In my twenty seven years as a pastor, I’ve joined two presbyteries. Both times I had to persevere through committee and floor oral exams. These exams give a presbytery an opportunity to test the competency of a prospective new member. They also serve as a way of getting to know one another. Both times I was asked this question: Who are your favorite authors? This question is intended as a softball, leading to a kind of theological bonding as admiration is expressed for the shapers of our tradition. For me, the question was a bit embarrassing.
I don’t really have a favorite authors list. I’ve heard that when Spurgeon was once asked to name his favorite book of the Bible he responded that his favorite was the book he was currently studying. Similarly, my favorite authors are usually the ones I’m currently reading. To make matters worse, I’m not usually reading any of the expected authors. The expected authors are first and foremost the great reformed theologians, both old and new. I respect these thinkers, and I’ve read many of their works, but I don’t read them often. Great Christian thinkers in the broader tradition form another expected group. I don’t read these very often either. Then there are those architects of the literature that helps to form our Christian sub culture. I read these more often, but they still form only a small part of my reading time. If I could have answered with favorites like Calvin, Edwards, Warfield, Machen, Van Til, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien or even Dostoyevsky, I would have brought smiles to the faces and twinkles to the eyes of my future fellow presbyters. My authors spoiled the moment. I do not mean by this that I was rejected. I was warmly received both times in spite of my aberrant reading list. In fact, one advantage of my unexpected list is that it tended to keep me from getting pulled into questions concerning the latest theological squabbles. The downside, the embarrassment, is that the expected bonding didn’t occur.
I’m about to begin, on this blog, a series of conversations with various books. I will read through a book and, as far as is possible, converse with the author. Since most of the authors are no longer with us, conversation will be difficult, but I hope to overcome the difficulties with a little imagination. Each post will consist of some quotations from the current book, some observations and further questions. I will not assume that you, my readers, are reading the book along with me, though those who choose to do so may find the experience more meaningful. The goal will not be to interpret or expound. The relative brevity of a blog post makes it a weak tool for exposition. The goal will be to converse. Hopefully, I will come close enough to this goal so that many of you will join in the conversation.
You may soon wonder why I choose the books I do. You may find my choices to be rather odd for a Presbyterian pastor. I encourage you to be patient. We may not form the kind of bonds that would result from a more predictable list, but we can and will learn from each other. I will choose books that make me think. Hopefully they will make you think as well. They will challenge my assumptions about what I think I know and how I live. They may change me. They may or may not be works agreeable to my theology. They may or may not be considered to be masterpieces. I’m not seeking agreement or greatness. I am seeking conversation and growth.
The first book for this blog experiment will be Miguel de Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations. If you’d like to read along, you can find an online version here.