Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What I am reading

I actually finished reading Colin E. Gunton’s The Theologian as Preacher while in a 10-hour bus drive going to Chiang Mai City and coming back. This is the reason I prefer to ride a bus than to drive. Anyway, the blurbs at the back say that it “is a collection of sermons by a world-renowned theologian who was also a much loved preacher. Following on from the success of Colin Gunton’s first collection Theology Through Preaching, these sermons from the later years of his life demonstrate Gunton’s preaching in a local-church setting, enabling readers to gain insight into how his academic theology enhanced and influenced his personal preaching. Ranging across such subjects as the problem of evil, Christianity and Islam, materialism and Judgement, they speak not only to academic theologians and students, but also to preachers and Christian readers everywhere.

John Webster comments that “all that one would expect from a master theologian: biblically rooted, pastorally acute, humane and above all alert and responsible to the judgment, consolation and joy of the gospel.”

The introduction was written by Stephen Holmes. Here Holmes reminisces his time together with Colin Gunton as Gunton's former student. Holmes remembered him saying that “you can always tell when a theologian has stopped preaching; their work loses something vital.” Gunton believed passionately that theology is the church’s science—pointless and meaningless if not directed to the maintenance, edification and extension of the body of Christ. This conviction was clearly evident when Gunton was behind the pulpit.

In times when preachers are concerned that their sermons should be seeker-sensitive, Colin’s sermons deliberately neglect the elements that would make them to be categorized as such. Holmes says,
Relevance is not to be strived for, simply because the gospel is necessarily already relevant to all people. One of the great themes of these sermons, surely, is asking what is truly relevant. Much of what passes for ‘relevance’ in our preaching is imply a capitulation to a pagan value system (or at best, a despairing admission that one’s congregation has capitulated). Sport or celebrity or items of passing notice in the news media are endlessly recycled in the pulpit in the (surely mistaken!) belief that this will aid the preacher in being heard.
Worship and life, theology and daily Christian living, Colin always sought to hold these together in his own life and he helped his congregation to do the same. Colin died in Spring of 2003 in what most people described as untimely and unexpectedly.

I personally chosen this book expecting that I will learn and be blessed by Colin’s sermons and at the same time, I want to have a glimpse on how a highly regarded, seasoned and contemporary theologian used his academic achievements in preaching to the non-academic (theologically) members of his congregation. A glimpse makes way for me to see a horizon.

I am also reading John Webster, Karl Barth, Second Edition. (Continuum Books, London, 2004). Reading only during free time, I am just half through the book. This is a good introduction to life and work of Karl Barth. Webster claims that he avails of posthumous and mostly unpublished writings of Barth to come up with this book. Readers can expect updated information about Barth's biography and more lucid presentation of Barth's theology as his earlier works are studied in the light of new materials.

And for those who are not familiar with Barth and his works, this book gives a readable presentation of the great man and theologian. I, myself, although familiar with Barth admittedly do not know enough from his 13 large volumes of Christian Dogmatics, which I have not read a page. Webster attempts to summarize Barth's stand on different topics like God, Trinity, Christology, Justification among others.

Here is the blurb:
Karl Barth has been called the most important Protestant theologian since Schleiermacher. A lifetime of work produced a huge and complex body of writings that emerged from both his theological teaching and from his engagement in church life. The posthumous publication of previously unknown works by Barth has invited fresh and attentive interpretations of his thought.

This book draws together this readings to provide a clear and authoritative introduction to the main themese in Barth's theology. In an accessible way it shows the continuity and coherence of Barth's work and stresses the importance of his biblical and ethical writings alongside his sytematic theology. In conclusion it focuses on Barth's response to modernity, postmodernity and the tasks of theology, presenting him as an outstanding resource for constructive theology of our age.

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