Thursday, January 15, 2009
Mister of Divinity
"Between myself, GKS, and your pastor and others, you could come up with a lean list of 25 books or so that could cover biblical, historical, and theological ground to which seminary would introduce you.
"Your mind at work on a systematized lineup of material is all you really need to get up to speed. I would be happy to initiate a list and you can send it around for criticism and editing, updating with alternate selections, and proposing opposing perspectives.
"I really think that what you may lose in the early years from participating in a graduate program, you could crisply make up with participation in the different venues you have available. Adult ed. in seminars, conferences, and a class or two of upper level seminars at Phillips or elsewhere would round off excellently, and far cheaper."
So, this is an open invitation to all my bloggy buddies to recommend five o six books, treatises, monographs and what-have-you on the aforementioned subjects.
I'm looking for academic works, BUT please feel free to recommend popular, but rich, books, as well. (Examples: John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, Gary Wills, Bart Ehrman.)
Feodor has already recommended one:
Hans Frei, "The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics."
Y'all go. Help me become a Mister of Divinity. :-)
Thanking you in advance,
oh. Wrong kind of cannon.
Within it a whole field of discussion.
It is not clear to me ER, why you can't go to seminary, if I, at our age, can think seriously about continuing on to Medical School.
“Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology,” Daniel L. Migliore.
“We Have Been Believers: An African-American Systematic Theology,” James H. Evans Jr.
“Saint Augustine Confessions.”
“Julian of Norwich: Showings.”
“The Writings of the New Testament.” Luke Timothy Johnson.
“The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation.” Justo Gonzalez.
Karen, it's the need for income that keeps me tied down. And the fact that the one I would go to is about 100 miles away.
A Community of Character - Stanley Hauerwas
God & Empire - John Dominic Crossan
The Presence of the Kingdom - Jacques Ellul
The Dream of the Earth - Thomas Berry
The Prophetic Imagination - Walter Brueggemann
Super, Natural Christians - Sallie McFague
The Wisdom Jesus - Cynthia Bourgeault
Before tackling Frei's monograph, I would skim, at least, a survey on Biblical literature as well as the history of Biblical interpretation, and some of Enlightenment philosophy as well - Kant, Hegel, those folks who wrote impenetrable tomes that have to be profound because they're so poorly written. Then take him on, knowing that a book like this is like eating fudge; you have to nibble a little at a time because it's so rich.
I would also include Karl Barth's The Evangelical Faith: An Introduction. Bruce Birch's Let Justice Roll Down: The Old Testament, Ethics, and the Christian Life. The Woman's Bible Commentary, for a slightly different take on the traditional single-volume Bible commentary a la Harper's or the like.
For work on worship and the sacraments from a Protestant perspective, the triptych by Laurence Stookey on Baptism, Eucharist, and the Calendar are excellent (I'm biased here, but they are good).
In order to get an appreciation for the variety of interpretations out there, pick up the 20th Anniversary edition of Gutierrez' A Theology of Liberation, James Cones' A Black Theology of Liberation, and Rosemary Radford Reuther's Sexism and God-Talk. Jean-Marc Ela, a Francophone African theologian from Cameroon, has a nice collection of essays entitled African Cry, which would offer still another perspective.
Penguin Press offers inexpensive and well-translated editions with solid introductions to early, post-Apostolic, pre-Constantinian writings, including a collection with writing that span the late-1st to late 2nd century (I have one that has the letters of Clement, which were almost included in the Biblical canon, as well as other epistolary writings, confessions, Acts, the martyrdom of Polycarp, and the Didache). I think it's either Paulist Press, or Christian Book Distributors has a huge, multi-volume set of early Church writings from the pre-Nicene era through the early Middle Ages that's excellent, but will take up a huge amount of space on your book shelf. Or you could find single volumes, especially of St. John Chrysostom and the Cappadocian Fathers.
Finally, the sermons of John Wesley (I have to get a plug in for him), some of the writings and sermons of Martin Luther - Three Treatises includes "On The Freedom of a Christian" - and (here's one for Alan) Calvin's Institutes.
I think that's more than you asked for, but it is enough to be getting on with.
Check out: Vancouver School of Theology, St. Stephen's College in Edmonton, and Atlantic School of Theology (the latter even has distance ordination into the United Church of Canada--a church similar in theology to the UCC.)
[Beware! This a sketch of an autodidact education that leaves out original source material (i.e. the Bible, the Church Fathers, the Scholastics, the Reformers) and denominational and practical ministry concerns!]
Prelude: The Orthodox Way, Kallistos Ware
- Gerhard Anderson, Understanding the OT (5th Edition)
- Walter Brueggemann, An Intro. to the OT
[for later also by Brueggeman, An Intro. to the Theology of the OT and The Prophetic Imagination]
[deep background: Gerhard von Rad, Theology of the OT in 2 vols.]
ISAIAH (as in-depth task):
- Brevard Childs, Isaiah (Old Testament Library) and The Struggle To Understand Isaiah As Christian Scripture
- Howard Clark Kee, Understanding the NT
- Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the NT
- Pheme Perkins, Reading the New Testament
NEW TESTAMENT WORLD:
- Wayne Meeks, The Moral World of the First Christians
- John Stambaugh, The New Testament in Its Social Environment
- Kugel and Greer, Early Biblical Interpretation
[deep background: Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the NT 2 vols and Helmut Koester, Intro. to NT 2 vols]
JOHN (as in-depth task)
- Raymond Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times and An Into. to the Gospel of John
FEMINIST BIBLICAL THEOLOGY
- Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her
- Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror
EARLY CHURCH HISTORY AND DOCTRINE
- Raymond Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind
- Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians
- Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600)
- Jaroslov Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture
MEDIEVAL CHURCH HISTORY AND THEOLOGY
- Marcia Collish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition
- Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 3: The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300)
- Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother
REFORMATION HISTORY AND THEOLOGY
- Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250-1550: An Intellectual & Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe
- Diarmaid, MacCulloch, The Reformation
CONTEMPORARY SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY
Read one of the following:
- Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology
- Gustav Aulen, The Faith of the Christian Church
- John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology
- Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity
Plus 3 or more of the following:
- H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture
- Hans Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, The Identity of Jesus Christ, Types of Christian Theology
- George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age
- David Kelsey, Proving Doctrine
- Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk
- Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language
- Cornel West, Prophesy Deliverance
- James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power
MORAL AND ETHICAL THEOLOGY
- Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory
- Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
- Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Ethics Of Identity
I know that, especially at theological colleges/universities there are ways to do course work, say in the summer, and do the rest at home. It would be a Master's right? So you'll be doing limited classroom work and lots of research/writing.
Also: you can't get student loans again?
Feodor's list is excellent, although I think some of the writings, especially Taylor's Sources of the Self are pretty heavy slogging. Taylor is a Canadian philosopher, writing from a faithful perspective. He has written another long work, A Secular Age, which is also excellent, but also pretty heavy slogging unless you are up to some pretty heavy philosophical lifting.
Also, Trible's Texts of Terror, anything at all by Walter Brueggeman (along with The Prophetic Imagination, he also has a study of the influence of the land on the Hebrew writers of the Bible.
Tillich's three volumes in one Systematic Theology should be attempted only after reading a collection or two of his sermons. I have The Eternal Now and Shaking the Foundations.
Tillich for sure. As much of him as you can absorb.
A must read is:
The Quest Of The Historical Jesus; A Critical Study Of Its Progress From Reimarus To Wrede, (German, 1906). English edition, translated by William Montgomery, A. & C. Black, London 1910, 1911. Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2001 edition: ISBN 0800632885
Actually I'll let the others recommend the standard "Christian" Texts to you.
Let me suggest those that define Christianity from the margins.
The Doctrine And Covenants Of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints (Paperback)
by Joseph Smith
The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image
by Leonard Shlain
The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the AUTHENTIC Words of Jesus
by Jesus Seminar (Author), Robert W. Funk (Translator), Roy W. Hoover (Translator)
Tao Te Ching
(this specific version)
Translated by Stephen Mitchell
Published by: HarperCollins
Print ISBN: 0061142662
The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani in the British Museum
by E. A. Wallis Budge
(get an illustrated version)
Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls
by Barbara Thiering,
New York: Harper Collins, 1992
The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of Mystical Wisdom form the Ancient and Medieval Worlds
by Willis Barnstone (Editor), Marvin Meyer (Editor)
The Mythic Dimension: Selected Essays 1959-1987 (Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
After you read all of those, I'll assign some more.
I also asked the preacherman at church. I'll shake all these recommendations up and trim it to 25. Which, DrLobo, is meant to be a good gloss of a layman's intro to a seminary ed., not the equivalent of a seminary ed.
The Greatness of the Soul- John Bunyan
Abstract of Systematic Theology- JP Boyce- it written from a Calvinist PV, but he addresses all angles of believin
On a sidenote, thanks Feodor for reminding me about Will Campbells "The Glad River"...I read it up again...amazing how much more it means with a few years of wisings in the rearview mirror...I even ordered another one by him...one bout the dragonfly you refereed me to...even if you didnt fancy that one, I thinks you might like TGR a bit better.
BTW Rudy, you gotta read TGR... the main character is an boneyfied erudified redneck...this time thru, all I kept thinkin is that this guy is YOU...he's even a magazine editor by the end...aint that sorta like the taters you dig?
About Will D. Campbell: "He was the late cartoonist Doug Marlette's inspiration for the character 'Will B. Dunn' in his comic strip, Kudzu."
SOLD!!! I LOVE that cartoon. "Minister to the fabulously well-to-do," indeed. Beautiful daughter Veranda, indeed! Wonderful mem'ries struck there, Doc Bill. :-)
I loved Dragonfly; it was Providence that didn't work as well. I will get a copy of The Glad River.
Yeah, I think of the 25 as a foundation from which you can both read the source material and synthesize everything else for the rest of your life letting it all form you as you will.
I also agree with GKS, reading 20th century theology also implies getting to know Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Weber, primarily, and, in some cases Wittgenstein, eventually the Frankfort School theorists, Foucault, Rawls, and Rorty.
As for ancients, Plato and Plotinus.
OK, my list will probably differ a lot from those already here, because they are more pastoral in nature, and less scholarly. Some might disagree with that assessment, but I don't believe seminary should be turning out that many scholars. We need more true pastors. But you didn't ask for that.
OK, here are a few that I highly recommend.
John Calvin's Institute of Christian Religion, the one edited by McNeil.
J.C. Ryle's Holiness, or any of his other works.
Michael Horton's Putting Amazing Back into Grace, and Christless Christianity. These two books capture the essence of the gospel better than anything else I have read besides Scripture.
John Piper's Let the Nations Be Glad, and Brothers, We are Not Professionals.
John Owen, any of his works, but particularly The Death of Christ, The Death of Death.
If you want a great systematic theology, Louis Berkhof's is excellent.
Also R.C. Sproul's Chosen By God is excellent as well.
Augustine's City of God,
And finally, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.
That will give you a better theological education than most seminaries give in four years.
Hope this helps.
The Heidelberg Catechism
The Westminster Confession
The Scots' Confession
The Canons of Dordt
The Barmen Declaration
Seems like a study of them (and others) would provide a nice transition between the systematic theology that some of these books provide, and the more pastoral books that Timothy mentions. That is, asking the question, "how have churches broken down their theology for the masses?"
BTW, I agree with Timothy that the church probably needs more pastors than scholars. ... On the other hands, I think we all are called to be pastors, of sorts, one to another. Not all of us are called to be scholars.
Alvin Plantinga's short piece "The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology" contains The Great Pumpkin Objection. Worth reading, if for no other reason than it may be the only philosophic work that mentions Peanuts characters.
I'm thinking about doing a post on this myself now. It's a good topic. Top 10 most important books of Christianity, or something like that. But alas... it would be my opinion on the topic, etc., and many would disagree.
Also, I would only change your last line about "scholars" to "prophets". When I was in seminary, everyone wanted to be one, instead of accepting the call they had, nourishing it, and letting it grow.
For the list that Alan gave, there is a collection called Creeds of the Christian Churches, which has those and many, many others. A good place to start to catch the wide variety of Christian confession over the centuries.
Either way leans heavily on moralism. From the Enlightenment to the advent of post-modernism, the inclination of such severe textuality in the West was to expect to be able to reason it out exactly right and write it down convincingly, again either by the hero past or some hero or heroes present or soon to be. This last expectation that someone will soon will provide all the rational answers both theologically and politically is simple the textual transference of the second coming and explains the ever recurrent millennial fervor in American culture that will be display again on Tuesday.
While Incarnation, the body and person of the God-Man Jesus Christ is a mystery, ultimately. And for modern Western discourse, mystery is an old world thing, a medieval thing, a danger to the rational Enlightenment, Democracy, political power.
Anglo-American culture is a moralizing one, suspicious of mystery, and usually falls into the two camps of believing the Reformation captured the Truth or the Truth is still to be captured with effort and can happen soon.
Dogmatism is anti-intellectual; textual-millennial expectation so often ends in the theological resignation so thickly underground in our mainline denominations.
And yet, we read on, many of us. Looking for assurance.
Seventy-four years ago, a Jewish boy in Paris loved the hour after dinner when his father would read the IIiad to him, so full of adventure and boyish hubris. Until they got to the part of Patroclus' death. His father stopped. “What happened next?” the boy asked.
“That part has not yet been translated into German,” the father answered, “the rest is only in Greek. We’d have to learn Greek to find out.”
The next morning a wrapped book was on the kitchen table for the boy: a beginners’ Greek grammar.
George Steiner’s father was a mid-level bank manager who did not care what his son grew up to do for work. He was committed to initiate his son into the never ending life of civilization. Such was Jewish home life in many, many homes in Europe before the Shoah.
American culture has a very hard time normalizing intellectual life. In the end, it is a mysterious corpus of drama more than morals, frustratingly incomplete and inconclusive. And, in an age when we fetish youth, we tend not to honor things only age can reach after a long journey of hard work. Wisdom.
Feodor, you should have a blog. Do it! I'll be a regular!
Now, his own concern was the hermeneutics of the plastic arts, of thinking about beauty as physical manifestation. He considered approaching the hermeneutics of history, religion, and philosophy in a wholly different way, yet I wonder sometimes if in this he was not misguided. There should be, I think, a certain level of playfulness, of child-likeness, in our approach even to the most complicated subject. It keeps us humble, and it keeps us from taking the work too seriously. It would be a nice antidote to the very correct diagnoses of Feodor in his last comment.
Always remember - even at their most profound, words are nothing more than sounds we make, or marks on paper or a computer screen. Their meaning only stretches as far as our imagination allows. Playfulness keeps us from thinking "words" and "meaning" extend beyond themselves.
But that is a profound distance, and it varies with each hearer of the word, or words.
Frederick Buechner, from "The Sacred Journey" (San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1982), 68-69; and "Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations" (San Fran: HarperSanFranciso, 1992), Jan. 17:
"At the same time I happened to have for an English teacher an entirely different sort of man. He had nothing of the draughtsman about him, no inclination to drill us in anything, but instead a tremendous, Irishman's zest for the blarney and wizardry of words. I had always been a reader and loved words for the tales they can tell and the knowledge they can impart and the worlds they can conjure up like the Scarecrow's Oz and Claudius' Rome; but this teacher, Mr. Martin, was the first to give me a feeling for what words are, and can do, in themselves. Through him I started to sense that words not only convey something, but *are* something; that words have color, depth, texture of their own, and the power to evoke vastly more than they mean; that words can be used not only to make things clear, make things vivid, make things interesting and whatever else, but to make things happen inside the one who reads them or hears them. When Gerald Manley Hopkins writes a poem about a blacksmith and addresses him as one who 'didst fettle for the great gray drayhorse his bright and battering sandal,' he is not merely bringing the blacksmith to life, but in a way is bringing us to life as well. Through the sound, rhythm, passion of his words, he is bringing to life in us, as might otherwise have never been brought to life in us, a sense of the uniqueness and mystery and holiness not just of the blacksmith and his great gray drayhorse, but of reality itself, including the reality of ourselves. Mr. Martin had us read wonderful things -- it was he who gave me my love for 'The Tempest,' for instance -- but it was a course less in literature than in language and the great power that language has to move and in some measure even to transform the human heart."
Which is sort of part of what I read into the Discover magazine article in yesterday's post.
But, I agree that one should always maintain a certain playfuness about words and ideas. Because what do any of us really know -- know! -- anyway?
But remember that on Pentacost that Logos spread in 360 directions.
Jesus in Africa
Jesus in India
Jesus in Kashmir
Jesus in China
Jesus in Japan
Saint Thomas in India
Try not to dismiss them outright as your western orietation requires.
Now why do you want to go to seminary?
Why? I think partly because the subject matter actually hits me right where my most intense interest in history lies: In the history of ideas.
I mean, all theology IS, it seems to me, is historiography.
Then, all else I read becomes authentic as it is and/or a source of alterity and corrective to western thought.
I may convert to Buddhism, too, but now I convert from known to known.
To do otherwise is to escape into a romanticized notion of the exotic "other," and to do so inauthentically, in precisely a western way. I will be crippled with the same six-shooter.
And, speakin' as a white guy, if it weren't for romancified, exotic notions of others, most of us would have no notions of others whatsoever.
Take my interest in American Indian history: I do have a certain kind of exotic view of American Indians in history -- that, and working around it to get closer to factual "truthness," is what drives my research and my writings (sporadic though they may be.)
"If I were an 'other'... I think I'd rather someone have a romanticized, exotic perspective of me than none at all."
That's not my experience. Black men and women object to what they perceive going on in the white mind. Asian men and women object to what is going on in the white and black mind. Etc.
If your point is that we must start and proceed in a context of limitation, I stipulate.
And working ones' way around to deeper understanding that deconstructs one's pre-rational romanticism is what proves good intention.
Gotta go now, but this last third of the thread has been just as stimulating.
He may have meant something entirely different than what I first understood while doing to many things at once earlier today.
I think he is also suggesting that Western tradition has a bad habit of reifying texts and textual language as the presence of something ontologically eternal. The Bible, the Constitution, the Augsburg Confession, Reagan’s speeches…
But, in a passing note about Gadamer, he also says, “his own concern was the hermeneutics of the plastic arts, of thinking about beauty as physical manifestation.”
But, GKS goes on, “he [Gadamer] considered approaching the hermeneutics of history, religion, and philosophy in a wholly different way, yet I wonder sometimes if in this he was not misguided.”
I wonder if GKS is positing that an approach to the hermeneutics of human frameworks of truth should begin with a vision of what is beautiful prior to a judgment of what is moral and a stipulation of what is true. This is a notion with which we both are familiar in the works of Hans Urs von Balthasar.
This positioning of the category of the beautiful before the categories of the good and the true is meant to break open the stale rationality of theology post-Enlightenment and bring back the power of “glory” as it was meant in antiquity.
Gadamer, too, is dealing with the death of the Enlightenment project. Gadamer's "play" has the same purpose as Marcuse's "sex."
They are proposed as reconstructive therapies, informed by psychology, for the Enlightenment hegemony whose notion of Reason and its interest was drawn by white males and preserved by their interests (and therefore dying in the twentieth century).
Gadamer and Marcuse and many others sought new pathways to awaken the western Spirit or the western Id: to be childlike in exuberant metaphor, not in passivity. Just like Christ's own recommendations, it is not seriousness they abhor, much less maturity. It is hegemony that is far broken and they seek a beginning from breakdown for white male discourse after the horrors that white male power perpetrated in the first three quarters of the twentieth centiry.
"Play" for those historically outside the political interest of the West, people of color, white women, is thoroughly present in art forms, most often as subversion. But in critical thought, too, "play" is serious business with harsh judgments for those who do not do it well or who do it without serious application and sophisticated function.
Think Hurston, Hughes, Morrison, Kingston, Ellison, Topdog/Underdog by by Suzan-Lori Parks, etc.
My complaint - sometimes - with GKS is traceable back to a couple of months ago. Sometimes, GKS's "play" is passive resignation into incompletion. Sometimes, he dissolves into post-modern relativism as an end to conversation where he also applied old-fashioned moral judgment.
I worry because this "play" by white men with the beautiful, the good, and the true is something non-white, non-male folks find to be not critical enough, not appreciative enough of their histories, their experience of life, "red in tooth and claw."
Could Baldwin or King or Malcolm (of whom I am thinking more and more as I see young, strong black men standing beside railroad tracks to catch a glimpse of Obama), could they laugh and play with western truth in a childlike way?
What did the Enlightenment and the colonial age built on the Enlightenment mean to them, or to Jews, or the Vietnamese, or Algerians or Africans all around?
At this late twilight hour of Enlightenment Reason and the brightening dawn of the instrumentalization of market Reason, what can be said?
James Baldwin once said:
"In order to survive as a human, moving, moral weight in the world, America and all the Western nations will be forced to reexamine themselves and release themselves from many things that are now taken to be sacred, and to discard nearly all the assumptions that have been used to justify their lives and their anguish and their crimes so long."
We may still be too in love with this late twilight hour of the white man and its passive, elegiac mood. Marcuse and Gadamer wished for something else.
But this, dude .. this: "Reagan’s speeches" -- that cost me a squirt of Hendricks into a nostril the back way. :-)
This is anecdotal evidence contra the Discover article. We may be able to extend our minds, but multi-tasking with technology does not extend judgment.
But does it truncate judgment? Something in me says that judgment needs a factor of time to be at its best. Technology tends, just tends, to collapse time by crowding each moment with more than before.
(just proved the point)
Just to elaborate on my meaning of the point of looking in from the outside, consider this.
As a geographer I have learned that to understand the most important thing in the core requires finding what is at the margins. If you study the core and the core alone, you can mistake volume or brightness or some such for importance. But if you come in from the margins you will encounter the most influential things in the core for they will be the things encountered first in the outer regions having made it further from the core. Also you can measure the degree of change from the margins to the core, and that is most valuable to know.
Add this book to you list: P.Teilhard de Chardin "The Phenomenon of Man"
As far as the limits of Gadamer's heremeneutics, I couldn't agree more. I would go further, and stipulate that there should be a hermeneutic of suspicion concerning the entire western tradition. You mention James Baldwin, even as I mentioned him yesterday; fewer more suspicious readers have I encountered, yet one who also understood the transcendent humanity that linked us beneath all the real differences that divide us. That is why one should also apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to that very same suspicion. Read with caution, but a certain graciousness.
Incompletion? Rather, a refusal to accept false completeness. The universe, God, salvation, the incarnation - it's all still going on, creation continues, God isn't through with us yet. Too often, I think, we find a certain satisfaction on completeness, only to discover that we have only reached a turning point, say; a fork in the road, rather than the end of the line.
I agree that human imagination is quite vast; I would even take up drlobojo's point that we should not limit ourselves to our own parochial western interests. Yet, that with which we are dealing here - the human attempt to fathom the unfathomable, to understand mystery collapses, in the end, because we run up against, not just the limit of our language, but the limit of our imagination as well. All the works mentioned here, and many more besides, have the virtue of being faithful attempts to come to terms with these realities. All fall short (as do our own stuttering attempts) because of those same realities.
That is why I would reiterate the idea of playfulness as a necessary part of any reading of church history, doctrine, etc. Except for those baleful few who considered profundity a substitute for clarity, most of the writers mentioned strove not just for clarity, but for faithfulness as well. It should be fun to see with new eyes and hear with new ears; approach it that way, and you'll benefit, I think, every time.
You are ambitious, ER. I agree with your self-teaching plan unless you ever decide that you are interested in ordination.
But now I think that if I were to spend the time and effort, I'd want not only the letters but the ordination.
I mean, I'll read some of the books. Maybe, who knows, a bunch of 'em. But I have to have a carrot of some sort outside my personal interest. :-)