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November Books

Well, most of my reading time in November was dedicated to researching a paper that I ended up calling “Christians: neither Pagans, nor Jews. ‘Badges of Membership’ in Paul’s Epistles”. I was considering posting that paper on this blog but I have been encouraged to submit that paper for publication and so I won’t be posting it here (unless it is thoroughly rejected by the journals). So, here are the few books I managed to read this month:
1. The Theology of Paul the Apostle by James D. G. Dunn.
This is an exceptional book, easily the best one I read this month, and quite possibly the best book I have read this year. Using the epistle to the Romans as his outline, Dunn traces the major elements of Paul’s theology. Thus, he moves from exploring God, to humanity (and its indictment), to Jesus, to salvation (both the beginning and the process thereof), to the Church, to ethics. There is so much good material in this book that it is really impossible to do any sort of justice to it in a brief “review” (if you can even call this a “review”). It’s not a book for the faint of heart (weighing in at 700+ pages) but I highly recommend it to any reader interested in NT or Pauline studies. This is the sort of book that is essential to developing a biblical paradigm from within which a person can think and live Christianly.
2. Jesus Before Christianity by Albert Nolan.
I decided to pick this book up because I noticed that Sister Helen Prejean (author of “Dead Man Walking” and, more recently, “The Death of Innocents”) spoke very highly of it on her blog. While Nolan does have some important things to say, and while I appreciated his stress upon the socio-political implications of following Jesus, I can’t say I was altogether that impressed with the book. The problem is that Nolan (like many who were beginning to engage in a a more liberating hermeneutic in the 1970s) tends to minimize the more “religious,” “mystical” or “miraculous” elements of Jesus and his ministry in order to make his point. Exegesis since then (and, to a certain degree, before then) has suggested that there is no need to posit an either-or about these things. Jesus as the religious figure goes hand-in-hand with Jesus as the social radical, and to divide the two (as Nolan and those both before and after him have often done) is not very helpful or very faithful to Jesus and Jesus’ context. Of course, maybe I’ve just been spoiled because I had already read Jimmy Dunn’s Jesus Remembered and Tom Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (I still maintain that Wright’s book is the book to read about Jesus).
3. Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir by Norman Malcolm.
Malcolm was a student and lifelong friend of Wittgenstein. This is his reflections upon his time with Wittgenstein, it records some of his personal conversations with Wittgenstein and this edition contains the complete collection of letters that Malcolm received from Wittgenstein (some of which are quite insightful and even humourous). This book is useful for gathering biographical information on Wittgenstein, placing him within his context, and getting a glimpse of his personality.
4. Death in Venice and Seven Other Stories by Thomas Mann.
I really want to like short stories. However, for some reason, I have a heckuva time getting into this genre of literature. It doesn’t matter who I read (for example, I spent some time last year working through Flannery O’Connor’s short stories), I just can’t seem to get all that excited about short stories. Thus, I can’t say I really enjoyed this collection by Thomas Mann. What I need to do is pick up one of his larger works (like Dr. Faustus).
5. My Secret: A Postsecret Book compiled by Frank Warren.
Well, this book isn’t really much of a reading book. It’s more of a picture book — and it’s a great picture book. For those of you who are unfamiliar with postsecret, go here — I would love to hear your thoughts on what you find there.

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