“take and read” Good Books to Strengthen Pastoral Ministry, Issue 87

June 2, 2016 by Presbyterian Foundation

Augustine heard the voice of a child saying, “Take and read, take and read.” He opened a Bible, began to read, and was set on the path of committed discipleship and faithful pastoral ministry as the Bishop of Hippo and a theologian for the ages. Let’s assume that pastors do not need to be encouraged to read the Bible. But what else can we read that will enhance our preaching, teaching, and pastoral care? 
Suggestion for June reading:
  • Marilynne Robinson, The Giveness of Things, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.

Marilynne Robinson is best known for her fiction, especially the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead, and the subsequent novels Home and the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Lila. But she is also a profound essayist. The Givenness of Things follows three previous collections of essays, The Death of AdamAbsence of Mind, and When I Was a Child I Read Books. Each of these books is a feast to be enjoyed dish by dish, savoring every bite. What may entice Presbyterians to sample Robinson’s essays is her fondness for Calvin and the Reformed tradition. Her writing on these themes provides an angle of vision that sees beyond the ordinary and may invite readers into her broader examinations of contemporary society.

On the eve of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Marilynne Robinson’s essay Reformation bypasses standard wisdom about the Reformation’s significance. Instead, she meditates on the significance of the Bible’s translation into vernacular languages, and the influence these translations had on the development of the languages themselves. The essay Grace cites several of Shakespeare’s plays to explore, with the “theologian” Shakespeare, the question, “How do forgiveness and grace not deprive evil of its nature, its gravity?” It is a question that every preacher should grapple with, and Robinson takes us into its depth, never settling for easy answers.
     There is a sense in which all of the 17 essays in The Givenness of Things touch on grace. In Theology Robinson asks, “Does the highest sense of the sacred abide where the Trinity as a concept is disallowed?” She answers, “Well, I think not, for what that is worth,” before going on to note that “Modern religious thought, with notable and distinguished exceptions, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer among them, has shied away from the unfathomable, as if grace could have other origins and truth another character.” Then comes the indictment of too much academic and preacherly theology: “There has been a marked tendency to treat the commonplace as the standard by which the plausible, the credible, is to be gauged.”
Marilynne Robinson thinks deeply about American culture and society, about matters of Christian faith, and about the relationship between the two, in ways that can provoke us to deeper thought than more straightforward theology fails to do.
Attending GA? We’d love to see you there!
If you will be in Portland for the General Assembly, please stop by the Foundation booth in the Exhibit Hall. We would love to meet you and learn about your ministry. Also consider attending one of the Foundation’s events: Our Sunday morning breakfast (June 19 at 7:30am) features Philip Jenkins, author of The Next Christendom, with a look toward the next Reformation. Then on Tuesday evening, we’ll host a dessert reception looking at Faith-Based Investing. Both events take place at the Hilton. RSVP for either event to Penny Franklin at 502-569-5905 or penny.franklin@presbyterianfoundation.org.