Up until the time I was 19 I was a resolved anti-intellectual. I thought that those who “thought too hard” about things just muddied the clear waters of the Christian life. But then a kind professor at North Central University recommended that I give C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity a stab. Well, everything went downhill from there. Here are a couple that sealed the deal.
I – C. S. Lewis – Mere Christianity was the first book of his that I read, and it sent me into a Lewis frenzy. I ravenously read up anything of his that I could get my hands on. Perhaps this was the seed that eventually precipitated my drifting into Anglican arms. Whatever it was I had never felt more terrified. I really thought that I was losing my faith, and getting it back again in an alien form. Perhaps this seems extreme to some, but that is how it was. From there I especially was influenced by The Great Divorce . . . how terrifying that we should find gracious and open arms on the other side of grace and be so blind as to turn it down. And how splendid to think of not being obsessed with hellish pictures of real fire and worms. The Problem of Pain was the final in a trifecta of Lewis books that cemented my love of this “simple layman of the Church of England.”
II – William Barclay – Some might be surprised to find out that I have never taken an introductory class to the New Testament. What happened is that not too long after I read my first Lewis book, as a sort of “graduation (from Master’s Commision) present” from my father gave me a complete, blue leather, hardcover set of William Barclay’s “Daily Bible Study Series” commentaries. I started with Vol. I of St. John’s Gospel and I very quickly read through every one. Barclay is often scorned at Bible Colleges and Seminaries, and I understand why; but Barclay is no wuss. He defininitely knew his Greek and was abreast of all major scholarly winds then available. And if not for his pastoral touch and his manly encouragement to holiness, I’m not sure I would have survived the encounter with the academic community. As with Lewis, I began to read any available book I could get my hands on.
But probably the greater gift was that William Barclay blew open all my quaint assumptions as to who could “be a Christian” and who couldn’t. Here was a man who so enlivened the Scriptures to me, whose love of Jesus was so powerfuly greater than my own, but he generally dismisses the miracles of the NT, who has problems with certain aspects of traditional belief, and who is a self professed Universalist! It made me very uncomfortable; and I still don’t know why so many Evangelicals love this guy; or rather I do, but it is strange. Barclay opened up the Church for me to include so many that I thought were certainly out, and for that if nothing else is something that I am eternally greatful for.
III – N. T. Wright – He hardly needs to be talked up these days. Everybody has an opinion on him, but his Christian Origins Series has absolutely transformed my reading of the New Testament. His open Evangelicalism is inspiring, his scholarship is exacting, and more so than any other NT scholar I have ever met, is fully informed in the latest philosophy – when you hear more “liberal” scholars call his work apologetic, it is just them feeling ashamed that they cannot match his potent critiques – Wright interacts with ALL the liberal works, whereas Crossan barely even touches anybody that doesn’t agree with him, both in his Historical Jesus work, and his work on Paul. I am practically wetting myself with anticipation for the rest of his Series.
IV – Walter Brueggemann – If Wright is the NT scholar informed by modern philosophy, Brueggemann is the OT one, there is not a “post-modern” work that he hasn’t conversed with. After having interacted with the scholarly work in NT, I needed someone brave for the OT. Obviously there are a plethora more critical problems for understanding the OT, and overcoming them and getting the OT to speak for the Church is a daunting task. His Old Testament Theology is powerful and unsettled my tepid reflection on the relavence of the OT; his Introduction is also very helpful in this regard. Add to that his award winning Prophetic Imagination, his books on preaching, and many others as well; and we’ve got one of our great treasures in the Church.