Saturday, July 26, 2008

How's your summer reading?

While JT packed Kostenberger and Swain's Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John's Gospel for some light, lake-side reading, my reading this summer has taken a different turn. Back in June, JT posted not one, not two, but three sets of suggestions for summer reading. Typically, my list looked quite different from most of those suggestions!

Well, it's almost the end of July. I haven't quite (!) made the headway I had hoped for. Picking up Peter Erb's Murder, Manners, Mystery: Reflections on Faith in Contemporary Detective Fiction (SCM, 2007) -- a book I've been meaning to get to -- diverted me into P.D. James's An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (first published, 1972) which, since I bought it in Cambridge, proved a timely and riveting choice. Plenty to ponder.

So too with my current biography, Heiko Oberman's Luther: Man between God and the Devil (E.Trans. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart; Yale University Press, 1989). It lacks the narrative flow of Bainton's well-known Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (originally published 1950), but is full of fascinating accounts and analysis. I somehow feel like I'm getting closer to Luther with Oberman than I did with Bainton. (Not a very scholarly judgment, though!) For the preachers out there, here is an anecdote related of Johannes von Staupitz, one of Luther's mentors:
The Augustinian prior [= Staupitz] had embarked upon a series of sermons on the Book of Job at the monastery church of Tübingen in 1498. When he had "come as far as the tenth or eleventh chapter," he realized that the stilted analysis from the pulpit "was tormenting [Job] more than his wretched boils." And so Staupitz broke off the sermons, concluding with the words: "I am stopping. Job and I are both glad!" (p. 181)
But on a more serious note, Oberman ponders Luther's iconic declaration, reflected in the title of Bainton's classic: "My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, for going against my conscience is neither safe nor salutary. I can do no other, here I stand, God help me. Amen." Oberman notes that this is no precursor to the modern principle of "freedom of conscience":
Appealing to conscience was common medieval practice; appealing to a "free" conscience that had liberated itself from all bonds would never have occurred to Luther. Nor did he regard "conscience" as identical with the inescapable voice of God in man. ... What is new in Luther is the notion of absolute obedience to the Scriptures against any authorities; be they popes or councils. ... Luther liberated the Christian conscience, liberated it from papal decree and canon law. But he also took it captive through the Word of God and imposed on it the responsibility to render service to the world. (p. 204)
So ... how's your summer reading going?