Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Four Most Influential Literary Works...

... that I have read other than the Bible. This is not a technology oriented post, but the question seems to arise regularly about the best things I've ever read. There is plenty of wonderful literature (Lucian, William Blake, Mark Twain, Frederick Buechner, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, John Irving...that list should be some indicator of my tastes), but there are only a few books/articles that have really changed my way of understanding. You will see that the Abraham/Isaac story in Genesis 22 and issues in the life of Jesus have been important dialogue partners for me that have truly shaped my faith and overall perspective. Other than the Bible (and within the Bible, Genesis, Mark, Romans, and Philippians are my 'canon within the canon'), I return to the following works:

  • Erich Auerbach's article "Odysseus' Scar" in Mimesis (online here and a summary here): This essay is somewhat of a challenging read, but Auerbach compares the fully foregrounded, fully explicit narrative of Homer with the "fraught with background," enigmatic nature of Genesis 22. The result: "The Scripture stories do not, like Homer’s, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us—they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels." A profound reflection on the way that biblical narrative creates (demands!) a faithful reader.
  • Soren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling: Kierkegaard explores that enigmatic background in the Genesis 22 story described by Auerbach by providing four brief scenarios to fill in the gaps. These serve as a springboard for his subsequent reflections on faith and his descriptions of the "knight of faith," the "move of infinite resignation," and the paradoxical "leap of faith."
  • Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus (also available as a free downloadable PDF ebook here): Schweitzer was not only a remarkable physician and humanitarian, he was also a world-class musician, philosopher, theologian, and biblical scholar. After reading his Quest, one may not agree with Schweitzer's conclusions, but his critique of what often passes as biblical scholarship should humble and caution anyone who wants to makes assertions about the historical Jesus.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and the chapter on the "Grand Inquisitor" in specific: The heart of this epic novel is the "Grand Inquisitor" chapter which can be pretty much read on its own with a bit of introduction. Since my students never need to read it anytime else in our MDiv curriculum, I make it required reading in my Gospels course as we talk about the temptation of Jesus by the devil and the implications this has for ministry today. There is so much truth here... I think it is a critical reflection piece for those serving in ministry who are so often tempted--usually out of a sense of care and concern--to make the Gospel "manageable."
So, what other classics do you recommend?

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