On the Shelves...
...features book recommendations from a variety of Princeton Seminary faculty and staff, with the hope that these suggestions will help alumni/ae choose books that will contribute to their personal and professional growth:
From Stephen D. Crocco, the James Lenox Librarian
Authority: The Most Misunderstood Idea in America, by Eugene Kennedy and Sara C. Charles, M.D. New York: Free Press, 1997. Many mainline ministers long for authority, yet they avoid exercising anything resembling it for fear that they will be seen as authoritarian. In this text, the authors argue for distinguishing between authority and authoritarianism. They suggest that authority creates, enlarges, and enables the growth of others. In contrast, authoritarianism imposes conformity that restricts and hinders growth. For centuries the legitimate exercise of authority (or "authoring") between parent and child, teacher and student, physician and patient, etc., has taken place in hierarchical structures, both in and around the excesses of authoritarianism. In our time, such hierarchies have met their demise; so, too, has the exercise of authority. The authors contend that this is good news (if we can just get through the interim) because there is now a chance to disentangle authority from authoritarianism. In the interim our culture has placed a massive burden on the legal system to settle questions about the exercise and the boundaries of authority. Even so, the authors are optimistic about the growing triumph of common sense linked to the rise of people who know how to navigate successfully in a nonhierarchical world. (They have Peter Druckers "knowledge workers" in mind.) There are many reasons to dismiss this book. The authors complaints about the moral crises of our age are cranky and excessive. For example, do we really need more bashing of "values clarification" or the excesses of political correctness? The books theology is simplistic, its exaltation of common sense (read "natural law") is naive, and its analysis of complex ideas and figures is superficial and demands serious theological analysis and correction. In spite of these shortcomings, the authors attempts to rehabilitate the idea of authority are welcome.
H. Richard Niebuhr: Theology, History, and Culture: Major Unpublished Writings, ed. by William Stacy Johnson. Foreword by Richard R. Niebuhr. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996. Most seminarians read some Niebuhr, and many make a mental note to return to his writings when they have time. If you are among those who made a note, now is the time. Since Niebuhrs death in 1962, only a few of his unpublished writings have trickled into print; by editing the best of Niebuhrs unpublished writings, Johnson has opened the flood gates. This publication conveys more than just historical interest because Niebuhr continues to exercise a remarkable influence on theologians and ethicists in North America. (I predict that when historians look back to this century, their judgment will be that H. Richard was more influential than his brother Reinhold.) Johnson has grouped Niebuhrs essays, addresses, lectures, and sermons around headings of theological method and ecclesiology, the interpretation of history, and religion and democracy. Excerpts from both the Cole Lectures and Niebuhrs essay on Jonathan Edwards are alone worth the price of the book. Johnson concludes the book with three of Niebuhrs sermons. In sum, he offers a fair and concise introduction to Niebuhrs life and thought, which is not an easy task since there are many claims, both positive and negative, on Niebuhrs legacy. Reading this book will leave many wondering about both Niebuhrs little-known works, of which there are many, and his minor unpublished writings.
From Beverly R. Gaventa, the Helen H. P. Manson Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis
Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul, by J. Louis Martyn. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997. For the last quarter of a century, the essays of J. Louis Martyn have regularly instructed students of Paul, often challenging deeply entrenched interpretations. Here those essays come together, not simply as a convention of old friends, but as a coherent, provocative statement about Pauls theology. Over against the powerful tendency in recent decades to find in Paul an expression of the Gospels fundamental continuity with Israel, so that the Christ event becomes only one more element in salvation history, Martyn insists that the Gospel constitutes a divine invasion of the cosmos, its customary ways of thinking, and even (or especially!) its religion. Throughout this conversation with Paul, Martyn also engages in dialogue with a refreshing array of other voices, ranging from Leo Baeck to Flannery OConnor (and including PTSs J. Christiaan Beker, Nancy J. Duff, and Paul W. Meyer). Specialists have eagerly awaited this book, but it is not a book for scholars only. Written in graceful prose that is deliciously free of jargon, Martyns work constitutes a relentless reminder to the church of the fundamental scandal of the Gospel: it is not something humans do, choose, elect, or otherwise achieve, but concerns rather the "awful invading power of Gods unconditional grace" (p.297).
Jesus and the Holocaust: Reflections on Suffering and Hope, by Joel Marcus. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Readers of this slender volume owe a debt of gratitude to Peter Francis, provost of St. Marys Cathedral in Glasgow, for inviting Joel Marcus (formerly assistant professor of New Testament at PTS) to preach at the Good Friday service in 1995. Because 1995 was also the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, Marcuss homilies explore what he understands to be the inextricable connection between the tragedies of Jewish history and the death of Jesus on the cross. A Jew by birth who became a Christian in early adulthood, Marcus brings to this endeavor both searing questions and abiding confidence in God. This is a book of rare courage, for Marcus dares to make explicit the dehumanization at work both in the crucifixion and in the death camps. He asks whether the deaths of the Holocaust can in some sense be called, like the death of Jesus, redemptive. He insists that we acknowledge as real the abandonment by God experienced in both events, while at the same time understanding that the cry of abandonment is also a confession of faith. With every step, Marcus is cautious, acknowledging the hazards of the terrain; yet his guidance into this realm of darkness is itself a profound assertion of hope.
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