John Hobbins (Ancient Hebrew Poetry) has tagged us to be part of Ken Brown’s challenge to name five authors/books that changed the way we (Andrew and Shane) read the Scriptures. We’ll gladly participate; we’re guessing some of you could guess by our posts who will make this list! Well, you won’t have to guess.
Here’s our list – not in order of importance. We have put the books we both placed in the top-5 at the top. Toward the bottom, we have put the final two titles that are different between the two of us. This is a long post, so we suggest taking a minute to grab a cup of coffee, have a stretch, and then give it a go!
1) Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.
Shane: I read through these for volumes staring near the end of my seminary training, and finishing around 8 months ago. I find Bavinck to be immanently biblical, thoroughly orthodox (in the Reformed confessional tradition), well versed in alternative theologies, and sweepingly centered on the Word of God and the Triune God of the Word. These are volumes that I continue to use. Side note: a briefer and similar Bavinck work right up there for me is Our Reasonable Faith. Other side note: I have to put Calvin’s Institutes right here as well, which I first read in college (during an odd class on “spiritual formation”).
Andrew: These volumes are indeed formative, but I narrowed my pick down to vol. 1, Prolegomena. While it is temping for the systematician to dive right into the doctrine of God, a proper understanding of scripture is vital if one wants to do anything more than give their opinion of what the Bible says. I found this first volume to be a very formative read due to his very robust view of scripture, coupled with his honesty of how difficult Biblical interpretation really is. Bavinck is no fundamentalist and his Prolegomena shows just how much credit he gives to many discoveries of higher criticism allowing someone like me, who works in academia, to remain grounded firmly in the confessional doctrinal of scripture without feeling the need to hide my head in the sands.
2) Michael Horton’s 4-volume Covenant series (WJK).
Shane: Covenant and Eschatology (vol 1) picked me up, whipped the inner fundamentalist in me around, and pushed me into reformed confessionalism’s emphasis on pilgrim theology, including the great truths of accommodation, analogy, covenant, and a host of other issues that taught me how to read the Word more humbly and carefully. Also, volume 4 of this series is a profound trek through ecclesiology, which has helped me help my parishioners read the Bible with and in the church, for the church. I had the pleasure of sitting under Horton (in seminary) for 3 years, which has to do with these 4 volumes as well.
Andrew: As with Bavinck, I also narrowed this down to vol. 1, Covenant and Eschatology. Probably what was most formative about this work was how Horton was able to correct both liberal and conservative assumptions about things like history, referentiality, language, knowledge, and a host of other epistemological items taken for granted across the literature. With his emphasis on analogy (rather than univocity or equivocity), Horton lays the foundation for a much richer Biblical and systematic theology.
3) Geerhardus Vos: Biblical Theology
Shane: I read this before seminary, in preparation. Vos made me realize the OT was about Jesus, the Messiah, not some weird old book with some odd traditions and customs that had some universal moral truths out of which we could glean. I still use this book very much. Vos could write, and like Bavinck, he interacted well with the “other” views – Vos specifically knew the higher criticism of its day, and responded to them in a mature, scholarly, non-fundamentalistic way. Side: Meredith Kline’s Kingdom Prologue also falls under Vos on my list.
Andrew: Before I read Vos, I had no concept of any reading of the Bible that wasn’t in the service of systematic theology. I assumed that ST classes in seminary would walk through the loci as they were argued in church history (what I later would learn is actually called historical theology) and that biblical classes would “proof-text” the various doctrines from various sections of scripture. With Vos, however, I suddenly had that “Aha!” moment wherein I realized that the scriptures aren’t a proof-text mine for doctrine, they are a redemptive-historical story line that enfolds God’s people into itself. Suddenly I realized that the “crimson thread” running throughout the scriptures wasn’t predestination or total-depravity, but was the progressive unfolding of revelation itself. After reading Vos, I never read the Bible in the same way again. It helped me to see the plot line that propels the scripture from creation to consummation!
4) C.S. Lewis: The Narnia Series
Shane: Lewis breathed life back into my nearly dead imagination (no thanks to mass media). I’ve read these books to my kids (aloud, the only way!) around 6 times (no kidding!). Each time we all smile, laugh, and are again introduced into the beauty of good writing, solid characters, and awesome word pictures. Good writing finds its way into the Christian pulpit-speech; it also helps me read the Bible with my imagination. Note: I’m in the middle of his Space Trilogy – great stuff!
4) Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom
Andrew: Before reading Ridderbos, I fell prey to the traditional formatting of the Bible, dividing Old and New Testaments between Malachi and Matthew. I found, however, that I never really could identify with the gospels quite like I could the epistles. Ridderbos helped me to see that the content of Jesus’ preaching had a different focus than did that of the Apostles. The gospels thus fall into the “interim” time between the testaments, still OT in many ways, yet boldly and creatively driving toward the NT. Christ’s teaching, then, was not to provide instruction to the Christian church in exactly the same manner as was say, Paul – rather his ministry was one of bringing in the Kingdom of God. Suddenly Jesus’ miracles, teachings, ethics, etc., made sense to me. Furthermore, I was able to see that eschatology – what I previously thought involved only the book of Revelation – was thoroughly infused in Jesus’ preaching and ministry.
5) Martin Luther’s 7 Volume Sermon Set (Baker)
Shane: My parents gave me this about 4 years ago; I couldn’t set them down. I think I devoured them in around one year while I was in seminary. Luther taught me the biblical difference between the law and the gospel, which was a great boost to my sanctification as well as my understanding of justification. Luther also taught me how to read the Bible with the reformers and the saints before – a “ministerial” instead of a “magisterial” way to read tradition. He also taught me the right use of reason in theology and Scripture interpretation. (Note: Bondage of the Will belongs here too!)
5) Marvin A. Sweeney, 1 & 2 Kings (OTL)
Andrew: At first I wasn’t sure if this could really be considered a formative book for me, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it was. This isn’t because 1 & 2 Kings is a favorite biblical book or anything, but because in his commentary, Sweeney exemplifies how one might go about the task of asking both synchronic and diachronic questions of the biblical text. His basic premise (throughout his writings in general) is that close synchronic reading can actually help one to achieve a more objective diachronic understanding of a text which can thereby unfold new and creative levels of meaning as we seek to understand not only what a text means, but what it meant and to whom it meant it. As I worked through this volume, I began to sense that I was a student, sitting at the feet of a wise and innovative Rabbi as I watched him demonstrate to me a better way of doing academic biblical studies.
These Came Close
Shane: I also wrestled with putting Kevin Vanhoozer’s Drama of Doctrine, Lesslie Newbigin (a few of his books), Augustine, Francis Turretin, some Karl Barth, William Willimon, or the Heidelberg Catechism on this list. Or I could maybe include R. C. Sproul, or J. I. Packer. I do also have to mention R. S. Clark’s many seminary lectures in church history (some found in written form in his Recovering the Reformed Confession), which taught me how to listen to those theologians who have gone before me. This was a tough “book challenge,” but a good one. Thanks for the tag, John.
Andrew: I too had to leave many out. To name a few, Kevin Vanhoozer’s Drama of Doctrine, Meredith G. Kline’s Kingdom Prologue, David Carr’s Writing on the Tablet of the Heart, Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confession, Brevard Child’s Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, Michael Fishbane’s Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel, as well as everything else ever written by Marvin Sweeney and Michael Horton. I am especially indebted to one writer in particular who requested their name be left out of blogdom – one day I hope I can show my appreciation to this excellent writer.
shane and andrew