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Wreck Your Theology Authors

April 28, 2014

On Saturday, Jennifer Neyhart (@JenniferNeyhart) asked me this question: “What authors have wrecked [challenged to the point of forcing you to reexamine] your theology?” I know she will be blogging on this also, although I am not sure when. I am quite sure we will have two different approaches to the topic. I encourage my readers to read her post as well.

This seems like a simple question on its surface, right? When she asked the question I quickly rattled off a short list of scholars and theologians who are authors that have forced me to thoroughly reexamine my theology. At times, this reexamination ended up leaving me with a deep reaffirmation of my faith. Whereas on other occasions this challenge by an author or theological to my theology has sent me on a journey of exploration that landed me in a new place theologically.

As I worked with the topic in my mind, I realized the list of who changed my theology is in itself not enough. After all, you landed at your starting point somehow. This is where my early pastors – good, bad, and ugly – come into play. This is where my early reading played a part and my time at Liberty University and Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary worked on me.

My early authors of this era included Matt Chandler, John Piper, Charles Spurgeon, and Jonathan Edwards. Add in a small dose of Martin Luther and Elmer Towns, and I thought I was well on my way. If you are familiar with these authors you can easily guess I fell into a reformed tradition mindset. But it was one of the two authors I was counseled to avoid that really was the tipping point for me and my theology. Who was that author? N.T. Wright. Need I say more?

N.T. Wright made sense on many issues where the reformed authors said to believe in blind faith. It turns out there were simple, and reasonable, answers. Logical answers. While I did not, and still do not, agree with Wright on all things, I sure found a new centerline or starting point for me in my theological reading.

Wright led to Richard Beck. Beck is a professor at Abilene Christian University whose book Unclean changed the way I examine self-righteousness and visitors to a church. His points were solid, sometimes bluntly obvious, and almost always led to a painful humbling. Beck led to Eugene Peterson. Peterson, the humble pastor-author has a great many works worth reading. Now I can say I have added Walter Bruggemann to the mix, along with Martin Luther King, among many, many others.

I could separate my home library into Old and New. The Old section would contain people who thought alike and their ideas reinforced each other’s positions. They built a sturdy scaffold of the reformed tradition. All of the authors in the Old section are men. The great majority are from the Baptist tradition.

The New section is the one I want to share with you. It is all about balance. The New section has a good blend of men and women authors. They are also diverse in background and theology. There are Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, Anabaptists, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, atheists, and agnostics. There are books on theology, philosophy, classic literature, preaching, teaching, pastoral care, writing, and the list can go on and on. You may be asking yourself how this can help my theological standing and my faith. It is actually simple: This balance in authors, traditions, genders, and topics has helped me grow a well-rounded and balanced theology. It has developed me into a rather ecumenical outlook. It has helped me to realize I don’t have to agree with every word in a book to think the author has some good points. If it was not for the foundation of my authors and books in my Old section, I would have nothing to allow the books in my New section to challenge me with. So for me, balance is the key.

I have several questions for you:

Who are you reading? Are you sticking to the popular authors? If you are, get off the beaten path and read some that may not be on the shelf of the local bookstore.

Who are you reading? Are you only reading authors you agree with? Stop reading them now and read someone on the opposite end of the spectrum. If you keep reinforcing your position, you are not getting any more intelligent, you are entrenching yourself. When you read authors with other positions you are weakening your faith, but in a way you are double checking your theological work.

Who are you reading? Are you reading a blend of men and women authors? If the authors on the books are only one gender, you are failing to examine the whole other half of church. And you don’t have to go with the popular authors here either. I stumbled across Christine Pohl a couple of years ago and I was rewarded for it.

Who are you reading? Are you reading a singular topic? If you have been reading all of the end time’s material for the past two years I implore you to stop! Read something missions, Christian living, or even fiction. Go read Waldon’s Pond. Read something else. Don’t get locked into a topic forever or you will get theological myopia.

Who are you reading? What denominational and theological bend are the authors you read? Have you read a book by an atheist lately? What about someone from another denomination? Again, you do not have to agree with them, but let them expose you to what your neighbors are feeling and thinking.

Go wreck your theology through many, many authors. Unlock the amazing things God has waiting for you!

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