I read subjects and people that interest me. Why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t anyone? An “assigned reading list” is anathema to a roomful of readers because when compulsion strides to the front, joy sneaks out the back. Teachers and professors don’t want to believe this, but it’s true. I’d rather detassel corn in the heat and mud of Nebraska than go on some of these forced reading marches. Mud from the cornfield washes off soon enough, but the mud that attaches to joyless reading is apt to linger – perhaps for a lifetime. The man or woman who proudly boasts that he or she hasn’t touched a book since high school or college hasn’t yet washed it off, you may be sure.
But following one’s own bent to the exclusion of all else is a mistake too. Subjects and people we pass by today as uninteresting may yet prove interesting to us after all. Or at least worthwhile. In any case, we should remain open to the possibility. In that spirit, I used part of my bonus from work last year to buy books, a few of which were books I might not ordinarily purchase. One of these latter books is titled The Modern Theologians : An Introduction to Christian Theology Since 1918. Now, since theology is one of my favorite subjects, you might wonder why I’m mentioning this book. I do so because it’s essentially a theology textbook, and like all textbooks, it has more than a dash of compulsion in it. Within the subject of modern theology, the topics and people in this book were chosen with pedagogical objectives in mind. On the whole I suppose the book represents what students of modern theology “ought” to be familiar with. We’re more than halfway back to the forced march, aren’t we? Well, not quite, because I’m not formally a student of theology. I read theology because I enjoy it (the two aren’t necessarily exclusive of each other, of course). If I don’t want to read the chapter on Karl Barth now, I don’t have to. That’s the whole difference between me and a student of theology – he or she does have to read the chapter on Barth, now. (It happens that I already know something about Barth’s theology anyway, because other theologians whom I have read react to Barth; which is not the same as reading Barth directly, I realize.)
[… to be continued …]