- 1 Oxford Study Centre
Book List for Michaelmas Term 2017
- 1.1 Covenant and Conversation: Leviticus: The Book of Holiness, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks • (430 pages) • hardback • Kindle
- 1.2 For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, Alexander Schmemann (140 pages) • paperback • Kindle
- 1.3 The Qur’an (450 pages) • paperback • Kindle
- 1.4 Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, Nabeel Qureshi (170 pages) • paperback • Kindle • audio
- 1.5 Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, Timothy Keller (250 pages) • hardback • Kindle • audio
- 1.6 The Question of Canon, Michael J. Kruger (200 pages) • paperback • Kindle
- 1.7 Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield (190 pages) • paperback • Kindle • audio
- 1.8 The Quest for Cosmic Justice, Thomas Sowell (190 pages) • paperback • Kindle
- 1.9 The Founding Fathers and the Debate over Religion in Revolutionary America, Matthew Harris and Thomas Kidd (185 pages) • paperback • Kindle
- 1.10 Two Final Recommendations
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Oxford Study Centre
Book List for Michaelmas Term 2017
Our reading list changes from term to term, not only with the books but also with the other selections (chapters, essays, excerpts, etc.). New books are published, others seem less pressing, and there is a steady stream of articles and chapters on subjects that beg to be included. Sometimes the core content of such publications makes its way into my presentations or becomes the centerpiece for a discussion session and an entire book no longer is necessary. This term has more changes than usual. The readings promise to be very engaging and enlightening.
For the upcoming coming Michaelmas Term (29 August – 17 December)—in addition to a selection of articles, essays, and other items that are not listed here—we are using the nine books listed below. I have placed them roughly in the order we will discuss them. (I’ve provided links to Amazon for any who care to chase up the volumes.) Including biblical books, chapters and essays, as well as the following texts, the combined pages of reading will range upwards of 2500 pages for this autumn term.
I have lectured on worldviews and apologetics for nearly three decades. I appreciate a variety of approaches—or, rather, I favor an eclectic approach. Rather than reducing the study of worldviews and apologetics to having the best answer to the hardest questions (though better answers are certainly preferred to their alternatives), I get the sense that at its heart, having a Christian worldview is coming to share God’s affections and aversions; that is, coming to desire what God desires and to despise what he despises.
Often a worldview is cast as a paradigm, as a filter, as a lens through which one sees the world. It is apparent to me that a worldview must also be self-reflective, self-examining, and thus self-corrective. As such, one must make the opportunity to contemplate one’s convictions, to excavate their foundations, to explore their histories, even their genealogies.
Rather than providing only a way of seeing the world, a worldview also provides a vision for the world. This includes a sense of righting wrongs, of remaining faithful in the face temptations or threats to defect, of being agents of grace with a redemptive posture toward others, of speaking truth to the unjust use of power. In short, a worldview will have and produce actionable interests.
Naturally, a lot of intellectual effort goes into discovering God’s affections and aversions, though our journey simply mustn’t stop with knowing. Rather, such convictions are to be embodied, lived, incarnate. Such convictions rightly become and properly are publicly practiced, just as faith rightly is found in faithfulness. Thus, what we seek to cultivate throughout the term is an informed faithfulness.
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Prior to arriving in Oxford, we asked our students to complete a reading of the Qur’an (see below), though our discussion of Islam doesn’t properly begin until the second week of our worldview intensive. Some of the pre-term readings also include material on the opening chapters of Genesis, the overarching narrative of the Bible, and a discussions of biblical typology and symbolism and interpretation. A variety of texts are discussed and the storyline of God’s kingdom is explored at length.
• The Drama of Scripture, Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen. This volume is especially helpful in providing an overview of biblical history and theology. Students who are shaky on their biblical knowledge would profit from reading this volume prior to arrival.
• The Story of Reality, Greg Koukl. This is a great little book for providing an overview of the Christian worldview. It could be seen as Paul’s speech in Acts 17 expanded for contemporaries. It also is a great little volume to share with non-Christian friends.
• The Mission of God, Christopher Wright. Seldom do I appreciate a book more than I appreciate this one. If it weren’t so long (582 pages), it would be in our reading list right now. Some of the content finds its way into my presentations throughout the term. I think this is a fabulous volume.
Beyond what I noted above, in the first week we return to the Old Testament and investigate the old covenant, as well as encountering our first case study: the Levitical system and contemporary Judaism(s). This brings us to our first course text.
Covenant and Conversation: Leviticus: The Book of Holiness, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks • (430 pages) • hardback • Kindle
We have added a case study in which we look at ancient Israel and some expressions of contemporary Judaism. Given that the Jerusalem temple has not existed and operated for the last two millenia, we might wonder how Jewish people would think about Leviticus and how they might attempt to be faithful to its laws and instructions.
Rabbi Sacks (until his recent retirement, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain) is an excellent guide in such matters, combining fabulous insights into Leviticus, engaging explanations for the modifications arising from Rabbinic Judaism, and even some deeply flawed analysis of Levitical material (at many points, I believe he would be a disputant with both Messiah Jesus and the Apostle Paul). This is the first term in which this entire book has been assigned.
We will be reading this book in conjunction with selections in the Old Testament Torah, history, and prophets, as well as in the New Testament gospels, the books of Acts and Galatians and Romans, as well as the book of Hebrews. We will dig in deeply during the first week but then will carry on this study throughout the term.
This case study provides the primary interaction for another major area of our course: the relationship between Old Testament laws and New Testament ethics — and that is one of the most significant and unique facets of our worldviews course.
(Note: It may come off as a bit odd but if I were teaching a survey of the New Testament, or even a course on Romans and Galatians, or even one on Hebrews, this volume would be required reading. In fact, I think I’d do the same if I were teaching a survey of the Old Testament.)
There are five volumes I’d suggest if someone wanted to know more about the early history of Judaism. Each covers overlapping territory but in quite different ways. I see them as complimentary. I also would be critical of some of the judgments of each of these volumes, though I find all of them informative and insightful just the same.
• From Maccabees to the Mishnah, Shaye Cohen.
• An Introduction to Early Judaism, James C. VanderKam.
• Judaism When Christianity Began: A Survey of Belief and Practice, Jacob Neusner.
• Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 B.C.E–66 C.E., E.P. Sanders
• The Parting of the Ways: Between Christianity and Judaism and Their Significance for the Character of Christianity, James D.G. Dunn.
• If you are more interested in evangelistic outreach to Jewish people, I’m not sure I could recommend a better resource than the many volumes written by Michael L. Brown. One could begin with the single-volume work, The Real Kosher Jesus: Revealing the Mysteries of the Hidden Messiah. One then could progress to Brown’s multi-volume work, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: General and Historical Objections; Theological Objections; Messianic Prophecy Objections; New Testament Objections; and Traditional Jewish Objections.
For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, Alexander Schmemann (140 pages) • paperback • Kindle
This is the first term for this book as well. I remember reading this volume both before and while in seminary, with portions or the whole book being recommended here and there from a wide variety of voices over nearly the entire course of my Christian life (since late-1987). While I am not inclined toward Orthodoxy, this work can aid us in contemplating what it means to have a Christian worldview. I believe it is worthwhile for us to become familiar with different Christian traditions and to see what we might glean from them. Schmemann provides us with profound perspective from the Eastern Church. Also, when read in light of Leviticus and the thoughts of Rabbi Sacks, some fascinating resonances and discordance will be witnessed, providing further insights into the convictions proffered in the scriptures.
• You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, James K.A. Smith. We’ve used this volume in previous terms but found it a bit too redundant for our purposes (and the limited number of pages we assign for the term). Even so, it is a volume worth reading and considering.
• After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, N.T. Wright. We’ve also used this volume in previous terms and have found it enlightening and engaging, though some parts are not entirely suitable for our purposes.
• Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer. Vanhoozer shows how theology isn’t comprised simply of beliefs but is something to be spoken and also enacted. And that should simply make sense: the truth of God informs, forms, and guides our lives. That is because a biblical faith is an active faith.
As our first week is completed, we prepare to transition into our second case study: Islam.
The Qur’an (450 pages) • paperback • Kindle
This is one version of the Qur’an that our students have appreciated (though we also insist that they explore one by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, a study edition, complete with explanatory footnotes). An alternative version of the Qur’an is one annotated by A.J. Droge, complete with a myriad of footnotes and cross references and scholarly interactions. Along with the Qur’an, students are assigned four hours of reading in the Hadith (brief narratives that recount Muhammad’s judgments and actions). One purpose here is to learn how to understand other worldviews through primary sources.
Note: We ask our students to complete a reading of the Qur’an prior to arriving in Oxford (though we don’t venture into the topic of Islam until the second week of the worldview intensive).
The Qur’an is the most challenging reading of the term. We do not ask that students study it, per se, only that they have a developing familiarly with it and reference it accurately when they write their exploratory essays on Islam. In addition to the Qur’an, we assign four hours of exploratory reading in the Hadith. We also meet with an Oxford imam each term and enjoy an extended Q&A with him. And there is another short volume we read on the subject of Islam.
• The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and How It Died, Philip Jenkins. Also by Jenkins: God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis. (We often read a selection from each of these volumes.) I find Jenkins both informative, enlightening, and sometimes a bit frustrating.
• American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism, Thomas Kidd. From the days of the colonies to the decades of early America there was a steady stream of concern about conflict with Muslim powers, especially North Africa. From military conflicts to missionary endeavors, and up to our post-9/11 struggle with Muslim citizens and immigrants, Kidd takes us on a troubling tour through these thickets of history, fear, conflict, prejudice, and denial.
Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, Nabeel Qureshi (170 pages) • paperback • Kindle • audio
This concise volume provides a punchy introduction, overview, and engagement with Islam. Qureshi is a seasoned communicator on this subject, being a former-Muslim himself. He provides us with a firm foundation for understanding, as well as some opportunities for disagreement (e.g., Qureshi and I have rather different approaches to the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God).
Note: The only serious flaw with this book is its complete lack of documentation. Since I’ve researched this subject for over two decades, I’m confident with the content. But it is nearly shameful that the author and publisher would let this volume go to press without such documentation. Qureshi’s longer book does have some documentation, though it still feels insufficient. A flaw with the audio version of the shorter book is that it doesn’t include any of the appendices, some of which are quite important, to my mind.
Along with the Qu’ran, the Hadith, and Qureshi’s book, we select some chapters from several books and a journal article or two that take us further down particular pathways in our understanding of Islam, its imperial nature, and its historical progression.
• Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War, Sabastian Gorka. Once one realizes that Islam is a political ideology that has embedded within it some practices, then one no longer approaches Islam as if it were a religion just like any other religion. And here Gorka takes up the case that we have fought totalitarian ideologies before. We should learn from that experience.
• Faith and Power: Religion and Politics in the Middle East, Bernard Lewis. Lewis puts to bed the Western misconception that religions are all essentially the same, and thus that political Islam is somehow a recent innovation.
• Islamic Imperialism: A History, Efraim Karsh. Karsh points up how early Islam shows how the Islamic worldview is inherently imperialistic, providing a helpful framing for understanding both Muhammad’s ventures and those of his followers throughout history.
• No God but One: Allah or Jesus?: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity, Nabeel Qureshi. It is surprising how Qureshi could address so many topics so well in a single volume. Then again, he’s been working on this material for years. But this is a great sequel to the smaller volume that we use in our course. It is more expository and evangelistic and apologetic than the three previous recommendations.
Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, Timothy Keller (250 pages) • hardback • Kindle • audio
By the end of the second week of our intensive and the beginning of the third week, we are prepared to venture into making a contemporary case for our Christian convictions.
Tim Keller is one of the best communicators of Christian convictions to contemporary society. Not only that, he is an insightful and incisive analyst of contemporary cultures. As with Keller’s other books, I find myself consistently and increasingly impressed with his clarity of his case and the effectiveness of his engagements with contemporary skeptics as he invites them to consider the claims of Christ.
• Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, Gregory Koukl (paperback, Kindle, audio). This is a wonderfully wise and practical volume that guides readers through the whys and hows of communicating Christian convictions with grace and clarity and logic and suasion. If you haven’t yet read it, you should remedy that right away.
• Fool’s Talk: The Art of Christian Persuasion, Os Guinness. We spend a good amount of time thinking about rhetoric and persuasion throughout the term. We’ve learned that it isn’t just saying what is true but in communicating the truth in terms that can be heard by your listeners. This means that how we say things can be just as important as the truths we’re trying to convey.
• If we were teaching an exclusively apologetics course, these volumes would be included, as would be Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, by Douglas Groothuis, and Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief, by John Frame, and Knowledge and Christian Belief, by Alvin Plantinga, and Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition that Life Is Designed, by Douglas Axe. (Well, if I’m honest, I’m really not certain about all of the books I would select if I were to teach a single apologetics course, though those just listed would be high on my list of consideration.)
The Question of Canon, Michael J. Kruger (200 pages) • paperback • Kindle
This volume is more scholarly in tone than most of the others. There are a lot of footnotes and some seemingly obscure engagements with other scholars. Even so, it also is very accessible. I think it is effective, even exemplary, as a volume combining clear Christian convictions, scholarly rigor, rhetorical precision, and polemical restraint. (You can and should keep up with Kruger at his blog, Canon Fodder.)
As we discuss the New Testament canon, we devote ample time to examining the historicity of the gospels and Acts. Here we engage with philosophical, scientific, and historical challenges and concerns while examining a variety of passages and relevant issues.
• The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs, Craig Blomberg. Both books are excellent. The latter is a very big book. But Blomberg writes with clarity, so the reading is very accessible. Blomberg has long researched, pondered, taught, debated, and written on this subject. What we have here is a mature work. This is quite a long volume (800+ pages). A volume that resonates with and somewhat summarizes this book is Blomberg’s shorter volume, Can We Still Believe the Bible?.
• Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts, Lydia McGrew. This is a fun and informative book that resurrects considerations that long have been set aside by New Testament scholars due to an overdependence upon critical theories and the resultant view of the gospels and Acts as less than historical and other than coherent. We came close to selecting this book for the term but decided to stick with Kruger’s book since it accomplishes more regarding the historical development of the New Testament canon and does so with keen attention to biblical precedent and the history of Christian literature.
Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield (190 pages) • paperback • Kindle • audio
Given the pressing nature of issues surrounding sexuality and sexual identity, there is a need to expand our studies beyond the controversies about marriage and into issues of orientation, identity, representation, repentance, and hospitality. There is no better resource for this than Butterfield’s work on the subject.
• Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Liberty, Ryan Anderson. If there is one person who is at the leading edge of the challenges to natural marriage and those who would promote natural marriage it is Ryan Anderson. This is a solid and very important volume.
• Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age, Jonathan Grant. This is a fabulous book. If Butterfield’s book were less suitable for our tasks, this probably would be the selection on this subject. It is that good.
The Quest for Cosmic Justice, Thomas Sowell (190 pages) • paperback • Kindle
Justice is a prominent theme throughout our course (a distinctive for worldviews courses). Why? Because it is a prominent theme throughout the Bible. This volume very ably helps us navigate our way through various conceptions of justice, showing that all justice is social. Many of our students have noted how much they appreciate the clarity Sowell brings in the face of so much blather today about “social justice.” I could not agree more.
A subject that often finds its way into our discussions at this point in the course is that of war and pacifism. A resource we often use to incite serious considerations is a dialog between Nigel Biggar and Richard Hays. Both are Christian scholars and friends, and their dispute is one of the better one’s I’ve come across.
• Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem, Jay Richards. This is a fabulous book that dispels various clichés and myths about capitalism, as well as answering a number of Christian misunderstandings and misconstruals. It should be widely read.
• Intellectuals and Society, Thomas Sowell. Sowell is a national treasure, and this large volume introduces us to the breadth of Sowell’s massive body of work over the decades. While it is large, it reads easily and can be managed by sections. If page limites were of no concern for us, this would be one of our texts. I’ll have to leave it to others who are teaching in politics and economics, I suppose.
• Wealth, Poverty, and Politics: An International Perspective, Thomas Sowell. Yet again Sowell guides us into a view of the world in all its rich diversity and oddity, pointing up features that have tremendous bearing on economics and the unequal distribution of resources and thus of wealth.
The Founding Fathers and the Debate over Religion in Revolutionary America, Matthew Harris and Thomas Kidd (185 pages) • paperback • Kindle
It often has been said that America is a Christian nation. What could that mean? What difference might that make? Is the claim correct? This volume takes us back to the early days of our republic to witness the disputes about religion between the Founding Fathers. It is an eye-opening experience to discover that the Founding Fathers were debating some of the very sorts of issues in dispute today. It also is enlightening to discover the diversity of opinions found among the early Americans.
This segment of the course finds us exploring the early Christian church and its relationship to empire, the conversion of Constantine and Christianity later becoming the official religion of the empire, and the varied history of European imperialism. In that light we reconsider the nature of the kingdom of God, our national citizenships as Christians, and how we might best live as loyal to our Lord Jesus even as Western nations take up cultural convictions that increasingly marginalize Christians culturally, legally, political, and economically.
Depending on the time remaining in the term, we might add some selections from Reinhold Niebuhr (The Irony of American History) or from Peter Leithart (Between Babel and Beast) or even from Alexis de Tocqueville (Democracy in America). Also, in connection with the last three books, we often have our students read the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision and dissents (the most recent decision regarding same-sex marriage).
• The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, David Holmes. Holmes ably guides us through competing claims regarding the Founder’s faiths, showing with clarity how some were orthodox Christians while most were not.
• Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective, Peter Leithart. Seldom has a book made me pause, confirming some of my suspicions and then dismantling some of my preconceptions. This is a biblical theology of empire. It should be read. You should read it!
• There are several volumes by Mark Noll that I’d recommend. Here are two: In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783 and Civil War as Theological Crisis.
Other sessions of the course may include pseudo-Christian religions (e.g., Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses), New Age spirituality, spiritual warfare, rhetoric, storytelling, and persuasion.
Two Final Recommendations
If students would like to improve their writing skills prior to the beginning of the Oxford term, I suggest they begin with the following small volume: The Writer’s Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose (and Kindle), by Helen Sword. And for those who are a bit more aggressively interested in writing and grammar and such, I recommend Steven Pinker’s, A Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (also Kindle and audio). (Do note that Pinker is an evangelistic atheist who at times is stridently obtuse. But he has a way with words and is great with grammar.)
• • •
As I mentioned above, we read a few additional chapters, some essays, and a selection of articles, as well as several biblical books, chapters, and passages. All told, we’ll be reading upwards of 2500 pages this autumn term (with about 2200 pages coming in the books listed above).
All of our readings are designed for exploratory conversations, for long discussions about important issues and controversial convictions. However, just as faith without words would be dead, so are good words in the absence of good deeds. The biblical worldview is not properly found resident merely in our intellects but in our imaginations, our emotions, our actions, our habits. Having a biblical Christian worldview is coming to share God’s affections and aversions.
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