June 2015: The Month of Theology

Let me just say that this year has been incredible for theology books (and I mean incredible).  So incredible that the month of June by itself is getting its own post.  I’ve undoubtedly missed more than I’m listing, so let me know what has caught your eye.  But here are a few that I am extremely excited about (in no particular order).  In fact this seems to be the year of C.S. Lewis literature, so if you are not in to that thing, skip a few down because we literally have four  titles coming out that all look interesting (again, if you are a Lewis fan, which I realize not everyone is).

1.) Philip Zaleski & Carol Zaleski The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giraux, 2015) 656pp.

Probably the most comprehensive work on the Inklings yet to date, and as fate would have it, it is only one of two works on the Inklings we are getting in June!  Which leads us to our second selection…

2.) Colin Duriez, The Oxford Inklings: Lewis, Tolkien, and their Circle (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2015), 288pp.

Ok, so technically this came out last month, but I just became aware of it, so c’est la vie.  This has gotten very positive reviews from the critics, but it seems it may have the misfortune of now lingering in the shadow of the tour-de-force volume above.  Given their dramatically different lengths (this one is 1/2 the size) they may serve nicely alongside each other as companion volumes.  Either way, the strangely neglected world of the Inklings is getting some of the attention it deserves.

3.) Colin Duriez, Bedeviled: Lewis, Tolkien, and the Shadow of Evil (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2015), 235pp.

Again, not technically a June release (I swear, there are more June releases…) nonetheless Duriez is working overtime with this, his second book in two months.  Tolkien in particular has always fascinated me on the question of evil, because, well, Lord of the Rings et al.  Moreover both Tolkien and Lewis had their theologies forged in the fiery heart of WWI, so they both earned their thoughts with boots on the ground, literally.  Which actually is a remarkable transition to our fourth offering….

Ha!  Another June release, I told you!  This one looks fascinating for me, since one of the areas I love reading about the most is theology in relation to WWI and WWII.  It seems so many of the giants of our century are haunted by them, and it makes for incredible case-studies of how theology is never just the ghost of ideas, but flesh and bone, and even hope amidst grief and sorrow.  Moreover, theologies of friendship are always intriguing to me, and Lewis and Tolkien’s friendship is probably the paradigmatic example.  Ok, this does it for our Lewis and Tokien-a-palooza, lets move on.

5.) David Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 988pp.

I have to admit I am a bit biased about this one, since I have the pleasure of knowing David via blogging and Facebook for many years now, and watching him grow as a scholar has been a wonder to behold.  Just shy of 1000 pages (that slacker!) and with a wonderful cover-picture painted by another fantastic theologian, Oliver Crisp, this book sets out to correct the many myths around Bultmann, which are admittedly as thick as nettles in my Evangelical upbringing.  This has already been heralded as the most important book on Bultmann ever written, to my mind the fascinating question that David deals with at length is: if in missionary work we must translate the language and the concepts of scripture, how are we then to translate the metaphysics that surround (typically Western) Christian theology?  An oversimplification of David’s quest, of course, but agree with it or not, this is a pivotal work that no one–even those uninterested in Bultmann–can ignore.

6.) Katherine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology: The Doctrine of God (Vol.1) (Minneapo

lis: Fortress Press, 2015), 539pp.

Eschewing the now typical method of starting with the Trinity and only then moving on to “the one God” in conscious distinction to much  Protestant Scholastic methodology (and supposed neo-Protestant marginalizing of the Trinity in the whipping-boy figure of Schleiermacher) Sonderegger insists that our understanding and emphasis on the unity of God is a prime worry of Christian theology.  This really lines up with conclusions that I myself have begun to reach in my own work, where I am convinced certain misplaced historical work on the trinity has begun to exaggerate and distort Trinitarian doctrine.  Which is not to say that the order of systematics is the ultimate importance, it is rather how the material itself functions and interrelates.  This looks to be a work of the highest calibre, and is a prime example of the curious comeback of the genre of systematic theology in the last few years.

7.) Joshua McNall, A Free Corrector: Colin Gunton and the Legacy of Augustine (Augsburg: Fortress Press, 2015), 329.

As Michael Hanby once put it, “modernity has a vexing relationship to Augustine.”  Just as vexing are interpretations of Augustine’s legacy, which are not the squabbling of specialists guarding their obscure corners of academia, but index the very nature of modernity (and post-modernity) themselves.  In particular Colin Gunton’s interpretation of Augustine has of late become questioned on numerous fronts.  See, for example Brad Greene’s work, Colin Gunton and the Failure of Augustine, or, if you are so inclined, my own work A Forgetfulness, Which Appears as Memory (or its essay-length update, Gods, August and Otherwise).  Unfortunately, where Augustine was once the whipping-boy for Western Trinitarianism, now in many instances the situation has simply reversed and Gunton lamentably takes the dubious honor of “fall-guy.”  Mcnall argues (very similarly to my own conclusions) that while Gunton was dead wrong about Augustine his interpretation of what other later interpreters did with some of Augustine’s own suggestive theology did indeed cause some problems.  While this is a more technical and niche work, for me it is nonetheless fascinating and falls decidedly into the area of my passion: trinitarian historiography.

8.) Simon Conway Morris, The Runes of Evolution: How the Universe Became Self-Aware (Pennsylvania: Templeton Press, 2015), 528pp.

Simon Conway Morris is the chair of Evolutionary Paleobiology at Cambridge, and this is the sequel to his woefully under-read Life’s Solutions: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. An obvious proponent of evolutionary theory, and a Christian, Morris’ work circulates around demonstrating the idea of “evolutionary convergence.”  What is it?  Most proponents of evolution (and indeed, opponents as well) look at evolution as intrinsically random or based on chance.  While not disputing the contingent elements, Morris argues that structures that have evolved independently many times (like the eye) demonstrate that there are actually in-built laws within evolution that guide it in an almost (gasp!) teleological manner.  Writing with a Monty-Python-esque sense of humor this book will undoubtedly be both mind-expanding and hilarious.

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