During my years in seminary, I served on the staff of our campus Cokesbury bookstore. We specialized in the seminary and academic market more so than many Christian bookstores, which are geared for a general audience. Thus, to keep relevant to our customer base, we spent a lot of time ensuring that we kept the bookshelves up to date with new titles, often arriving soon after they became available from a given publisher.
One element of the “academic religious” market is the strategy for planning out when books are released. For this unique book market, a lot of attention is paid to the mid to late Fall schedule, capitalizing on getting the most attention possible for new books at the scholarly meetings held annually by the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion. Other academic societies meet in the Fall, though many publishers count on their publicity strategy when the largest number of religion scholars teaching in universities and seminaries are gathered for the big AAR and/or SBL meetings. When gathered together, it is the biggest event for academic religious publishers in North America, and the exhibit floor is a sight to behold.
Even as e-publishing and e-readers are increasing market share, I really cannot imagine a better place to spend an afternoon, surrounded by the new and notable books coming to the market for enhancing biblical, theological and pastoral conversations. My wife and I have attended a couple of AAR/SBL meetings (Denver 2001 and Boston 2009), and we hope to attend again when the meetings are back on this side of the country. Lugging home a suitcase full of books (or my stamping of feet like a small child when my far more wise wife insisted we ship acquisitions home instead) are among some of my favorite SBL/AAR memories. (And when not dealing with a foot stamping husband, my wife had great SBL/AAR memories as well....)
Looking ahead to the books likely to be on the show floor at the SBL/AAR Meetings, I note some interesting titles with links to read more or purchase the books from their publishers.
(NOTE: The commentary on each book is drawn from the given publisher's materials about the book. I have not yet reviewed any of these titles, so I cannot comment on anything other than they look like books that will be engaging to read!)
Brueggemann, Walter. From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms. Westminster/John Knox Press. http://www.wjkbooks.com/Products/0664259715/from-whom-no-secrets-are-hid.aspx
The Psalms express the most elemental human emotions, representing situations in which people are most vulnerable, ecstatic, or driven to the extremities of life and faith. Many people may be familiar with a few Psalms, or sing them as part of worship. Here highly respected author Walter Brueggemann offers readers an additional use for the Psalms: as scripted prayers we perform to help us reveal ourselves to God.
Brueggemann explores the rich historical, literary, theological, and spiritual content of the Psalms while focusing on various themes such as praise, lament, violence, and wisdom. He skillfully describes Israel's expression of faith as sung through the Psalms, situates the Psalmic liturgical tradition in its ancient context, and encourages contemporary readers to continue to perform them as part of their own worship experiences. Brueggemann's masterful take on the Psalms as prayers will help readers to unveil their hopes and fears before God and, in turn, feel God's grace unveiled to them.
Forest, Jim. Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandments. Orbis Books. LINK: http://www.orbisbooks.com/loving-our-enemies.html
Not everything Jesus taught must be regarded as a commandment. Counsels on voluntary poverty or celibacy, for instance, have been seen as an option for a small minority of Christ's followers. The same cannot be said about the love of enemies. This is basic Christianity--the message Jesus taught through direct instruction, through parables, and by the example of his own life. And yet, as Jim Forest notes, it is undoubtedly the hardest commandment of all, on that runs counter to our natural inclination and call for prayer, discernment, and constant practice.
Drawing on scripture, the lives of the saints, modern history, and personal stories, Forest offers "nine disciplines of active love," including "praying for enemies," "turning the other cheek," "forgiveness," and "recognizing Jesus in others," that make the love of enemies, if not an easier task, then a goal worth striving toward in our daily lives.
Freeman, Curtis W. Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists. Baylor University Press. LINK: http://baylorpress.com/en/Book/403/Contesting_Catholicity.html
In Contesting Catholicity, Curtis W. Freeman offers an alternative Baptist identity, an “Other” kind of Baptist, one that stands between the liberal and fundamentalist options. By discerning an elegant analogy among some late modern Baptist preachers, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Baptist founders, and early patristic theologians, Freeman narrates the Baptist story as a community that grapples with the convictions of the church catholic.
Deep analogical conversation across the centuries enables Freeman to gain new leverage on all of the supposedly distinctive Baptist theological identifiers. From believer’s baptism, the sacraments, and soul competency, to the Trinity, the priesthood of every believer, and local church autonomy, Freeman’s historical reconstruction demonstrates that Baptists did and should understand themselves as a spiritual movement within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
A “catholic Baptist” is fully participant in the historic church and at the very same time is fully Baptist. This radical Baptist catholicity is more than a quantitative sense of historical and ecumenical communion with the wider church. This Other Baptist identity envisions a qualitative catholicity that is centered on the confession of faith in Jesus Christ and historic Trinitarian orthodoxy enacted in the worship of the church in and through word and sacrament.
Inman, Daniel. The Making of Modern English Theology: God and the Academy at Oxford (1833-1945). Fortress Press. LINK: http://store.fortresspress.com/store/product/20005/The-Making-of-Modern-English-Theology-God-and-the-Academy-at-Oxford-1833-1945?c=285731
This book explores how Oxford theology, from the beginnings of the Tractarian movement until the end of the Second World War, both influenced and responded to the reform of the university. Neither becoming unbendingly confessional nor reduced to the secular study of religion, the Oxford faculty instead emerged as an important ecumenical body, rooted in the life and practice of the English churches, whilst still being located in the heart of a globally influential research university as a department of the humanities. This is an institutional history of reaction and radicalism, animosity and imagination, and explores the complex and shifting interactions between church, nation, and academy that have defined theological life in England since the early nineteenth century.
Niebuhr, Gustav. Lincoln's Bishop: A President, A Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors. HarperOne. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18498537-lincoln-s-bishop
More than a century ago, during the formative years of the American nation, Protestant churches carried powerful moral authority, giving voice to values such as mercy and compassion, while boldly standing against injustice and immorality. Gustav Niebuhr travels back to this defining period, to explore Abraham Lincoln's decision to spare the lives of 265 Sioux men sentenced to die by a military tribunal in Minnesota for warfare against white settlers—while allowing the hanging of 38 others, the largest single execution on American soil. Popular opinion favored death or expulsion. Only one state leader championed the cause of the Native Americans, Episcopal bishop, Henry Benjamin Whipple.
Though he'd never met an Indian until he was 37 years old, Whipple befriended them before the massacre and understood their plight at the hands of corrupt government officials and businessmen. After their trial, he pleaded with Lincoln to extend mercy and implement true justice. Bringing to life this little known event and this extraordinary man, Niebuhr pays tribute to the once amazing moral force of mainline Protestant churches and the practitioners who guarded America's conscience.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer publicly confronted Nazism and anti-Semitic racism in Hitler’s Germany. The Reich’s political ideology, when mixed with theology of the German Christian movement, turned Jesus into a divine representation of the ideal, racially pure Aryan and allowed race-hate to become part of Germany’s religious life. Bonhoeffer provided a Christian response to Nazi atrocities.
In this book author Reggie L. Williams follows Bonhoeffer as he defies Germany with Harlem’s black Jesus. The Christology Bonhoeffer learned in Harlem’s churches featured a black Christ who suffered with African Americans in their struggle against systemic injustice and racial violence—and then resisted. In the pews of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, under the leadership of Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., Bonhoeffer absorbed the Christianity of the Harlem Renaissance. This Christianity included a Jesus who stands with the oppressed rather than joins the oppressors and a theology that challenges the way God can be used to underwrite a union of race and religion.
Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus argues that the black American narrative led Dietrich Bonhoeffer to the truth that obedience to Jesus requires concrete historical action. This ethic of resistance not only indicted the church of the German Volk, but also continues to shape the nature of Christian discipleship today.