Readings at Summit Oxford – Summer Term 2016

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It undoubtedly is a truism that one can be wearied by the reading of many books. Perhaps even more so, the reading of many online articles, a bulk of blogs, a flurry of frenzied Facebook statuses, all of the horrible and hasty hashtags, and opium opinions. Even so, some publications actually can be enlightening, perhaps challenging, even motivating. Some most certainly are fuel for our conversations at Summit Oxford. And sometimes our conversation become a tad bit energetic. I call these CHAT times: Christians Happily Arguing Theology (hopefully with an emphasis upon happily).

Readings at Summit Oxford
Summer Term 2016

Our reading list changes a bit from term to term. New books are published, older ones seem less pressing or helpful, and there is ever a steady stream of articles and chapters on subjects that beg to be included. We do read a lot, mind you, approaching 2600 pages for the longer terms and 2100 pages for the Summer Term.

We still have 5 weeks before our term begins, if you’d like to visit summitoxford.org and apply yourself to study abroad with purpose this summer!
For the upcoming coming Summer Term (7 June–August 8), along with a selection of articles, essays, and other items, we are reading and discussing the volumes listed below. I have listed them roughly in the order we will read them. Often I have our students read the books in their entirety and prepare reports or summaries for select chapters or sections. I’ve provided Amazon links if you care to purchase any of them.

Christ church - Henry James

Just below is our invitational video, if you care to watch a quick overview of just what is Summit Oxford. As I sum up in the video: “What is true deserves to be known and to be believed. What is good deserves to be embodied. What is beautiful deserves to be enjoyed, to be loved. And what is just deserves to be defended.” My hope is that our students will come to share in God’s affections and aversions. That, I believe, is what it means to have a Christian worldview.

(1) Islam (primary sources) 

The Qur’an
(500 pp) • 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 that effectively is a study edition, complete with explanatory footnotes). Along with the Qur’an, students are assigned four hours of reading in the Hadith (brief narratives regarding the person, practices, and pronouncements of Muhammad). One purpose here is to learn how to understand other worldviews through primary sources.

We ask our students to complete a reading of the Qur’an prior to arriving in Oxford. It is the most challenging reading of the term. We do not ask that they study it, only that they have a developing familiarly with it and use it in when they write their exploratory essays on Islam. We also meet with an imam in Oxford each term.

(2) Biblical Theology

What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s
Story, Symbolism, and Patterns
, James Hamilton
(120 pp) • paperback • Kindle

Since we spend significant time in the Bible — closely reading texts, observing the flow of arguments, pointing up how the Old and New Testaments relate — this volume introduces a host of valuable observations and insights. Written at an introductory level, it may seem rather basic to some readers. It is an accessible introduction and overview (perhaps, a refresher), providing a springboard to a number of explorations we venture into throughout the course.

Our biblical studies take us through the opening chapters of Genesis (and discussions of Ancient Near Eastern material), the Abrahamic gospel, and the life of Joseph. The Ten Commandments come up for a study, and these combined with some discussion of the Sermon on the Mount. We also spend significant time in the Psalms, both for devotional purposes and for a study of typology. The latter takes us into the prophets and through to the New Testament. We often enjoy a quick, thematic survey of Matthew’s gospel, a reading of Ephesians, and some selections from Acts. We look in detail at the opening chapters of Romans, as well as the Old Testament passages and traditions from which Paul draws. More generally spend a great deal of time looking at the relationship between Old Testament law and New Testament ethics, with a spattering of passages drawing our attention. If time permits, we walk through Galatians, especially during our explorations of the relationships between OT law and NT ethics.

(3) Canon of Scripture

The Question of Canon, Michael J. Kruger
(200 pp) • paperback • Kindle

This volume is more scholarly than many of the others. There are a lot of footnotes, and some seemingly obscure engagements with other scholars. Even so, it is not inaccessible at all. I think it is effective, even exemplary, as a volume combining clear Christian convictions, scholarly rigor, rhetorical precision, and polemical restraint.

(4) Apologetics and Rhetoric

Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing
Your Christian Convictions
, Gregory Koukl
(200 pp) • paperback • Kindle • Audible version*

We have used this book every term since the beginning of Summit Oxford in the autumn of 2008. It is a wonderfully wise and practical volume that guides readers through the whys and hows of communicating Christian convictions well. It is always enlightening and encouraging when we Skype with Greg. (It is an honor to have Greg as a member of the Summit Oxford International Advisory Board.)

*I have noted above a link to the Audible edition. While I have read through Greg’s book several times (and even am given a nod of credit in an endnote), I try to listen to the book periodically (at 1.5x speed) for a refresher. I have come to appreciate audio versions of books for this sort of occasion. But please don’t be misled into believing that an audio version is a replacement for reading a hardcopy. It isn’t, at least not with a book like this. And our students must read and not simply listen to our texts, though listening to them after reading them can be very useful. 

(5) Islam (secondary sources) 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, Nabeel Qureshi
(173) • paperbackKindleaudio 
OR
Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War, Sebastian Gorka
(250 pp) • hardbackKindleaudio

Both books are recent publications. Both are written by experts in their fields. They overlap in interest, though they diverge in significant ways. Qureshi’s intent is to help us understand Islam and jihad, and then to contrast jihad with the way of Jesus. Gorka’s interest is to help us understand Islam and jihad, to explain what we face right now, and to reveal how the Islamic State might be defeated. Both volumes discuss the modern precursors of contemporary jihadism. Students who select Qureshi’s volume also will read a 50-page discussion between Nigel Biggar (Oxford) and Richard Hays (Duke) regarding Christians and violence.)

Students who select Qureshi’s volume also will read a 50-page discussion between Nigel Biggar (Oxford) and Richard Hays (Duke) regarding Christians and violence.

In addition, all students will watch (1) Inside Mecca; (2) The Third Jihad; and (3) read and/or watch a lecture by Peter Leithart addressing violence and the Bible.

(6) Justice and Economics

The Quest for Cosmic Justice, Thomas Sowell
(190 pp) • paperbackKindle 
OR
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is
the Solution and Not the Problem
, Jay W. Richards
(250 pp) • paperback • Kindle

Along with volumes by Koukl, Richards’s has been a standard volume for us, one we have used since 2008 (first in its manuscript form). It is an incisive volume that dispels a number of myths and misconceptions about money and greed and capital and poverty and more. Hardly a term goes by when one or two students do not have their views on economics thoroughly transformed by this volume. (We often enjoy our Skype conversations with Jay and are honored that he is a member of our International Advisory Board.)

Justice is a central theme in our worldviews course (which is sort of unlike any other worldviews course I know of). Why? Because it is a prominent theme in the Bible. And having a biblical worldview is, to my mind, coming to share God’s affections and aversions. This volume very ably helps us navigate our way through various conceptions of justice, noting that all justice is social (and thus there is no need to qualify justice with the term social). The volume has become a regular feature in syllabus. (If I’m honest, I wish Sowell were a member of our International Advisory Board.) Every term, a large number of our students note how much they appreciate the clarity offered by Sowell. I could not agree more.

We also watch Gary Haugen’s TED talk on “The Hidden Reason for Poverty.”

(7) Marriage and Sexuality

Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach
to God’s Design for Marriage
,
Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet
(160 pp) • paperbackKindle 
OR
Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of
an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity
and Union with Christ
,
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
(190 pp) • paperback • KindleAudio

We have used these volumes for several terms. Given the current cultural contortions, the animating anti-Christian animus, the rampant rise of rhetorical ripostes, the allure of legislative license, the injustice of jaundiced judicial judgments, the common Christian compromises, the church’s lurches and besmirches, and the simply seductive siren of silence, I feel a volume that addresses these issues is called for. One choice is this volume by McDowell and Stonestreet. (We are honored that John is a member of our International Advisory Board.)

Given the pressing nature of the issues surrounding sexuality and sexual identity, I feel there is a need to expand our studies a bit beyond the issues swirling around marriage and into issues of orientation, identity, representation, repentance, and hospitality. I don’t believe there is a better resource for this than Rosaria Butterfield’s new book on the subject. It will be a choice this coming term.

While we will not watch and discuss these, I highly recommend that our students watch Ryan Anderson and Rosaria Butterfield in the videos found here.

(8) Christians and America

Between Babel and Beast: America and
Empires in Biblical Perspective
, Peter Leithart

(200 pp) • paperback
OR
The Founding Fathers and the Debate Over Religion
in Revolutionary America: A History in Documents
,
eds. Matthew L. Harris and Thomas S. Kidd

(185 pp) • paperbackKindle

These are two quite different but complimentary books. Leithart looks at America from an outside perspective, one deeply informed by the Bible and the ways God’s people have flourished or floundered under various regimes. The result is what I would term a patriotic critique.

The Harris and Kidd volume is rather something like viewing early America from within, a tour of various debates and disagreements regarding the place of religion among America’s founding fathers. It is quite sobering to find that many of our current squabbles were already alive and well in the days of the Constitutional Convention

• • •

As you may have noticed, students are to select between several pairs of books in the above list. These are tough choices as each of these books has been selected with care, and each book is worthy of inclusion (as are several other volumes, if I’m honest). But ours is only a single course, after all.

As I mentioned above, we also read a few select chapters, a few essays, a selection of articles, as well as a few biblical books and a host of chapters and specific passages. These can add up to as much as 200 additional pages, bringing the total number of pages for the Summer Term to around 2100. Students must complete 90% of the readings on time for top marks (which is nearly 1900 pages).

All of our readings are designed for exploratory conversations, long discussions about important questions and convictions. But it is not all talk, mind you. 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 minds but in our hands and habits as well. To my mind, having a biblical Christian worldview is coming to share God’s affections and aversions, not only in having the right answers to hard questions.

Happy reading! 

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Previous Texts

The volumes below have been used with some regularity in previous terms. Unfortunately, we won’t be using them this summer.

Faith, Reason, and the War against Jihadism, George Weigel (200 pp) • paperback • Kindle 

This slim volume had been a standard volume in our course since 2008. Weigel offers a concise and helpful overview of the origins of modern jihadism, of how western nations enabled it, and what it will take effectively to counter it. It sparks discussions about the nature of Islam, about the Crusades, about cultures and international relations, about energy and technology, and about the relationships between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But this coming summer term finds this volume put back on the shelf as the two listed above looked to be sufficient for our purposes. 

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, N.T. Wright (285 pp) • paperback • Kindle 

We have used Wright’s volume for a while now. Given that we devote a significant amount of time to exploring the relationship between Old Testament law and New Testament ethics, the material in this volume will challenge, enlighten, and encourage all of us toward faith and good deeds. In fact, we have found that some of Wright’s illustrations and ways of navigating through thorny paths have been fabulously helpful. Our students have noted much appreciation for this volume.

What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense, Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, Robert George (150 pp) paperback • Kindle

To my knowledge, there is no better book in terms of legal tradition and public policy. So important is this book that Justice Alito referenced it in his dissent to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The authors have appeared on numerous news and talk shows, in debates, behind lecterns on campuses, and more. The information and argumentation in this volume are enlightening and exemplary. (Anderson’s newer book is fabulous as well: Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom.)

If I could, I’d probably add also Butterfield’s earlier book: Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. But that’d be too much for a course such as ours. And if I were to chase these topics out further, I’d include the following titles: Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, Mark Yarhouse; Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope, Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan, and several others. (Do note that listing volumes here doesn’t equate with endorsement.)

Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture, Herbert Schlossberg (335 pp) • paperback 

Given the current lurching of American culture, this is a most relevant volume. Schlossberg covers Idols of History . . . Humanity . . . Mammon . . . Nature . . . Power . . . Religion. Along the way we encounter . . . the myth of inevitable progress . . . God’s actions in history . . . subjectivism, misuse of guilt, antinomianism . . . the degradation of humanity . . . inflation, redistribution, the politics of pressure groups . . . science as religion, nature as lord, the cult of narcissism . . . the state as idol, rule of the elite, the family under attack . . . anti-clericalism as a biblical theme, churches of the messianic state, civil religion, democratic idolatry . . . paganism revisited, ethics in a post-Christian society, the drive for power . . . idolatry and injustice, defying powers, toward the triumph of justice, persecution. It closes with “Embarking on the Great Adventure.” The book was published in 1983, and then again in 1990, so some facts and figures will be dated, and some names will be obscure. But I am confident that the thrust of the content will be sure and true for some time yet.

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2 thoughts on “Readings at Summit Oxford – Summer Term 2016

  1. As always, a great list of readings for this term Kevin. Two queries:

    First, what you’re assessment of Kruger? (in general, not necessarily this volume)

    Second, would you mind sharing the reasoning behind not reading “Idols” and “What is Marriage?” ? Difference emphases this term? Something lacking in those books?

    As always, thanks. And keep up the excellent work.

    • I really like Kruger and his work. I appreciate his faithfulness and scholarly rigour, as well as his clarity of writing and fairness in critique. I’ve seen him confidently navigate carefully through the thorns and thistles of sectarian Reformed kerfuffles. That has impressed me. But I’m curious: why do you ask? Would you disagree?

      I excessively appreciate Idols for Destruction. There were two factors for why I’ve not included it for the Summer Term: first, it is very long and quite difficult to read unless one is quite well-read in the history philosophy, history in general, and American political history, at the very least; second, since for the Summer Term we only have time to cover, at best, 3/4 of our worldviews material, I felt the readings assigned should correlate with that. However, some of the most significant elements of Idols are addressed in Leithart and the Harris/Kidd volume, as well as in Sowell’s book. So, that puts me at ease.

      As for What Is Marriage? I really like this volume too. On its subject, I don’t think it has been surpassed. But it is a limited volume that doesn’t speak sufficiently to “what if” questions, such as, “what if my friend invites me to his same-sex wedding?” The McDowell/Stonestreet volume does just that, and, to my mind, in a sensitive and wise fashion. The Butterfield volumes is different yet again, both with regards to her own testimony and with regards to showing hospitality to others and with regards to thinking through questions regarding sexual identity and such. Perhaps is it is that these volumes reach down to more personal and relational issues tips the scales in their favor. Also, in some respects, I feel I can summarize the thesis of What Is Marriage? or have our students watch a summary presentation of it by Ryan Anderson.

      But you didn’t ask about the Wright book and why it was not included for the Summer Term. Well, since, that now is out there, one reason alone: the book is too long. I believe its content could be adequately presented (at least the material I find most interested and applicable for our purposes) in something closer to 100 pages. As it stands, it takes up too many pages for our purposes. I’m aiming to do a work around of sorts, linking in the most relevant features to our long conversation about OT law and NT ethics.

      I did not note in this blog post all of the additional readings we have, such as the piece on Gen 1 by Rikk Watts. But this coming term will have something new: some selections from a book about Leviticus by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Oh, I’m really keen to see how our students read these selections and interact with them. They deal with sacrifices, the temple, circumcision. Interesting material. I’ll probably have an hour-long (or two-hours-long) quasi-lecture on Hebrews for this summer. We’ve just begun a series at our church and I’m slotted for Hebrews 7. Having read some of the good Rabbi’s works, I’m keen now to show how after the fall of the temple, Jewish sages invented substitutions for sacrifices, all the while having eschewed the substitutionary sacrifice. Oh, there is so much more. I’m working on a blog piece or two as well. They’ll be something of a continuation of the OT law and NT ethics series. I think it’ll be interesting.

      Now a question for you: Are there any books or articles you think could be included as texts in our worldviews course?

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