(Warning: Beware the used or library textbook with highlighting. Do the human race a favor and don't highlight your books.)
The Holy Bible. Degree of difficulty:
Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, rev. ed., Westminster/John
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. Guthrie is a Presbyterian theologian who teaches at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia. His theology seeks "to interpret ecumenical Christian faith as summarized in the Apostles' Creed from the perspective of the Reformed tradition." It is thus 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 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.
Like that owner's manual for your new electronic toy, it's tempting to skip reading formal theology and just learn how everything works "yourself." But learning Christian doctrine "yourself" is treacherous! So spend time with our main text, and everything else will be easier.
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.)
Brian D. McLaren, A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of
Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey, Jossey-Bass, 2001.
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. Rather than offering a cool philosophical analysis of modern and postmodern faith (such a thing would be too modern anyway), it tells a slightly fictional story of a burned out fundamentalist pastor discovering the promise and danger of postmodern faith through his friendship with his daughter's Episcopal science teacher. The two disciples of Jesus explore the teacher's prediction that postmodernity is bringing about "a new kind of Christian."
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 evangelicalism is crumbling along with it; and as postmodernism arrives, a postmodern evangelicalism 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 the future.
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, HarperSanFrancisco,
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 Christians from across the spectrum. They range from very easy reading to moderately 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.
William F. Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style,
3rd ed., Macmillan, 1979, or 4th ed., Allyn & Bacon, 2000.
In this class you will regularly write and review others' writing. For decades "Strunk & White" has been a favorite guide to good writing. It is concise, accessible, and powerful: just like your writing will need to be. If you cannot identify (for instance) a run-on sentence, sentence fragment, split infinitive, or appositive on sight, or confuse "its" with "it's" or don't see why I care then consider this book required.