Okay, I really hadn’t meant to blog this week. But then my onetime colleague Chris Armstrong posted a link to the newest issue of Christian History Magazine (he’s the senior editor) and I knew that I had to put up at least one post. How could a self-respecting Christian historian-blogger fail to make some kind of response to a list claiming to contain the top 25 Christian “writings that changed the church and the world”?
Now, you only publish something like this if you want to provoke critical responses. I’ll get to that soon enough, but let me first be clear: I love CH and recommend it to students, colleagues, and fellow church members almost as often as I use it myself to fill in the vast holes in my church-historical knowledge for course prep.
And for all the ways that this issue irks me, I’m glad that editor Jennifer Woodruff Tait and her colleagues pulled it together. If nothing else, my 2016 sabbatical reading list has grown by several books. And this issue is the ultimate conversation-starter for Christians interested in history, literature, and theology.
But rather too much of that last field, frankly. Which gets me to my first objection and first question for readers:
• I’m glad to see a couple of works of fiction (Pilgrim’s Progress and The Divine Comedy), The Book of Common Prayer, two monastic rules and The Imitation of Christ, and a spiritual memoir at #1 (Confessions, natch). But it’s hard enough as it is to keep the theologians, biblical scholars, and philosophers one floor up from me at Bethel from thinking that they’re at the center of the Christian intellectual universe.
If I can speak for the Pietists (no, this isn’t on the list), Anabaptists (nor this, or this), and other Christians for whom lived experience is more central to Christianity than belief… The CH list is overloaded with certain kinds of Christian writings.
So a first question for readers: Which theological works would you strike from this list (seriously, four from Augustine alone!), and with what would you replace them? One more novel or memoir? A collection of poetry — or perhaps a single, long poem like this or this? A hymnal? (My Bethel colleague James Smith does suggest twenty-five influential hymns, fortunately.) Something on faith and science?
And for the love of Eusebius and Bede, how about a work of history… in a list from Christian History Magazine?
• But there are even easier, more significant gripes here. Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Catherine Marshall are noted as honorable mentions, but I didn’t notice any women in the top 25. The list also seems to omit any author from Sub-Saharan Africa, South or East Asia, or Latin America, which is more troubling than any of the European snubs that came to mind (e.g., Rerum Novarum and something from either Dostoyevsky or Solzhenitsyn). Letter from a Birmingham Jail was nominated and left off, but that’s the closest that the black church came to being represented here.
So question #2 for readers: Which writings should be added to represent the women of Christianity? The Christians of the Global South, or of marginalized communities in North America and Europe?
Finally: Any other glaring omissions? Which writings are you most pleasantly surprised to see on the list?