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March Books

1. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N. T. Wright.
Well, it was helpful to have Wright summarise and simplify what he has said in more detail elsewhere but, apart from a few points where Wright extends his thinking, this book is basically a combination of The Resurrection of the Son of God and Simply Christian. So, if you’ve read these other books, you may want to take a pass on this one. To be honest, I wish Wright would stop putting out these short books (that mostly restate what he has said elsewhere) and get on with publishing his next installment — the installment on Paul — in the Christian Origins and the Question of God series.
2. Christians at the Cross: Finding Hope in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus by N. T. Wright.
After reading Surprised by Hope, I thought “okay, this is Wright’s ‘theology of hope’, now he needs to develop his ‘theology of the cross'” (just as Moltmann — whom Wright engages in Surprised by Hope — moved from Theology of Hope to The Crucified God). Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when Wright mentioned that he had simultaneously published a short book — Christians at the Cross — to address some of the issues and questions of the cross and cruciformity.
However, upon reading Christians at the Cross, I must say that I was rather disappointed. Given that this book was a series of sermons given over Holy Week, at a former mining town now experiencing a great deal of poverty and violence, I had fairly high expectations. Sadly, Wright’s book reads like the sort of book that a well-intentioned, but rather clueless, academic would present to those on the margins — the sort of book that the miners I have known would probably read and, after yawning, say “that was… um… nice.”
To be honest, I think that Wright’s earlier writing — parts of The Climax of the Covenant and Following Jesus, for example — exhibit a better introduction into a theology of the cross. In those works, Wright talks about following the Spirit, and the crucified Lord, into the “groaning places of the world” in order to be agents of God’s new creation. I wish Wright would develop that sort of thinking more (but, then again, leading the affluent lifestyle of a Bishop doesn’t contribute well to developing this sort of thinking). Instead, in these sermons were have a classical music motif that dominates — talking about how the Old Testament is the bass part, the New Testament is the treble part, and our lives are the alto part. Granted, this is a clever analogy, but if miners in England are anything like the miners (or iron-workers, or labourers, or loggers) that I have known, then I suspect the resounding response from Wright’s audience was, “Bo-o-o-oring!”
3. A Theology of History by Hans Urs von Balthasar.
I find von Balthasar to be unique amongst authors because, far more than anybody else, I find myself needing to put his books down — often in the middle of a paragraph — in order to pray. No other author consistently moves me to prayer in this way and this alone is reason enough to read his books.
Balthasar’s central thesis is that Christ is the “norm” and “living centre” of history, through whom we then interpret the rest of history. Now this is a fairly standard Christian approach to history (or, should I say, eschatology, which I believe is the proper term for a Christian theology of history). However, Balthasar, as always, puts a fairly exciting and unique spin on how this works out. He argues that Christ’s mode of time is surrendering all sovereignty to the Father, and thereby receiving everything from the Father, to such a degree that “receptivity is the very constitution of his being.” This then leads Balthasar to conclude that all sin is found in our efforts to break out of this mode of time either by attempted to flee from time into timeless constructs and philosophies, or by attempting to anticipate the will of the Father, rather than simply receiving what the Father gives through the Spirit. Consequently, just as Christ gives meaning to time, Christians can participate meaningfully in time, because they are in Christ. Thus the Church takes on Christ’s mission and becomes “the ultimate gift of God to human history.”
Damn good stuff, what?
4. A Broad Place: An Autobiography by Jürgen Moltmann.
Well, this was a fun read, and I’m hoping to use some of my free time (when I have free time, that is) to read more auto/biographies this year. As a fan of Moltmann, it was interesting to get a glimpse into events that Moltmann had only hinted at, or spoken of in a truncated manner, in his earlier works (usually in his introductions to his various works, but especially in Experiences in Theology). I did, however, find myself a little puzzled by the way in which Moltmann connects his theology to his lifestyle as a renowned academic, and thus I hope to have my questions answered once he receives the letter that I have written him (see my post below). I’ll keep y’all posted.
5. The Making of the Counter Culture: Reflections on the tecnoratic society and its youthful opposition by Theodore Roszak.
I saw this book in the “free books” bin at my school, picked up it, and then ended up really getting into it. It’s interesting to read a book on the counter-culture that was published in 1969 — just before the counter-culture of the ’60s really began to die.
Simply put, Roszak is a fan of the counter-culture — indeed, he believes that the counter-culture is the only move,ment that contains that which is capable of freeing bourgeois society from itself — but he is also aware of its weaknesses. Indeed, his warnings to the counter-culture remain as appropriate today as they were then (see my post below). Of course, I believe that Roszak is operating with a faulty soteriology (the flipside of the faulty State-based soteriology), but his book was still quite a bit of fun to read, in part because he was commenting on authors — like Ginsberg, Watts, Goodman and Marcuse — whom I have not read in detail.
6. Street Stories: 100 Years of Homelessness in Vancouver by Michael Barnholden & Nancy Newman, with photographs by Lindsay Mearns.
This book provides a nice, clean-cut, overview of how homelessness developed in Vancouver, and how the downtown eastside became what it is today. This overview takes the first forty or so pages. The remaining eighty pages are very brief glimpses into the lives of thirty-eight different street-involved people (who allowed their pictures to be taken, and who give advice to youth who are considering homelessness).
Finally, I should note that this book starts with a fantastic quotation from Herman Melville that reads as follows:
Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed and well-fed.
Amen, brotha!

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