New year, new books from YDS faculty
In 2013, the faculty of Yale Divinity School published textbooks, translations, memoirs, and monographs on everything from the historical patriarchs to contemporary preaching. The Yale Divinity School Student Book Supply (SBS) is excited to share some brief comments about the published work of YDS faculty from the past year. Though only a snapshot of the wide-ranging research and scholarship we see from all the faculty members at Yale Divinity School, we proudly present these publications from 2013 and early 2014 with special honor.
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, April 2013).
In 2013, YDS had the unique privilege of having not one, but two titles from faculty members included in the Publishers Weekly “Best Books of 2013” religion category. The first is My Bright Abyss, a spiritual memoir by new Senior Lecture in Religion and Literature Professor Christian Wiman, who is new to YDS and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music this year. Within its pages, the reader will find Wiman’s poetry mixed with prose. For anyone who has ever wanted a glimpse into some of the thoughts behind a poet’s verses, this book is perfect. This title was the best seller in the Student Book Supply among faculty titles in the past year, and with good reason. The reader will not be disappointed to follow Wiman in his transparent and honest journey through doubt, belief, pain, and joy.
The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero (HarperCollins, October 2013).
The second YDS faculty member to have a title appear in the Publisher’s Weekly “Best Books” was Associate Professor of Old Testament Joel Baden. Professor Baden’s The Historical David concerns itself not with continuing to lavish praise and honor on a mythical figure, but with understanding the flesh-and-blood man behind the story. This book is, above all, a product of rich scholarship in the tradition of the historical critical method. This does not mean, however, that the book is dry, without wit, and unreadable. Quite the opposite, The Historical David is a wonderfully exciting read; Baden packs plenty of exciting ideas to digest in a modest number of pages—265—arguing arguing that the political overtones in the biblical story are an attempt to paint David in an undeservedly positive light. Baden prefers to defend the historicity of David, not as an idolized and perfected figure, but rather as a flawed and therefore more believable human being—“the man in full,” as he puts it. In the end, the reader is not saddened by the loss of a mythical hero. Instead, we are left hopeful for the promise of all we have learned from the more believable and historical truths of what King David may have actually been like. Dealing with specifics, this book is a great example of a YDS author writing as one may encounter him in the classroom: both scholarly and yet exciting in how he helps lead us to the text.
The Promise to the Patriarchs (Oxford University Press, March 2013).
Professor Baden has clearly been busy, as he has also given us The Promise to the Patriarchs. Here in the Pentateuch—familiar territory for Baden—his research takes the self-stated approach of including both the canonical and literary-historical readings of the first five books of the bible seriously. Indeed, he tells us in the introduction, “the text cannot be viewed in its full light without both.” Baden gives a balanced presentation of both readings of the text, highlighting the benefits, challenges, weakness, and strengths of each method. Of course, the focus of the book is not just the interpretations given to these readings and what they mean to us today, but also how they relate the larger scriptural story of the promise given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As always, Baden’s work is rooted firmly in a thorough scholarly understanding of ancient Israel, never straying far into the land of conjecture or the creation of an overly theologized text. Rather, he adheres strongly and knowledgeably to the text both as we have it today and as we believe it also once was.
Like the Wideness of the Sea: Women Bishops and the Church of England (Norwich Books, February 2013)
Associate Dean for Marquand Chapel and Associate Professor Maggi Dawn’s fifth book is two things: short and extremely important. This book is written from her perspective as a woman who cares deeply and passionately for her church—to the point that she cannot remain silent about the need for full ordination of women in the Church of England. Resorting to Spirit, scripture, history, personal call, and hope, Dawn’s own transparency and biographical details add to the book’s ethos. For those of us unfamiliar with the details of women’s ordination—and ordination in general—in the Church of England, Dawn is gives us enough of a primer to understand the historical and present-day situation. Drawing upon this idea and then building it up with a spirituality of waiting, she keenly balances patience and action as two necessary ingredients to this process. Finally, the personal narrative she shares with the reader allows one final push to illustrate examples and exhortation to those who need to hear of this important topic: namely, all of us.
Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait (Yale University Press, April 2013)
Horace Tracy Pitkin Professor of Historical Theology Denys Turner’s books generally leave our shelves as soon as we get them and his recent release is no exception. Turner’s pedagogical style of humor, grace, and smarts all come through in this biography of Thomas Aquinas. At a non-threatening 270 pages, this book is a fantastic combination of the academic and the accessible. Without losing his readers with technical terms and theological language that often escape the masses (Catholic pun intended), Turner chooses to bring the reader into his scholarship by humbly teaching and writing as only a master can do. By discussing Aquinas under manageable and focused themes, the caricature (Turner’s own word for Acquinas) created by the author comes out of the shadowy Dark Ages and into the spotlight of modern scholarship in such a way that we can all enjoy a man who very much inhabited his own world.
Abraham Heschel and the Phenomenon of Piety (T&T Clark, December 2013)
2013 also brought Berkeley Divinity School Dean and Associate Dean for Anglican Studies at Yale Divinity School Joseph Britton’s first book. Offering a valuable and fresh take on the important Jewish philosopher and theologian of the mid-20th century, Britton locates Heschel within his historical context and makes him accessible to ongoing interfaith conversations between Jewish and Christian traditions. By translating the often-negatively viewed concept of “piety” into the context of Heschel’s writing and thought, Britton’s expertise gives us a way to understand piety anew as “a mode of engagement with the other.” Heschel’s concept of piety has often been overlooked among other aspects of his writing, but Britton has successfully highlighted the importance of the term not only to what it meant for Heschel, but how we, too, might learn from it still today.
Ecology and Religion (University of Chicago, January 2014)
Senior Lecturers and Senior Research Scholars Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, who regularly teach courses in environmentalism and religion at YDS, co-wrote Ecology and Religion. Arguing that communities of faith are vital to promoting the future of ecology, the book discusses the ways that religions have historically promoted and harmed concepts of sustainability. Grim and Tucker highlight the concepts of orienting, grounding, nurturing, and transforming as four fundamental aspects of religious life. Then they illustrate how these themes play out within different faith traditions. At a time when people of faith are increasingly open to speak about their relationship to earth, the authors succinctly provide strong ideas with which multiple faiths can be understood in ecological terms; and, vice versa, they show how an understanding of the natural world is integral to concepts of what it means to be religious in each tradition.
Music as Prayer: The Theology and Practice of Church Music (Oxford University Press, November 2013).
Theologian, Preacher, Musician, and J. Edward and Ruth Cox Lantz Professor of Christian Communication Thomas Troeger continues his prolific writing career with Music as Prayer. Drawing upon all these areas of expertise and more (science, church history, primary sources, and personal memory), Troeger packs a punch in this 85-page exploration of church music. Though particularly helpful for musicians, it will also be a meaningful read to laity and clergy alike, despite their level of musicianship. By combining his years of experience with music, musicians, and ministry, this title helps us understand how it is that church music is able to move beyond either the music itself, the words, or even the combination of the two, into something more akin to prayer than performance. Like music itself, the power of this book is not merely in the understanding of an academic term here or there, but in the experience of taking it in personally—live, in tune, and with an open head and heart.
A Sermon Workbook: Exercises in the Art and Craft of Preaching (Abingdon Press, October 2013).
Along with Clement-Muehl Professor of Homiletics Lenora Tubbs Tisdale, Troeger also co-authored the highly practical A Sermon Workbook: Exercises in the Art and Craft of Preaching. As the title suggests, this is not simply a book to be read and then shelved. This is a workbook that harvests the energies and minds of two magnificent preachers who have thought, taught, and now written together. Written for preachers by preachers, the book’s two overarching sections, “Thinking Like a Preacher” and “Writing Like a Preacher,” are meant to help the reader “proclaim the good news with imagination, theological integrity, deepened biblical insight, and heartfelt passion” (from the introduction). For anyone who has ever wanted to take a class at YDS, this book is a must-read that includes both the practical help of preaching exercises as well as insight into the theological motivation for why preaching is important. Reading this workbook is like sitting at a desk in the classroom of two of YDS’s most engaging and personable professors.
Biblia Americana vol 3, Joshua-2 Chronicles (Baker Academic, February 2014)
The most recent volume edited by Executive Editor and director of the Jonathan Edwards Center Kenneth P. Minkema is original to Cotton Mather, with edits, introductions, and annotations by Minkema. Mather’s original commentary on Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles include his contemporary biblical theology, scientific speculations, and concerns of piety. Mather, often overshadowed by Jonathan Edwards, is brought to our attention thanks to the hard work of those like Minkema who have toiled to be certain that this commentary on scripture—the oldest comprehensive one published in British North America—is not lost.
All of the above books may be purchased at the Yale Divinity School Student Book Supply during business hours by calling 203-432-6101 or visiting the website at divinity.yale.edu/sbs-main