One Book Meme


This “One Book Meme” (which showed up on Brad Penner’s blog Pensive) was fun to think through. I reproduce it here with some editing of categories, and my own answers, of course!  Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what a Meme is–I had to look it up, too). I found a simple and helpful definition of Meme here:

In the context of web logs / ‘blogs / blogging and other kinds of personal web sites it’s some kind of list of questions that you saw somewhere else and you decided to answer the questions. Then someone else sees them and does them and so on and so on.

I answered one category a day for the last 10 or so days. Here’s my responses. 

1) One book that changed your life

The Holy Bible. [If you think I’m trying to sound super-spiritual here, I’m not. It’s just true that the Bible has had a more profound and qualitatively different kind of impact on my life than any other book.]

2) One book you have read more than once

Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace. [I read it about once every year or two since it came out in 1996. It is one of the more profound books I’ve read in the last decade, and I still use it regularly for a class I teach on Forgiveness and Reconciliation. I feel I am better able to engage it critically now than when it first came out, but I still benefit from reading it over again.]

3) One book you want on a desert island

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/2. [I concur with Brad Penner on this one. I, too, would like to pick a “set”, in which case it would be, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. But if I could only have one volume, I’d pick CD IV/2 (or maybe IV/3, but they split that one up into two part-part volumes!). It is in my opinion the closest thing to the “centre” of Barth’s work–and pretty long, too! That would help especially if I was stuck on the island for a long time!]

4) One book that made you laugh

Franz Kafka’s The Trial. [I realize the book isn’t necessarily supposed to make you laugh, because it is really a tragic tale.  But I laughed at the absurdity of modern bureaucracy portrayed in the book.]

5) One book that made you cry

Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil. [Canadian General Dallaire’s autobiographical recounting of the frustrations and nightmares he had in trying to stop the genocide in Rwanda–and all the darkness and human failure that went with it–all while trying to convince the international community to listen and to support him in the mission. The book is long and brutal, but compelling in every way.]

6) One book you wish had been written

With Apologies to Russia: Retractions of a Rogue Dispensationalist

7) One book you wish had never been written

Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-Yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished Christian [Please!! I think G. K. Chesterton may be on to something when he said,  “A man who stops believing in God doesn’t believe nothing; he believes anything.” The fact that I’m not even sure that I managed to copy the title correctly tells me that this book does more to confuse than clarify. It may sound clever, but it is far from satisfying for anyone looking for any sense of theological coherence. As one critic put it, it is only selectively generous, and not always obviously orthodox!]

8 ) One book you were forced to read and glad that you did

Oliver O’Donovan, Desire of the Nations. [This was one of several required texts in my very first doctoral seminars at McGill in 2000. Frankly, I didn’t have a clue about what O’Donovan was saying, but I knew it was profound as I stumbled through it. I’m glad I read it because it opened to me the whole field of the intersection of political theology and ecclesiology. A runner up here would be T. F. Torrance’s Space, Time and Resuurection. Again, I wasn’t entirely sure I even understood what Torrance was talking about, but I distinctly remember thinking, “This changes everything!”] 

9) One book you have been meaning to read but its size has prevented you from reading it

Charles Taylor, A Secular Age. [I admire Professor Taylor’s work very much, though I have to admit I haven’t yet had the courage to tackle this nearly 900 page book in which he traces the development of the idea of secularity in the modern world relative to the presence of religion in society.]

10) One book everyone ought to read

I’ll admit I can’t think of any book (other than the Bible) that I could unqualifiedly say that EVERYONE should read. So I’ll narrow my selection to saying that all students of theology should read Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology: An Introduction[The title can be slightly misleading because the book isn’t really an overview of Barth’s theology, but his theological reflections about the very task of engaging in evangelical theology, including the challenges that theologians eventually face, including doubt, temptation, isolation, etc. If I were to retitle the book, it would be Spiritual Formation for Theologians. ]

How about you?



15 thoughts on “One Book Meme

  1. RogueMonk

    I completely agree with you on #7. Its only success is to deny everything and accet everything all at the same time.

    For # 1, it would have to be “Mere Christianity” and the Gospel of Matthew.

    #2 – The only book I can remember reading more than once (I’m sure there have been many) is a book you first recomended to me years ago — “Method In Theoogy” by Bernard Lonergan.

    For # 6, it has to be “The Scofield Reference Bible”

    #9 – I have always planned to read Herman Dooyweerd’s “A New Critique of Theoretical Thought.”

    With regard to # 10 (and in line with your qualification “every student of theology”), I am toseed up between Emil Brunner’s little book of lectures entitled “The Scandal of Chritianity” and Henrikus Berkhof’s book “The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit.”

    Blessings, RogueMonk

  2. Thanks, RogueMonk. Since you obviously know me (and your blog doesn’t identify you), I’ll take a guess that we share a first name? (I’m also guessing on your recommendation of Brunner…!)

  3. Dustin


    Other than the Bible, you’ve got nothing written before 1950. Tisk, tisk. I guess that’s why you are the systematician and I seem to have gone the direction of the historical theologian. Either way, all roads lead to Basel 🙂

    Nice list.

  4. Dustin, nice call on the “age” of my books!

    I suppose I could have said Augustine’s *City of God* in either category #2 or #8. I’ve read it more than once, and I probably wouldn’t have read it if I hadn’t have been required to read it during my PhD. It’s also old. 😉

  5. RogueMonk

    David – indeed you are correct. And I think the blog offers enough hints, although it has never really gotten the attention i first hoped for it.

  6. great list. i’ll have to get around to doing this meme myself. it would probably only reveal your influence on me thise past couple years as some of my answers are likely to be identical to yours.

    interesting to think of the age of books read. dustin’s list is all ancient stuff. get with the times man!

    just joking, i have a lot of catching up to do, especially in patristics, and dustin’s leads are very helpful.

  7. Dustin

    Hey, I read contemporary books. I wanted to include O’Donovan’s Resurrection and Moral Order but just couldn’t bring myself to bump Augustine, Luther or Irenaeus. I think O’Donovan would be pleased. Why read books that are gonna go out of print in 6 months? 🙂

  8. GMAC

    Nice topic, David. I’ll give it a go. And thanks for the definition of a meme. I’ve often wondered.

    1) One book that changed your life:
    The Holy Bible, as you said. However, Mere Christianity would be a close second.

    2) One book you have read more than once:
    Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. It helped me make sense of my life, and in particular, my spiritual formation. His understanding of virtues didn’t necessarily change my life (which is why this didn’t end up in #1), but it certainly gave me a project to work on and was a huge relief to me.

    3) One book you want on a desert island:
    Well, after making several canoes, I don’t need the standard boat-building book, so my vote is for the SAS Survival Guide. I’ll canoe over to your island after you’ve died of starvation, and pick up Barth’s Church Dogmatics IV/2 and read it for you. 😉

    4) One book that made you laugh:
    John Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. What a joke!

    5) One book that made you cry:
    Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? I’m such an ingrate and whenever I recognize the dark side rising up in me, I read that book again.

    6) One book you wish had been written:
    Ancient Philosophy for Fundamentalist Evangelicals

    7) One book you wish had never been written:
    D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God. He’s just plain rude, arrogant, and only proved that he doesn’t understand modernity or post-modernity.

    8 ) One book you were forced to read and glad that you did:
    Descartes, Discourse on Method. Now I understand where “foundationalism” comes from.

    9) One book you have been meaning to read but its size has prevented you from reading it:
    Like you, I’ve been meaning to read A Secular Age, but it’s not just the size – also the cost!

    10) One book everyone ought to read:
    Plato, The Republic. That is, if you want to understand western civilization.


  9. Hello, dopderbeck. You will notice that I didn’t explicitly say that McLaren wasn’t orthodox or that he fails the “orthodoxy test.” I don’t think that is the sole job of one individual to say in judgment of another. Orthodoxy is a judgment of the Church, not of one individual Christian upon another. In reality, we all probably are a mixture of orthodox and heterodox in our thinking, sometimes more consistent and other times less so. But what I did say was that McLaren is “selectively generous and not always obviously orthodox.” That is, on the one hand he seems quite cynical and condescending (i.e., “selectively generous”) to some of the traditionally held positions in Christianity (e.g., the reality of hell) while simultaneously refusing to want to come down definitively on other questions that were, after all, more obviously central to historic orthodoxy, even on questions such as whether Christ is the only way to God (i.e., “not obviously orthodox”). It is somewhat strange, I think, to write a book with the word “orthodoxy” in the title (which has always been understood in some way as drawing doctrinal lines of some sort), but then proceed to resist drawing such lines as if such demarcation is a sign of narrow-mindedness, rather than a legitimate practice of the Church in making judgements about doctrinal truth and error.

  10. Fair enough — but through what representatives and what means does the Church make such judgments? I’m not asking this to challenge you vis-a-vis McLaren, but because I’m genuinely wrestling with it. Like I mentioned in my email, in the circles I grew up in, Karl Barth was definitely not “orthodox,” particularly concerning the inerrancy of scripture. A scholar whose work I appreciate, Peter Enns, recently was kicked out of his teaching post basically because his view of scripture is quasi-Barthian (at least I see it that way) and thus unorthodox. To some of my evangelical brothers and sisters, my quasi-Barthian views about the genre of the Biblical creation texts is heretical or close to it (“saga” — brilliant!). OTOH, to my Roman Catholic friends (to the extent they think about it at all), Barth’s view of scripture isn’t a problem, but my Reformed view of the “Church” is heretical. And so on.

  11. Dopderbeck, I think your questions are important enough that I will try to address them in a new post. But in short I will say that the words “orthodox” and “heresy” are, in my opinion, often used popularly to mean “those that agree with me or my church and thus are theologically sound” and “those who disagree with me or my church and thus are theologically in error.” I say that only slightly tongue-in-cheek. Unfortunately, such uses of the terms are pretty far removed from the historic patristic senses from whence they are derived. I’ll try to deal with this more fully in a future post.

  12. Concerning #7:

    I have heard you disparage A GENEROUS ORTHODOXY in class and – although it made sense at the time – those reasons are starting to get fuzzy. Granted, I have not read this book, although I don’t see what’s wrong with the concept: what’s wrong with listening to catholic monastic chants during my morning jog, meditating on an orthodox devotional on my way to work, hanging a celtic prayer on my wall, then attending my anabaptist church – which also plays pentecostal music, and is highly influenced by main-stream evangelicalism? (yes, I do all of these things – although the wall-hanging is still in the works!)

    I understand the dangers: certainly, the young in the faith should not be immediately confused by various traditions. Also, if the centering orientation of our “tradition-sampling” is our own preference (“it blesses me”) we will be in danger of worshipping within a “sacred mosaic” which – while drawn from Christian sources – begins to resemble our own personality, rather than that of Christ. This latter danger can be equally present, however – perhaps more so – when one does NOT venture out of one’s native tradition after reaching a place of maturity. Soon, the traditions which once pointed to Christ begin to obscure him, as too much weight is placed on them.

    To me, it seems like trying to apprehend the person of Jesus solely from within one tradition is like trying to understand Luther SOLELY through the lens of one aspect of his life, such as politics, or family life. Surely, since we are studying a PERSON, not a CONCEPT, the places of intersection between apparently incompatible concepts seems to be the most fruitful arena of study. Somewhere in the mix of statesmanship and church-leadership, between social and religious reform, between high theology and down-to-earth church life, between scholarship and family life we will find the real Luther, or as close as we can come to him. In the same way, can’t we get a unique glimpse into the person of Jesus through the desperate traditions of Christians around the world, and throughout time? Although the resultant clash between competing worldviews can be dizzying, within the confusion, we will begin to detect a unifying theme (or “family resemblance” – Childs) which is the heartbeat of the living, vital person of Jesus Christ.

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