This is sad. I’m not even sure that what goes on here should even be called “blogging” at this point. More like an archive of various points in the development of my thinking over the past seven years. A friend – two, actually – by their example have convinced me to keep going.
The title above, an allusion to an ongoing series in The Christian Century, is a bit grandiose – and is only part of what I want to do here. First, the obligatory update. But it also seemed good to set down a bit of reflection about where I have been and where I am now. I plan to do this in a series of five or six brief posts over the next week or week and a half. Seriously.
I start with books. Christmas break had me slogging my way through E. Brooks Holifield’s Theology in America (Yale, 2003) and David Cunningham’s Faithful Persuasion (Notre Dame, 1991). I read Holifield in an effort to put flesh on my skeletal knowledge of Christianity in the colonial and antebellum America, specifically to give the thought and writings of Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott some context. As the title suggests, the book is a history of theological thought, rather than social history or denominational history as such, and it is very detailed and very well researched. It is (almost) the only book of its kind; the only comparable text is Mark Noll’s America’s God (which I have an idea that I’d like to read within the next year or two). Most helpful was Holifield’s emphasis on the pervasiveness of Baconian thought in the early 19th century, helping me to see that AC and the other key figures of the founding generation of the SCRM were not, in most respects, unique. The Cunningham book was a follow-up to the Preaching and the Rhetorical Arts seminar that I took in the fall, an effort to solidify in my mind some the key concepts that were addressed in that class. Cunningham divides the bulk of the book under the three aspects of rhetoric advanced by Aristotle: ēthos, pathos, and logos. He gives much attention to how theology should be seen as persuasive discourse rather than in analytical terms.
After the break concluded, I turned to D. Newell Williams’ Ministry among Disciples: Past, Present, and Future (CBP, 1985), one of the brief volumes (pamphlets, really) published in the “Nature of the Church” series commissioned during the 1980s by the Commission on Theology of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). This was a follow-up to a paper I wrote last semester on the question of who can (and/or should) preside at the Table. Of particular interest were the first three chapters, which outline (in turn) Stone’s views on ministry, Campbell’s views on ministry, and the development of the located minister in the late 19th century (and the ensuing power struggle between ministers and elders that continues to reverberate in our polity down to the present day). Later chapters (as one would expect) deal specifically with 20th century developments among Disciples of Christ and are, thus, of less immediate interest to readers among churches of Christ. Still, very illuminating on a number of questions and highly recommended.
Over the past week and a half, I’ve been devouring James B. Torrance’s Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace (InterVarsity, 1996). A friend pointed me to T.F. Torrance last fall and suggested this volume, a collection of lectures by his brother James, as a good introduction to probably the most significant Reformed theologian of the last half of the 20th century. The four lectures deal with 1) how our understanding of the Trinity affects our worship, 2) Christ’s role as mediator in prayer and worship, 3) the Trinitarian basis of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and 4) a Trinitarian response to radical feminist efforts to “re-imagine” God in feminine terms. Likely, you will find specific points on which to disagree, but as a whole this collection is well worth consideration.
Just this afternoon, I began Philip Rieff’s The Triumph of the Therapeutic: The Uses of Faith after Freud (1967). It’s hard to explain, but it’s a sociologist’s attempt to do something like what Alasdair MacIntyre would later do in After Virtue (1981), that is to explain key changes in the modern period in Western notions of morality and the sense of self. This is something of a prologue to some readings I’ll be doing in the general area of pastoral care over the next year.
Finally, at bedtime, I’ve been working my way through Stanley Hauerwas’ memoir, Hannah’s Child. It’s been sitting on the shelf since last summer. It’s one of those books that I knew I wouldn’t be able to put down once I started it, so I intentionally set it aside because I had other responsibilities at the time. A professor of mine mentioned it last week, urged me to go ahead with it, and I did. I’ve been staying up late reading the last few nights, because, indeed, I can’t put it down.
Lastly, a couple of book purchases. With some Christmas money, I went to Elder’s Bookstore here in Nashville a couple of weeks ago. I came away with two books. First, John Rogers’ The Biography of Elder J. T. Johnson (1861; reprint edition, Gospel Advocate Co., 1956). Johnson (1788-1856) is not among the better known first-generation leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement, at least not in our day. In his own day, he was widely acclaimed as the evangelist of the Movement, even beyond someone like Walter Scott. He is best remembered for the events of New Year’s Day 1832. In a unity meeting at the Hill Street church in Lexington, Kentucky, Johnson, representing Alexander Campbell, extended the right hand of fellowship to Barton W. Stone, signifying the merger of Stone’s Christians and Campbell’s Disciples. That same year saw Johnson join Stone as co-editor of Stone’s Christian Messenger. Moreover, the two men joined to publish a union hymnal for the churches of the newly combined Movement, also in 1832.
Secondly, A.S. Hayden’s A History of the Disciples on the Western Reserve. My edition is a facsimile reprint (down to the reproduced Chase and Hall catalogue in the back of the book) of the first edition of 1875. Hayden, one of Walter Scott’s first converts on the Western Reserve in Ohio, wrote this book near the end of his life. It is filled with lore about the first generation leaders: Scott’s preaching, the rise of Mormonism and the defection of Sidney Rigdon, and so on.