Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wrecked Theology: The Books that Read Us

I think it was late in the fall of 2012 when I said to my best friends, “I think I’m having a major faith crisis. I don’t know what I believe about much of anything anymore." 

So many things had brought me to that point, (fodder for a later post), but the bottom line was, it was downright terrifying. The only thing I knew was that Jesus was still at the core of it all, and desperately needed Jesus to still be on the other side of whatever this was. Two helpful books I read back then that helped me deal with my doubts or crisis of faith, or whatever you want to call it, were:
Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty by Gregory A. Boyd and
Is God to Blame? Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering by Gregory A. Boyd (but also everything by Rachel Held Evans and Pete Enns...)

But I am getting ahead of myself...

So Zahnd talked in his post about how he read himself into a completely new and much richer place. And I totally get that, because I feel like I've been in the process of doing the same thing for the past several years as well. As a follow-up to the discussion started by Zahnd's post, Chris asked me this question:
@JLNeyhart so hey what three books have most wrecked your theology?
— Chris Wermeskerch (@ChrisWerms) April 26, 2014
Obviously, I cannot narrow it down to only three books, so I tried to expand it to thinking about which three authors wrecked my theology. And by "wrecked" I mean forced me to reexamine my theology. But I need to back up now to Bible College.

In 2004, I took a Biblical Theology class from Dr. Stepp. He assigned us to read “What Saint Paul Really Said” by N.T. Wright, and “A Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian Mclaren. (I highly recommend both.) Some time after this, I also read Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz, and Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. The interesting thing for me to reflect on though, is how much I found myself arguing with these authors at that time. I was completely closed off to what they were saying because though I probably had the false humility not to say it, I thought I had my theology pretty well figured out and no one was going to change it, thank you very much!

I graduated from college in 2005 and then floundered a bit trying to figure out the next phase of life. Some of the biggest influences in my life at that time were Calvinists, so I (unfortunately) started reading a lot of John Piper and Charles Spurgeon for the first time. I also started grad school for a Master of Arts in English in 2007. This is when I finally started to really think through everything a lot more thoroughly and critically. As I studied literary criticism, I had to face the fact that none of us can approach a text (ANY text), without bringing all of our baggage, bias, and preconceived ideas to bear upon it. It is impossible to be purely objective when reading and interpreting.

During this time I took two classes on postmodernism. One was called Postmodern Culture where we wrote 3 papers over the course of the semester on _fill in the blank_ and Postmodernism. So I wrote about "The Shack" as a postmodern novel, C. S. Lewis and Postmodernism, and The Church and Postmodernism, which led me to deeper study of the emerging church movement. This is when I discovered Scot McKnight, and I'm fairly certain that it was through his blog that I first found Rachel Held Evans blog. (And again, I found myself disagreeing with her on a lot of things when I first started reading her posts.)

Rachel led me to Greg Boyd, Sarah Bessey, and Preston Yancey (among many, many more). And I think it was Preston who got me to read Peter Enns. I don’t remember how I found Roger Olson (probably also via Rachel, come to think of it), but he led me to David Bentley Hart.

All of this to say, that like Zahnd, “I read myself into a completely new and much richer place.”

And I encourage you to do the same. After all, if you only read people you agree with, how will you grow?

C. S. Lewis wrote: "My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself.” And I know this to be true from experience. I even wrote a short post about how God shattered my box a little over a year ago.

We all do theology, consciously or not, and we must. But we should hold it loosely, with open hands.

So, if I absolutely have to pick only three authors that wrecked my theology, they would be N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, and Rachel Held Evans. But that was really only the beginning. =)
Pete Enns definitely needs to be on that list too! And post seminary I have so many others to add!

Additional Book Recommendations (not already linked in post):

Anything at all by N.T. Wright! (No, but seriously! I'm reading Surprised by Hope right now, I've read How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, Simply Jesus...)

These two didn't wreck my faith because I was already on the same page as them, but if you are a Calvinist who's pretty much just stuck to reading Piper, etc. You should read these:

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