Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Books to get a Bible study out of its rut

A friend of mine asked for some suggestions for books for his Bible study/small group to read through, and because I can't think of anything better to blog about today, I thought I'd share my suggestions.

The Challenge of Jesus, by N. T. Wright. N. T. Wright is one of my favorite Biblical scholars writing today: he's no fundamentalist, but he's plenty orthodox, and as learned as they come. This particular book is a popularized summary of his exhaustive, six-volume series Christian Origins and the Question of God: it's reasonably easy to read, and accessible to the intelligent lay person, but represents a great deal of research and learning.

Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI. I'll confess, I'm only partway through this one, at least partly because I have to stop and think every couple pages about what he's just said. I've been a fan of the current pope since I read his work on eschatology in seminary, and this particular book is fascinating. Among other things, it's wonderful to discover just how much Christians do have in common about the central facts of their faith.

The David Story, or Genesis, by Robert Alter. Alter is one of my favorite translators and commentators on the Hebrew Bible. He has an amazing ability to draw out hidden literary gems from the text. Read his explanation of "type stories" – and you'll never read John 4 quite the same way again. The difference between the story of the woman at the well, and the stories of Moses or Jacob meeting their wives, tells you everything you need to know about how John viewed Jesus as the fulfillment of Judaism.

On the Incarnation, by St. Athanasius. Quite apart from the eminently worthwhile introduction by C. S. Lewis ("On Old Books"), this is a fascinating little work that carries some significant theological punch. It helped put the nail in the coffin of Arianism, all the more so because he wasn't so much defending orthodox Trinitarian thought as explaining it.. I'll share one little tidbit: when I first read it, I couldn't help but recognize how much C. S. Lewis had taken from Athanasius in his section on the Trinity in Mere Christianity. It was a bit like meeting someone for the first time, and discovering that they'd been best friends with your best friend, and you never knew it.

Confessions, by St. Augustine. Of course.

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