Nathan Gilmour, over at The Christian Humanist, has posted his list of 50 Books for Aspiring Seminarians. It’s an impressive list, and is guided by the following philosophy:
The philosophy that governs this list is that seminary ought to be a place that pushes against your strongest ideas, and without some strong ideas going in, that’s harder to do. These texts should provide a seminarian with a vocabulary of stories and claims and visions of reality that will make the critical intellectual work of seminary far more valuable than a trip to seminary where one hears of Plato for the first time from a twentieth-century book criticizing “Platonism.”
Nathan has invited discussion and tweaks to his list. What follows is my tweaking of his list:
I absolutely agree with his inclusion of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
I would probably drop the Virgil and Ovid texts and replace them with Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (and no, just seeing the play or the movie is not an acceptable substitute) and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.
Short Stories, Poems, Essays:
There is no science fiction represented anywhere on this list, so I would at the very least include a collection of Ray Bradbury’s short stories as required reading.
I would drop the first three on the list (Aristophanes, Euripides, and Seneca) and add something by George Bernard Shaw (preferably Arms and the Man), and Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.
For a book that would definitely fit the “push against my strongest ideas” I would add Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Because whatever you think of it, feminism is definitely a ideology that has and continues to impact (positively or negatively) society and the Church.
I would suggest that Gilmour’s recommendation of Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus, be paired with a reading of John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant.
Needs to include something by John Wesley.
I would add Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, because not only is it foundational for understanding how practices influence beliefs and vice versa, but also it has become the foundational for all contemporary discussions on the nature and purpose of education.
I realize that my tweaks tend to drop the “Greeks”, and the guys at The Christian Humanist will probably not like that, but I will say that reading Plato and Aristotle should be required reading for all seminarians.
By all modern measures, the little church would be considered a failure. It never grew past 50 in attendance. Its demographic was always heavy on the seniors, with only a handful of people under the age of 25. For twenty years the church gathered in a rented facility, a youth centre, and all of the church’s belongings, from the pulpit, to the collapsible communion table, to the hymnals and coffee supplies, fit snugly into a tiny closet. (People used to joke that the little church would be ahead of the game if Christians became a persecuted minority in Canada because it could be packed up in less than fifteen minutes) In the last decade, the church began to die, literally. Every year at least one member went to be with Jesus. With the majority of the members being retired and on fixed incomes, the church operated on a lean budget. As the congregation shrank, the pastor offered to drop down to part-time status to help on expenses. More than one person asked the pastor why he kept ministering there; it wasn’t like he was making a ton of money as a full-time pastor, and now as a part-time pastor he was making bread-crumbs. His response, every time, was so long as people kept showing up, he would continue to pastor. This was a pastor that took joy in ministering to seniors, and in the ever-increasing race for “families and young people” more and more churches were neglecting their elders. This pastor wouldn’t do that to them. Seniors needed pastoral care just as much as young families.
The church was eventually dissolved. 20 years of ministry and it died. It was merged with another tiny congregation.
“Unsuccessful.” Or was it?
It was the church that I was discipled in. While I was saved through a large Pentecostal youth ministry, it was this tiny, dying church that took me under its wing and helped me grow in the faith. The pastor’s wife picked me up from home every Sunday morning, and drove me to church. I learned about being a Christian, and a woman, and a servant during those car rides. I didn’t say much, but I just listened as the pastor’s wife ministered to me through the stories of her life experiences. I learned about serving by helping to set up the rows of chairs every morning, by placing a hymnal and bible on each chair, by helping to put everything away at the end of the service. I learned about suffering and struggle as I prayed with members who were suffering from cancer, dementia, or the loss of a spouse. I learned about joy as I shared in the celebrations of 50th wedding anniversaries, birth announcements of grandbabies and great-grandbabies. It was in this church that I was baptized. It was in this church that I got to cut my teeth on leading worship and preaching. It was by this pastor that I was married, and that my first child was dedicated to Jesus.
The church may be gone, and church growth experts would say that it was an “unsuccessful” church, but they would be wrong. It’s not about numbers.
It’s about proclaiming Christ crucified and resurrected.
It’s about faithfulness.
It’s about service.
It’s about obedience.
It’s about caring for one another and discipling each other.
It’s about changing lives.
And that’s what this church did. It changed the lives of seniors who would have otherwise been forgotten by larger churches. And it changed my life. I learned about the long road of the life of faith, a life that is marked not by successive mountaintop experiences, but by the slow and steady walk of decades of faithful discipleship.
It is a hazard that is inevitable for biblical studies/theology students: the more you study Scripture as part of your program, the more devotional reading of Scripture plummets. Sometimes it takes years after graduating for the practice of daily Scripture reading as a spiritual discipline to be reincorporated into a student’s life.
A few years ago, a friend recommended Lectio Divina as an exercise for me to try to reclaim devotional reading during my studies.
Lectio Divina is comprised of four components or stages:
Lectio – reading – What does the text say?
Meditatio – meditation – What is Jesus saying to me in and through this text?
Oratio – prayer – What do I want to say to Jesus about this text
Contemplatio – contemplation – How will this text shape/change me?
I tried it. Over and over, I tried it. And I failed horribly. I could never get past the “lectio” stage. I would read the text and begin mulling the exegetical issues. I’d think about parallel passages. I’d think about different scholars’ opinions on the interpretation of the text.
After a year of trying and failing to practice lectio, I realized that maybe I needed to tweak my approach. I didn’t change stages, but instead I worked on changing the environment of the stages.
(This post is inspired by Richard Burnett’s discussion of the release and response to Barth’s commentary on Romans. See,
I’ve been going back through the blog archives this week. With three years worth of posts, I sometimes forget what I’ve written about. It’s amazing how much “good stuff” just ends up lost in the archives, stuff that I forgot that I wrote, but is still powerful and relevant today.
I am intrigued by the patterns that have emerged in my writing. True, there are lots of posts on science-fiction, on being a women in ministry, and on my adventures as a seminary student. But, even more striking, is how often I reference the same thing: namely, the Apostles’ Creed. So far, I have found six different blog posts that point me back to the Apostles’ Creed as the most basic summary of my faith.
Is it evidence of spending the last two and a half years at an Anglican church? Possibly. But, I don’t think it’s solely related to that, given that in the last six months or so I have come to realize that I’m not as far down the Canterbury Trail as I expected I would be (or as people assume I am), and that I am becoming more comfortable with embracing the label “evangelical” as a self-identifier. That’s not to say that I’m not deeply appreciative of the warm blanket of Anglicanism that envelops me. Indeed, life circumstances (that is, the death of our car) has required us to take a mini-vacation from worshiping in Moose Jaw, and we are hanging out at the non-denominational church in Caronport for a few weeks because we can walk to it. And this mini-vacation is reminding me how influential the Anglican liturgy is on my soul, and on my Christian discipleship. I miss it. I miss communion every week. I miss the recitation of the Creed. I miss the sacred space of the sanctuary. I even miss the people (which as an introvert, is saying something because I never miss people!).
And so here I am, a broadly evangelical, theologically Wesleyan, liturgically Anglican, Barth scholar-in-training, Christian misfit. And what unifies all these diverse (sometimes competing) descriptors is the Apostles’ Creed. It is the common ground. It is the essential. It is the unifying confession of faith that reconciles and bridges the gaps between the different threads that make of the tapestry of my faith. And it is the signpost that marks my journey with Christ.
How should Christians interact, respond to, or embrace pop culture? It’s a question that I wrestle with regularly, given that my interests include not only theology but also science-fiction.
And let’s face it, there are good ways and bad ways to interact with pop culture. Take Game of Thrones for example. The Song of Ice and Fire series is fantastic (even if I do have squabbles with the quality of A Dance with Dragons), and HBO has translated the novels into a highly successful television series. How do Christians, who appreciate the novels, respond to the television series especially given HBO’s propensity to “sex it up”? Not all of us are comfortable with the graphic sexual content of the show, and yet we still understand that there is something powerful to the narrative of the television series that cannot be ignored.
There are a plethora of examples of Christians responding to Game of Thrones (be it the novels or the television series) well, with thought, reflection and respect for the world that Martin has created. Here are just a few:
But then, every once and a while you come across an example of how not to interact with Game of Thrones. Take the article at Christianity Today. Jonathan Ryan attempts to contrast Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings. Which is fine, so long as it is recognized that they are two very different worlds and worldviews. The problem comes when Ryan tries to compare Tyrion Lannister to Gollum:
Martin paints this grimness in the portrait of Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion is a small and deformed figure born to a powerful and noble family in Westeros. Years of poor treatment and outright abuse leads Tyrion to drink more and more deeply from the corruption around him.If you’ve read Lord of the Rings, you can’t help but compare Tyrion to Smeagol, the hobbit who becomes Gollum after becoming corrupted by Sauron’s ring The difference comes in Frodo’s attempt to redeem Gollum. That attempt has no parallel in Martin’s world, nor is there anything like Gandalf’s admonition to treat Gollum with kindness. Tyrion has no Frodo, and he never will. No one reaches out to him; no one tries to save or redeem him.
Ryan fundamentally misunderstands and misconstrues the character of Tyrion. In fact, I would argue that Tyrion is in fact one of the most honourable characters in Westeros, with the understanding that the rules of morality in A Song of Ice and Fire are very, very distinct from the rules of morality in something like The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, it is this honour-in- spite-of-all-he’s-been-through that makes Tyrion one of the more beloved characters to readers (and viewers). The same endearment cannot be said of Gollum.
In trying to compare Tyrion to Gollum, the author overlooks all the good things that Tyrion has done. (There is now a note at the bottom of the article that the article removed an important plot point from the article because it would be a “spoiler” to those who are new to the series, but even eliminating discussion of the plot point does not mean that at this point in the TV series Tyrion fits well with Gollum).
First, a few comparisons. Gollum was consumed by lust for the ring. And it was this lust that transformed him into a hideous monster. Tyrion was broken and starved for affection because he was born deformed. His brokenness did not transform his appearance, but instead, his appearance and neglect actually gave him space to better see the complex politics of the world for what they were. Tyrion’s deformity meant that people left him alone, and underestimated him, and he used that to his advantage to study and to learn and to influence events in the kingdom (even if it was often only behind the scenes). For Tyrion, it’s not about gaining power, which is the drive of the rest of his family. Indeed, Tywin’s and Cersei’s quests for power are so single-minded that they don’t actually understand the bigger picture beyond their own ambitions. Gollum’s solitude, on the other hand, led to a devolution and little understanding of the world around him.
So what are some of the “noble” things that Tyrion does? (while I will try to remain vague, it should be noted that for some people, what follows might constitute spoilers).
Tyrion befriends Jon Snow. He rescues Sansa from a fate worse than death if she were to stay in King’s Landing. He protects the kingdom from Joffrey, by reining him in as best he can.
Does Tyrion do awful things? Yes. But while they are not inexcusable, they are understandable. Yes he kills two people close to him. But his action does not come from some kind of bloodlust, but rather from the raw emotion of being deeply betrayed and emotionally abused.
And as for Ryan’s suggestion that Tyrion has no Frodo, I would suggest that Tyrion does in fact have a Frodo, she just hasn’t been introduced in the television show yet (and I worry that she’ll be one of the characters that HBO drops in their attempt to streamline the novel). By the last novel, Tyrion is definitely on a redemption arc, as much as there can be a redemption arc in Martin’s universe.
If anything, Tyrion is the most human of all the characters in Martin’s universe, and I would suggest that the character of Tyrion could be a reflection and a jumping off point for discussing Christian understandings of the human condition, both in its brokenness and its value despite its brokenness.
Did The First Christians Worship Jesus? is a continuation of an ongoing academic discussion on the nature of early Christian worship, between Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham and James Dunn. In this work, written at a level suitable for the general readership, Dunn notes that he does agree in principle with the writings of Hurtado and Bauckham, but that in this volume he wants to wrestle with those passages that seem to contradict the idea that the early Christians worshipped Jesus. If in fact the early Christians were hesitant to worship Jesus, Dunn believes that it is important to stop and ask why this is.
Dunn explores this by asking five primary questions: 1) What is worship, and does worship define God? 2) What did worship involve? 3) How was God’s self-revelation understood in biblical Judaism? 4) Was Jesus a monotheist? 5) What did Jesus’s exaltation to the right hand of the Father mean to the early Christians? Dunn’s thesis is that, in the early Church, the worship of Jesus was not an alternative to the worship of God, it was a way of worshipping God. More precisely, the worship of Jesus was (and should be) wholly Trinitarian; that is, “Worship of Jesus that is not worship of God through Jesus, or, more completely, worship of God through Jesus and in the Spirit, is not Christian worship.”
Dunn argues that the original question, “Did the first Christians worship Jesus?” is too narrow, and when taken at face value it should be answered in the negative. Better questions to ask, Dunn suggests, are “was the earliest Christian worship possible without and apart from Jesus?” and, “did the first Christians include Jesus within this restricted worship, or did they somehow loosen the restrictions?” Dunn is attempting to guard against the possibility of Christomonism, or in his words “Jesus-olatry”, wherein the worship of Jesus replaces the worship of God.
This book, while written at an easily-accessible level and marketed to the general Christian public, makes the reader feel like they have walked into the middle of a conversation without any prior context of the conversation. As well, because Dunn states that he is in agreement with Hurtado and Bauckham, the subtle arguments that he is making in relation to their broader conversation will probably be lost on those who have not fully followed the conversation. As such, Larry Hurtado’s review helps to guide readers in understanding the broader conversation, as well as pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of Dunn’s argument.
From a theological perspective, Dunn’s book is useful because he affirms and wants to ensure that all discussion of Christian worship is Trinitarian in nature. At the same time, the question needs to be asked if Dunn’s fear of “Jesus-olatry” is overblown. An examination of the Patristic development of Christology, even though it is extends beyond the first century data that Dunn is analyzing, would be useful to explore, particularly some of the early writings of Justin Martyr and Tertullian, to see if the worship of Jesus actually displaces the worship of God the Father. (Though space does not permit, I would argue that the development of the doctrine of the Trinity prevents this from occurring). That being said, Dunn’s worry about “Jesus-olatry” does not warrant criticisms that Dunn is undermining the foundations of Christian orthodoxy with his scholarly examination of the biblical texts.
 James Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus: The New Testament Evidence (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).
 Ibid., 6.
 Ibid., 58.
 Ibid., 60.
 Larry Hurtado, review of Did the First Christians Worship, by James Dunn, Journal of Theological Studies 61 (2010): 736-40.
 See for example, Paul Owen, review of Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence, by James Dunn, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54 (2011): 645-47.
What is it about a dissertation or a thesis that makes or breaks a student? Great students who are eager to learn, who excel at their classes and desire to work in the world of academics are motivated and goal-oriented. And then comes the thesis (or dissertation) and everything stops. I have friends who have been ABD for 10 years. I have friends who get to the thesis component of their MA and flip out of the thesis track and replace it with extra courses. Is there a way to better prepare students so that they not only survive the thesis/dissertation component of their degree but actually enjoy it and flourish from the experience?
Jane Ho, with Lilian and Paul Wong, did a study, Helps and Hinderances to Thesis Completion, looking at what helps and hinders a student in completing their thesis.
Ho’s list of helps and hindrances should be required reading for every student before they enter the thesis/dissertation of their program, as is the list of suggestions for both the student and the supervisor. I summarize them below.
Factors that Hinder Completion of a Thesis:
Factors that Help Completion of a Thesis:
Suggestions for Students:
1. Set deadlines and stick to planned schedule
2. Manage your time and priority
3. Set goals for and after the program
4. Find support from peers, family and friends
5. Take advantage of available resources
6. Know your learning styles
7. Get to know your professors/supervisors
8. Find meaning in your thesis work
9. Do not procrastinate
10. Read, write and be prepared
11. Resolve conflicts quickly
12. Be organized
13. Exercise self-care
14. Be your own project/thesis manager
Suggestions for Supervisors:
1. Set Goals and timeline with the supervisees
2. Collaborate with other professors
3. Increase research-related courses; decrease irrelevant courses
4. Set up thesis proposal and writing as a course
5. Make resources more accessible online
6. Provide more explanations on ethics approval process
7. Enforce the program guidelines and deadlines
8. Provide opportunity for students to get to know their potential supervisors
9. Provide realistic time frame for the program
10. Minimize the number of supervised students for each supervisor
11. Provide more opportunities to learn from others
12. Provide more accessible resources and better equipment
See: Jane Ho, Lilian and Paul Wong, WHAT HELPS AND WHAT HINDERS THESIS COMPLETION:A CRITICAL INCIDENT STUDY. International Journal of Existential Psychology & Psychotherapy vol. 3 (2010): 117-131.
Theology Round-up will return at the end of April. I’ve taken a fast from blogging, not for spiritual reasons, but for “life has been way too busy” reasons. Between my internship, starting my first chapter of my thesis, and the death of our car, this month has been crazy to say the least. Regular blogging will resume tomorrow.
In the mean time, enjoy this clip of Karl Barth talking about the Confessing Church.