a frontier, between the old and the new. These four scholars from various theological backgrounds and academic specialties collaborate on a brief, accessible, and incisive introduction to basic Christian theology. The text revolves around the Kingdom of God, a central concern of the New Testament and a window into the whole faith, and how it operates in a current American setting driven by consumerism, individualism, and ideological renditions of Christianity that fall short of the original good news and even oppose it. Christian faith doesn't just wait in a sanctuary or on an academic shelf for us to bring it to life; it goes out everywhere to reconcile all things to Jesus Christ.

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.

Fleming Rutledge, The Undoing of Death, Eerdmans, 2002. 330pp.
Preaching is one of the places where theology really breathes. This is a collection of beautiful sermons from one of America's best preachers, arranged around the holiest part of the Christian year. Her messages brilliantly tie biblical texts to the central 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.

Michael Harvey, The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing, Hackett, 2003. 100pp.
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:

Robert Barron, The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path, Orbis, 2002. 170pp.

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 StormFront.

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 Rutledge.

Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, Perennial, 1959. Substitutes for StormFront.

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 Catechism,
(Also recommended: Long Catechism
, )
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.)

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