Hello blog readers. It’s been too long since I posted my reading digest and I apologize for that. So here’s what I’m reading currently:
Francis-Noel Thomas and Mark Turner, Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose, 2nd ed (Princeton; 2011). This book wades much deeper into literary theory than most how-to books on writing style. The authors bring classic writing style into the foreground in a way that makes it theoretically understandable and, with a number of very clear examples, well illustrated too. If there’s anything I take away from this book is a deeper appreciation for the non-fiction prose style of C.S. Lewis. Although Lewis is nowhere mentioned in the book (an oversight), he is a prime example of classic style and this book helped me discover what attracts me especially to his essays and non-fiction writings. Another point I take from this book is the power of truth to persuade. A William Blake line is quoted: “Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ’d” (125). Worth dwelling on that line for a few moments. Write the authors, “To show truth is automatically to persuade. Truth carries its own sufficient force. In this way, truth is inhuman: it is absolutely self-sufficient; it cuts through all human deficiencies; it needs no help from human beings. All it needs to be perceived is an unadulterated human presentation … Truth is self-evident once shown” (126). Theologically we must also say that truth gets suppressed in unrighteousness, so truth presentation is not so persuasive as these authors make it appear. Regardless, the point is an important one because for the writer there isn’t a greater power to wielded than clear truth. Classic prose writers seek to communicate the truth as clear and simply as possible, because where truth is presented clearly, an audience cannot help but be persuaded. That’s an excellent point to be learned and employed by writers and preachers alike.
Aristotle, Poetics; Longinus, On the Sublime; Demetrius, On Style (Loeb Classic; 1995). The Loeb classics are beautifully constructed and perfect in size. Reading them is a pure aesthetic delight for a bibliophile like myself. As for content these three books coincide with Thomas/Turner. In Aristotle’s classic on writing style, he does a fine job comparing and contrasting the value and function of fiction and non-fiction genres. Not long ago on the blog I posted an excerpt and some thoughts on this topic (see here). Demetrius has written a style textbook that makes for a good read. Longinus likewise covers many themes as well, providing the most help where he distinguishes between sublime writing that elevates a topic from an overly emphasized amplification that actually does nothing to move the reader. How do you elevate without redundant amplifications, is the question Longinus is largely concerned with. In the spirit of Thomas/Turner, Longinus writes, “a grand style is the natural product of those whose ideas are weighty” (185). This trio of classic books on writing style were a perfect complement to my read of Thomas/Turner.
G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Baker; Dec. 1, 2011). Of all the many theological disciplines that interest me, biblical theology is one of my favorites, and I’m always watching for new BT works to come along. I’ve been anticipating this one since over one year ago when I first heard about it. This is Beale’s opus, and may be the most important book published in 2011, at least it’s now atop my book of the year list. Beale is convinced that a better understanding of the OT will help us understand the NT more clearly and he masterfully ties together prominent OT themes into the NT storyline, helping the reader see the many parallels and connections. Perhaps the most important strength of this work is the emphasis on inaugurated eschatology. Writes Beale, “the major doctrines of the Christian faith are charged with eschatological electricity.” Nicely said. I agree. This is not an introduction to BT, and it at times gets very dense and technical, as is true of most of Beale’s works. But if you are serious about BT (if you can fill in the first names of these men by heart: _______ Vos, _______ Eichrodt), you’ll want to start saving your coins for when it gets released in a few months. Perhaps we’ll have a book giveaway to celebrate its release?
Robert Letham, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology (P&R; Sept. 16, 2011). Union with Christ is an essential theme drawing together the full personal and work of Christ and applying that reality to all of Christian life and future. In his forthcoming book Letham addresses union from the three categories mentioned in the title. Often he lands somewhere between Gaffin and Horton, being willing to critique each of them when necessary (according to the introduction both Gaffin and Horton read and made suggested changes to his manuscript). One highlight was chapter 5: “Union with Christ and Transformation.” There Letham historically traces the theme of union as it developed from the patristic age, where it was rooted more directly to the Incarnation, and then to the reformation and Luther and Calvin, where union and the finished work of Christ emerged more clearly into view. There are some gems in this book, like this one: “Union with Christ is the foundational basis for sanctification and the dynamic force that empowers it” (6). Good stuff. And while I’m not fully versed in all the dynamics of the reformed debates over justification/union (a major theme throughout this book) and I’m not sure yet where I stand on the Horton <> Letham <> Gaffin spectrum, yet there’s a lot of material in this book that is not up for debate and that I think we can find a large degree of agreement. Most of all Letham wants us to live out our union with Christ. He closes his book with this plea: “If you are not united to Christ and all we have said is a purely academic exercise, please consider your situation, believe in Christ, and serve him with all that is in you by the help of the Holy Spirit. Scholarship, theological discussion, bibliographical information is important—but it is far from ultimate. There is something far greater. If we are united to Christ, endless vistas open” (141). Beautiful. Given the importance of union with Christ in the NT, and the relatively few recent works on the theme, I welcome any/all new books to help us uncover this doctrinal treasure, and one that looks at union both biblically, historically, and theologically is especially welcomed.
So those are some books I’ve finished or am finishing up now.
And here are some books waiting on deck:
- Thucydides, The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War (Free Press; 1996).
- Brian G. Hedges, Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin (Cruciform; July, 2011).
- John Anthony McGuckin, St. Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography (St Vladimir’s Press; 2001).