Shelf Life


What books do you find yourself returning to? Here's what several writers and teachers had to say:

Telling the Truth, by Frederick Buechner, and Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott.

Though very different writers, both Buechner and Lamott understand the gospel--that we bring our sad, broken lives to Jesus, and that somehow, through the miracle of grace, he makes us whole.--Randall Balmer, Columbia University

The Word of God and the Word of Man, by Karl Barth, and The Prophets, by Abraham Heschel.

I reread Barth's book for the sake of the second essay, "The Strange New World Within the Bible." When one ponders the Bible constantly, it is tempting to imagine that by critical methods one may "understand and comprehend" it fully. Barth's essay is a starchy warning against any such deception. He enumerates the modes of deception that are available and calls the reader back to reading with wonder, love and praise. Heschel penetrated behind the usual historical-critical analysis to the intimate, poignant poetry of divine mystery, with all of its pathos toward Israel and toward the world. Indeed, Heschel is a primary teacher of Christians about the suffering love of God enacted on Good Friday.--Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

The Trinity, by Augustine, and The Collected Dialogues of Plato, edited by Edith Hamilton.

I keep going back to the classics that connect with human psychology, yet give me distance on contemporary culture. The dialogues of Plato, especially the Phaedrus, and the major works of Augustine of Hippo, especially his book on the Trinity, keep me endlessly enthralled. They never wear thin.--Ellen T. Chatty, Princeton Theological Seminary

Perspectives on Paul, by Ernst Kaisemann.

Kasemann's essays continue to play an important role in the scholarly discussion of Paul, as evidenced by their influence on J. C. Beker's Paul the Apostle and on J. Louis Martyn's magisterial commentary on Galatians. My regular reading of some of these essays, however, goes beyond scholarly disputes. Over against the anthropocentric preoccupations of the day, Kaisemann points to the theocentric nature of Paul's thought; and over against any tendency to triumphalism, Kaisemann relentlessly portrays the theology of the cross. I cannot imagine journeying through the season of Lent without reading his essay on the saving significance of Jesus' death.--Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Princeton Theological Seminary

The Humanity of God, by Karl Barth, and The Portable Abraham Lincoln, edited by Andrew Delbanco.

Barth moved from a being a fierce advocate of the sovereign judgment of God to recognizing that God took all judgment onto himself in the person of Jesus Christ. One need not be a doctrinaire Barthian to hope that in his universal reading of God's grace Barth was right. The Lincoln volume is a superb selection of the writings and speeches of America's greatest political rhetorician, who evolved from being paradoxically a gentle and fierce prosecutor of a terrible war to being able to view the war as God's judgment on both sides.

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