Four Hard Books


One of the perks of having studied theology and working at a publisher is that free books occasionally pop up, and because I can be quite nerdy, the ones I want are often the ones that my colleagues are less interested in. Regular readers will know that one of my primary theological interests is what it means to be human – to which end I’ve written and spoken academically, as well as blogging sporadically. I was delighted, then, to acquire a few copies of books which consider those questions, from different angles and perspectives, and which I hope to read over the next few months.

The first of these is the one I am most likely to be vaguely qualified to read – though barely – Gordon McConville’s ‘Being Human in God’s World: An Old Testament Theology of Humanity’. This looks like being a classic Old Testament study, and thus far I’ve appreciated the author’s humility and awareness within the huge topic of what it means to be human. I’m particularly interested by the chapters on being made in the Image of God, and what it means to be ‘constituted’ and ‘situated’ as a human being. My hunch is that these are both very important questions – often forgotten in contemporary dialogue.

Secondly, and moving into the trio of books that I think it is very unlikely I’ll be able to do full justice to, is ‘A Time to Keep: Theology, Mortality, and the Shape of A Human Life’. Radner writes, “The miracle of birth and the mystery of death mark human life. Mortality, like a dark specter, looms over all that lies in between. Human character, behavior, aims and community are all inescapably shaped by this certainty of human ends“. This book considers mortality in the light of God’s sovereignty and human limitations. I think it should dovetail nicely with the McConville book, and I’m particularly looking forward to the chapter entitled ‘The Vocation of Singleness’.

Thirdly, and definitely out of my regular reading comfort zone, is a book engaging with the philosophy of Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope and then Saint John Paul II in the Roman Catholic Church. ‘Karol Wojtyla’s Personalist Philosophy: Understanding Person and Act’ is an intrudction to the thought of Wojtyla, focusing on the anthropology he outlines in ‘Person and Act’. Apparently building on the philosophical anthropology of Thomas Aquinas, this book looks like it will be hard work but well worth it, throwing some Roman Catholic Philosophy onto the questions surrounding being a human person.

Finally and fourthly, by Stephen M. Fields, is ‘Analogies of Transcendence: An Essay on Nature, Grace & Modernity’. This rather terrifying looking book draws together a range of things that, as I’ve explored theologically around the question of being human, I’ve had to engage with a bit. This book focuses on the tension between Nature and Grace, roaming around and throughout Church history, with a particular emphasis on recent Roman Catholic theologians such as Rahner and von Balthasar. Like the book on Wojtyla, I forsee this being a tough but rewarding read.

So there you go – something of a temporary agenda for the next chunk of reading for me on theological anthropology, and its philosophical cousins. I’d hope to review each one, and maybe write something about crossovers between the four, either in pairs, a trio, or together. It is, of course, entirely possible that I won’t understand a word of any of them, and this blog post will be a healthy reminder of my own hubris.

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