Practicing Theological Communion of the Saints

Ben Irwin wrote a fine post recently titled, “Where are all the women? What my bookshelf says about the continuing effects of partriarchy.”  Irwin acknowledges in this post that although he opposes patriarchy and is committed to gender equality, he has almost no women authors in his theological library. I appreciated his candor as well as his new reading list culled from recommendations he received and his own explorations, to redress the imbalance that he includes in a follow-up post, “My New Reading List.”


I’ve just completed and will soon be reviewing Robert F. Rea’s Why Church History MattersRea’s book challenges me to consider a similar set of omissions. He proposes that we best practice “the communion of the saints” when we not only keep company with living authors from our own tradition, but also when we read theologians from other times, cultures, and traditions than our own. To read them is to affirm our communion with them and our mutual accountability in the body of Christ across time and culture. Or to put it simpler, if listening is a language of love, then listening to these saints is to a way to say we love them and are one with them.

Looking over the shelf in my picture, what I note is that most of the books are by living or recently deceased authors (Lesslie Newbigin, Francis Schaeffer and Richard John Neuhaus in particular). I do have a couple monographs by Wayne Meeks on early Christians and a collection of the writings of Origin.  And there are biographies of J.B. Philips and Jonathan Edwards. Actually, because of the Dead Theologians group I’ve been a part of and other reading, I’ve read quite a few works from Christians throughout history.

What are most noticeably absent are non-white authors from the present or the past and particularly theologians from other parts of the world than Europe and North America. I have read much of the work of Martin Luther King, Jr, writing on spiritual theology from Simon Chan, Soong Chan Rah’s challenging book on the cultural captivity of western evangelicalism, works of cultural analysis by Vishal Mangalwadi and Vinoth Ramachandra.  But the numbers of these books are relatively slim in comparison.

I am also aware that I tend to be drawn to theology that might be characterized as evangelical from Anglican and Reformed perspectives, even though I worship in a church in the Anabaptist tradition. Again, it is not that I haven’t read outside these theological traditions but I wonder if there are Catholics, Wesleyans, Pentecostals, Orthodox, and more who I might learn from? Might I learn from the theology even of those with whom I disagree?

None of us can read everything. C. S. Lewis counselled reading one old book for every new book. I wonder these days whether I might consider reading one book outside my theological or cultural tradition for every one I read from those traditions. It seems this might be good preparation for life in the new heaven and new earth when we will be with all these folks.

What books have you read and profited from outside your own cultural and theological tradition? What books would you recommend I read from non-Western theologians and from those outside of evangelical Anglicanism and Reformed perspectives? Would love to hear your thoughts!

2 thoughts on “Practicing Theological Communion of the Saints

  1. Bob, back when as a new staff it was still dream to make my yearly budget my then boss (John R) encouraged me to join the staff IVP Academic autobook. One of the things that included was the entire ancient commentators series. A collection I probably would have otherwise bypassed as an extravagance, it is funny how many people notice those books when they are in my office. I hope to make some developing world seminary very happy some day.

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