Sunday, April 19, 2009

Summer Theological Reading: What Should It Be?

Summer is a unique time for a graduate student of theology, because, while it is and ought to be a time of rest and recharging from the strenuous school year, it is also a time to read and to do all the things the normal rigors of daily graduate school life deny. Especially for someone like me planning to continue education into doctoral work in the hopes of eventually teaching, the summer is the ideal time to read all the things that don't get assigned for classes, or won't for a while.

Unfortunately, since I'll be taking German in July, I won't have the full four months of May through August for reading, but primarily May and June with a bit of August at the end. That's about 8-10 unadorned weeks (not including, of course, "real life" things like being a groomsmen in two out-of-state weddings), without homework or writing assignments, ready and hungry for self-chosen reading.

In light of such freedom so near on the horizon, I've been scouring various blogs and other resources to figure out what books would be best to give myself to. The ideal combination for which I'm searching is smaller size written by an author whom I have yet to read. At the same time, the bigger tomes are the exact books I am never able to read during a normal semester, so those might be preferable, too.

Below, I'm going to share a few generic lists I have going so far of books that seem to meet these or other qualifications. I'm hoping to be reading at least one of these per week on average (if not more), and ideally they will provide excellent blog fodder as well. Please, please, please offer any and all suggestions for other essential theological reading, whether big, small, fiction, poetry, whatever. Calling all readers and commentators! Advise me in such matters.

I should also add: For someone like me, whose "worthiness" and future depend on well-read-ness, this kind of thing is a little bit embarrassing, a kind of literary nakedness for all the world to see. It kills me that I have yet to read these guys, so important in literature and in theology! So be kind to my unlearnedness. I am working on not being overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the task ahead.

One more note: Advise both on any further suggestions as well as what I should prioritize. I only have so much time, and want to knock out as much as possible.

Thank you in advance!

- - - - - - -

  • My People is the Enemy by William Stringfellow (currently reading, almost done)
  • Body Politics by John Howard Yoder (also reading, should be done soon)
  • Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (read through before, but need to reread)
  • The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann (same, but need a second read)
  • Dogmatics in Outline by Karl Barth (likely reading in the fall for my Systematic class)
  • The Nature of Doctrine by George Lindbeck
  • The Humanity of God by Karl Barth
  • An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis
  • Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
  • Love Alone is Credible by Hans Urs von Balthasar
  • The Problem of Historicity by Gerhard Ebeling
  • How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins
  • Yahweh is a Warrior by Millard Lind
  • Christ, History, and Apocalyptic by Nathan Kerr
  • Systematic Theology by Robert Jenson
  • Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth
  • The Doctrine of the Word of God by Karl Barth
  • The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann
  • The One, the Three, and the Many by Colin Gunton
  • Violence and the Sacred by Rene Girard
  • Jesus -- God and Man by Wolfhart Pannenburg
  • Catholicism by Henri de Lubac
  • Ethics: Systematic Theology by James McClendon, Jr.
  • The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
  • The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Leslie Newbigin
  • After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre
  • Engaging the Powers by Walter Wink
  • The Depths of the Riches by S. Mark Heim
  • Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • The Beauty of the Infinite by David Bentley Hart
  • Between Cross and Resurrection by Alan Lewis
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo
  • The Brothers K by David James Duncan
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Maytrees by Annie Dillard
  • Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Runaway by Alice Munro
  • What is the What by Dave Eggers
  • Rowan Williams
  • George Herbert
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • W.B. Yeats
  • Walt Whitman
  • Robert Frost
  • Gjertrud Schnackenberg
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Mary Oliver
  • John Updike
  • R.S. Thomas
  • Billy Collins
  • W.H. Auden


  1. Generally, looking at whatever you're reading would make me feel rather illiterate. This was the case yet again, until I got to your fiction list - a subject I can actually speak to! You haven't read Watership Down? Or Slaughterhouse five?

    And Silence - You've got to read that one. Priority!

    I just moved to a new apt, and am in the process of putting books on shelves the next couple of days. I will return with a couple suggestions. However, my main suggestion is this: Read all you can while you don't have any kids! Even one can make it impossibly hard.

  2. Hi Brad,

    I'm currently trying to compile some things to read over the summer, and I think we have some overlapping interests. I'm an undergraduate, so I don't want to try to speak with authority on the subject, but here's a few things I'm thinking of looking at over the summer, in addition to some brief thoughts on your list.

    For Barth, I would place The Humanity of God high on your list to read over the summer. I have a professor who was a student of Hauerwas, and we've talked some about Barth this semester. I've become increasingly interested in reading Barth over the past year, and according to him, The Humanity of God was a great place to start. I read most of The Epistle to the Romans over my Christmas break, and got a good bit from it. I want to get to Dogmatics in Outline this summer, too.

    As far as Wittgenstein goes, I guess I would wonder why the Tractatus is on the list? If it's for a specific reason, my comments are probably moot, but from what I know of Wittgenstein, it might be helpful to read something else, like the Blue and Brown books or Philosophical Investigations. I haven't read anything of his on my own yet, but in those works I mentioned, he basically argues against many of the positions of Tractatus Wittgenstein. Last semester, I had the privilege of studying abroad at Oxford, and I attended a lecture series on "the later philosophy of Wittgenstein." Some of it was over my head, but generally I gathered that, at least for Wittgenstein, we've got to understand him in light of the later works and not just the Tractatus.

    I should be forward in saying that I am definitely "continentally biased," so I don't agree with a lot of what people like Russell say (whom the Tractatus Wittgenstein would find himself agreeing with). It's an interesting topic, one that I have only scratched the surface of myself!

    If I might wager some recommendations, here they are:

    Kierkegaard: Practice in Christianity/Judge for Yourself (they come together)
    and a book of poetry, by Marvin Bell called "The Book of the Dead Man."

    Ok, so that was a short list. I'm planning to read a good bit of Gadamer this summer, as well as "God Without Being" by Jean-Luc Marion, but those really depend on exactly what you are studying, so they might not be the highest priority reading. I mention the Kierkegaard because he has been incredibly influential for me. Many read Fear and Trembling, but I think that is a tougher work, and not the best to start with. As far as I know, Kierkegaard regarded Practice in Christianity as his most important work, and I think it is more directly accessible and is well worth reading for theologians.

    I've rambled a lot, because I like books, so I hope I've helped in some way! Good luck with the reading. I always end up being way too ambitious!