Tuesday, December 22, 1998

Reading for Renewal: The Books That Formed Me

Reading for Renewal: The Books That Formed Me

By Stephen F. Noll

As a convert in college, I was challenged to full commitment by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come forth and die."

The finest teacher I ever had was Allan Bloom, who convinced me that writers in past ages might just know more than I and my contemporaries do. His philosophy of education is best captured in The Closing of the American Mind. Bloom’s understanding of the centrality of love and beauty in human nature is summed up in his final book, Love and Friendship.

Two authors who combine classic and Christian perspective are John Milton and Jane Austen. Both were Anglicans! Paradise Lost (I like the Alasdair Fowler edition) is an imaginative retelling of the Great Story of the Bible. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is the perfect novel, in which the "marriage of two minds" is an emblem of the highest human nature can attain. Read the book and then see the excellent new BBC video version.

In my first year at Trinity (1979), I came upon Brevard Childs’ Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, a reasoned defense of the unity of the Old Testament. Since then he has extended the "canonical approach" to the Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. An excellent example of "theological commentary" is the two volume commentary on Matthew by Frederick Dale Bruner.

Hermeneutics is a worldview battleground today. I have found more interesting work outside theology. Chana Bloch’s Spelling the Word: George Herbert and the Bible is a beautifully written exposition of George Herbert’s way of reading the Bible. A. D. Nuttall in A New Mimesis: Shakespeare and the Nature of Reality makes a compelling case that great literary art presumes there is something "out there." The most interesting interpretation of Paul’s psychology comes from the Heinz Cassirer, Grace and Law, a philosopher who turned from Kant to Christ through his reading of the Pauline epistles.

Biblical interpretation moves from the plain truth to the whole truth of the text. I note John Goldingay’s two recent books, Models for Scripture and Models for Interpretation of Scripture, as interesting but dangerous because, in my opinion, they cut loose of the plain truth too readily. By contrast, I have found Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s communion meditations in Till He Come to be a wonderful blend of imaginative yet literal reading of God’s word.

This page was published in Trinity School for Ministry's journal Mission and Ministry in December 1998.

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