Ok. Now I’m going to focus on my picks for the “most important works of theology” of the past 25 years (so 1982-1997)
Certainly that category would have to have happened for me in just the past 2-2 and a half years or so , since I never read much of what would be considered “theological works” until then. The only one in this category that I remember from seminary days was Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, which impressed me with its theme at the time , but the reading of which did not stay with me since I think I wasn’t quite at a point yet where I could really appreciate it. When I re-read this a couple of years ago, along with readings in Bonhoeffer, Hauerwas, Bell, and Cavanaugh, it made much more sense and made a hefty theological impact, which I’m sure will only grow as I read more of Yoder himself, as well as commentary on him via Hauerwas and company (like Burrell, now that I’ve gotten more of an intro to his work).
Another book is Gerhard Lohfink’s Does God Need the Church? Toward a Theology of the People of God, which was recommended by William Cavanaugh in his “The Empire of the Empty Shrine” a couple of Ekklesia Project gatherings back. I ordered it not long after that. I certainly will nominate that one. A wonderful theology of the church that traces the People of God story throughout the history of the narrative of salvation history starting with Israel.
I’ll nominate The Hauerwas Reader, since I find it somewhat impossible to single out one particular volume of Hauerwas (is that cheating?) Hauerwas himself describes some of his “erratic theologizing” and the frustration of some of his readers:
That I often write in response to specific occasions and challenges and challenges may be another reason my work appears occasional, devoid of anything resembling a ‘center’. Moreover, I am an academic theologian, which means that I must constantly respond to the challenge of doing theology within the constraints of a contemporary university. No matter how critical I may be of such constraints, it nonetheless remains true that even arguments meant to clear the ground for theology have the ironic result that one never gets around to doing theology.
— from the intro to Sanctify Them In The Truth, p. 3
Then, in a footnote to that section, Hauerwas further illuminates:
One of the reasons why I am so find of the work of Aquinas, Barth, and von Balthasar is because the very character of their work defies any attempts to summarize what they ‘think’. The complex relationship of piety and thought , I think, is one of the reasons theologians should never aspire to ‘pull it all together’.
—Sanctify Them In The Truth, p. 4 , footnote 5
Perhaps if one would force me to choose a work of Hauerwas it would be Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic, simply because its theme is centered on the role of the formative represented in the church ‘as ethic’; in “Being the church” as Hauerwas is apt to say.
In this vein, I have several extremely influential books in my life that I have to mention, although they all were written between 1963 and 1976, which would be Elizabeth O’Connor’s books on The Church of the Saviour, starting with Call to Commitment (1963) and stretching to 1991’s Servant Leaders, Servant Structures. ( I guess that one would qualify, but it’s only the last and most brief summary of the stories of the forming of structures for the church as expressed in that particular body of Christ in Washington DC which began in 1947. This history is pure narrative of a particular people that has drawn “pilgrims” to “pilgrimage” there for a “taste”. I’ve been there 5 times over 30 years, including twice in the past 14 months. Elizabeth O’Connor’s works pop into my head as I hear various theologians ask “so what does such a church look like”? These books devote themselves to such narrative theology. I have this entire book (with the verbal permission of the author) on my blog here