Favourite 5 Books of 2012 (So Far…)

(Not all of the books were published in 2012 just so you know.)

5. Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?: A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity by J.R. Daniel Kirk – Daniel Kirk aims to outline that Paul and Jesus were on the same page. Paul was not the jerk who ruined the “hippie” Jesus. Paul, Kirk argues, in his own way took up and developed the essential character of all that Jesus spoke about. Kirk, through the lens of narrative (or “storied”) theology makes the connection between the gospels and the Pauline letters, through lens such as “God’s kingdom”, “new creation” and “in Christ” points of continuity and discontinuity are elucidated and applied to many of the issues of the day. It is in this the true power of storied theology is seen to treat the text as the text, or as the story it essentially is and tells, and in doing so allows us to live into that story – so the story may live out of us, in a new place, in a new way.

4. Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel by Rowan Williams – This is a book that opens up the multi-faceted and -dimensional nature of the resurrection. The resurrection enables us to remember rightly. The resurrection gives us back hope even after we have lost it all. The resurrection allows us perspective. The resurrection marks the coming of a new way of ruling. The resurrection demonstrates the extent of God’s love for the world and the desire of God to lose no part of it. This book is both profound and poetic. It theology with an acute pastoral sensitivity that has you at once sprinting and look for somewhere to be still. Williams here has managed something beautiful and you may just want to join in! (Also this book has convinced me that my discomfort with Presbyterianism may be because I’m secretly an Anglican, I’m not sure yet though…)

3. The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word by Walter Brueggemann – The world around us tells a story. The Christian has another story to tell. One story says the current socio-political, -economic, -scientific make up of the world is the only given. The other insists and imagines that within that reality YHWH, the God of Israel, is a real character and agent operating within the world. It is the latter that we can rightly name as prophetic – and it is also the latter that we can name as what it means to preach. The congregation and the world are called to hope, life and liberation by the same sort of prophetic word, Brueggemann insists, that called exiled Israel out of despair and denial, imagining a new world creating act of YHWH, beyond the boundaries of the current one – despite the jarring nature of reality as it was experienced. This is always and ever the nature of preaching as it sits in the Christian tradition which is born out of this prophetic strand of Israel’s.

2. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins by Peter Enns – Much of the current “Science and Faith/Religion” market is superficial. Assertions are made (“science and religion can co-exist”), significant problems are recognised (“What about Adam?”, “What about sin and the fall?”), and solutions are not presented but the books get printed waiting for someone else to do the leg work. Peter Enns, in this book, has done the leg work. Enns takes up the hard questions and ambiguities of Adam and Eve, the Fall, Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts that are immensely similar to the Genesis narratives, the composition of the Old Testament and the interpretive traditions surrounding key texts, as well as Paul’s understanding of Adam. His conclusion, that one need not affirm the existence of a historical Adam. This conclusion comes in significantly elaborated form as we hear it said we need not retreat to the conceptual world of Ancient Israelites or 1st Century Jews because they wrote in time and place, with the knowledge they had available to them. For Enns this is key, as this allows us the space to hear what science is telling us, as well as discern the deep, existential considerations the Bible explores. This is a rewarding book for all those interested in the conversation.

1. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by Tom Wright – This book begins on the premise that much of (perhaps, popular or on the ground) Christianity has been operating with a disconnection. The disconnection is between Jesus’ life and Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. Wright thinks something significance has been missed and he wants to help us see it. He wants us to see that the church has formulated and outlined its beliefs (á la the Creeds) within this disconnect.

Jesus’ life speaks volumes about the meaning of his death and resurrection. If his life was about the proclamation of God’s kingdom – in word and parables and healings and calling disciples etc., his death and resurrection must be to – the cross and resurrection aren’t moments that witness abstractly to one’s “personal salvation”; no, the cross and resurrection are the culmination of Jesus’ kingdom-bringing life. The cross is the apocalyptic moment in which God’s kingdom make it’s stand, revealing the nature of the God who dies and the ‘ethics’ of the kingdom as all are called toward this life that, paradoxically, is found in becoming citizens of the polis established there. It is this, Wright insists, the gospels are saying – and by consequence what many since, he thinks, have not. His words are worth listening to.