Saturday, July 05, 2008

Summer Reading

I began with the first volume of Gary Dorrien's The Making of American Liberal Theology. I took a two-week break to go through the seven volumes of Harry Potter, and am now on volume two of Dorrien's three-part work. Between volumes two and three, I'll either read It or The Stand. Stephen King is a seasonal writer; Salem's Lot is an autumnal read, and The Shining a winter yarn. The first two I mentioned, however, put me in mind of summer (although I first read It when it came out, in the fall of 1986, it will always be a summer book for me).

I am barely in to Dorrien's narrative/analysis of liberal theology in America at its high water mark and am already heartened by this re-reading. First and foremost, I have to say that my recollection covers Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, with a smattering of the Boston Personalists moreso than anything else. Beginning again as I am, I am recalling the first constructive theological statement of American theological liberalism, An Outline of Christian Theology by Colgate University theology professor William Newton Clarke. I just want to lift a quote from Clarke, via page 36 of Dorrien's work, that I find heartening:
Christianity is not a book-religion, but a life-religion. It centres (sic) in a person, and consists in a life, and Scriptures are its servant, not its source. To treat it, in proclaiming it or defending it, as a book-religion is to resign one if best point of advantage.

Clarke was a Baptist minister who found his vocation as a theology teacher late in life. As there was no good text from which to work, Clarke wrote his own, relying on his years of experience as an exegetical preacher, rather than the work of theologians. What is remarkable about what he wrote is how well it fit the zeitgeist of the burgeoning liberal theology movement.

So what are you reading this summer?

Virtual Tin Cup

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