Reading the Wrong Books

Reading the Wrong Books

Theological educators are great readers. Books are the tools of our trade. We collect them, read them and often write them. They are status symbols, they impress students by filling our shelves and our lectures. We may not be better Christians but we have read so much more than our students. Yet perhaps we read the wrong books or, more precisely, we don’t read enough of the “wrong” books.

For us, the “wrong” books are often those which are outside our subject area. Who can keep up with the books coming out on Old Testament or Missiology today? And so we feel a pang of guilt if we read from elsewhere. Then there are the “wrong” books which come from a different ecclesiological tradition, outside our comfort zone and which, if we read them, would cause un-wanted stimulation to tangential thinking.

Here is a small list of books that meet both these criteria of “wrongness”. They are not in your subject area (but in the area of your calling to teach) and they are from a variety of traditions. Enjoy! If you put these authors together in a room they would probably have a mighty argument and I am certainly not suggesting agreement with what they say, only stimulation and enrichment for you and your students. Isn’t that enough?

Simone Weil, Waiting on God. Weil (1909-1943) was a French philosopher, mystic and activist. Her essay on education in this book talks about how both study and prayer partake of the idea of attention. “It is the part played by Joy in our studies that makes them a preparation for spiritual life”[1]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together. Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German Lutheran innovative theologian, killed by the Nazis. His little book is about the community of a theological college and explains how it is built not on immediate relationships (I like you, you like me) but on mediate relationships (I am in Christ, you are in Christ).[2]

Parker Palmer, To Know as We are Known. Palmer (1939-) is a North American Quaker educationalist. He says that his little book is on the “spirituality of education” and “the community of truth”.[3] It is very moving.

Martin Buber, I and Thou. Buber (1878-1965) was an Austrian Jewish philosopher . His book is almost a poem – to relationships as the basis of reality. Teaching then is a relationship between you and people (and ultimately God) not you and things.[4] Most other assertions we want to make about teaching follow from that.

Jean LeClercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God. LeClerq (1911-1993) was a Benedictine mediaevalist. His careful scholarship draws the comparison between mediaeval scholastic theology and monastic theology. The second is related to spiritual formation, is a different kind of reading of the text and involves contemplation.[5] The relevance for today’s theological educator is startling.

Why not use the comment facility below this post to add one or two books (right or wrong!) which have stimulated your thinking?

[1] Simone Weil, Waiting on God, trans. Emma Craufurd (London: Collins, 1973), 71.

[2] Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (London: SCM, 1954), 20.

[3] Parker Palmer, To Know as We are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993), xi, xii.

[4] Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1937). For an exposition of his educational thought, see Daniel Murphy, Martin Buber’s Philosophy of Education (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1988).

[5] Jean LeClercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture (New York: Fordham University Press, 1961), especially 233-286.

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2 Comments on “Reading the Wrong Books”

  1. Perry Shaw Says:

    We cannot grow without the “wrong” books – especially those that challenge not only the mind but also the heart and our actions. Thanks for your recommendations Graham. I have read all but the last (which is now on my “to buy” list), and been changed in different ways by each.

  2. John Ross Says:

    Whilst not quite “wrong” reading for an historian, I am re-reading Geoffrey Moorhouse’s penetrating study of humility and hubris in the Celtic monastic community on Skellig Michael, off the south-west coast of Ireland. It is a salutatory reminder of the pitfalls of community life.

    Geoffrey Moorhouse,’Sun Dancing: A Medieval Vision’ (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1997)

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