Monday, September 24, 2012

What Book(s) Changed Your Life at OBU?

We've hit pretty hard lately. Our post on the religion/ministry dean's unilateral search for a fundamentalist Bible prof is already the most-viewed post in Save OBU's history.  We've revealed President Whitlock's departure from the rigid orthodoxy of SBC elites on women deacons and the Baptist World Alliance.  I'm sure his boss, Dr. Jordan, and his friend, Dr. Norman, have corrected his liberal heresies by now.

Time for a softball question -- one that I hope many of you will answer.  In Friday's post on OBU's new Women in Ministry course, an anonymous commenter noted that his/her life was changed after reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.  I received several emails to the same effect.  (Let's see how long it takes for Provost Norman to ban the book from OBU's curriculum...)

It got me thinking... What books changed my life at OBU?  And I want to ask: What books changed yours?

To me, it seems overly dramatic to describe reading a book as life-changing.  (Maybe I just haven't read the right books?)  Maybe the problem is that I tend not to read many novels.  Since college, I've probably only read 8 or 10.  It's hard for books on sociology or politics to change your life!  But one book from Western Civ has loomed large in my mind and imagination over the years.  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is a beautifully-told story of a young man who struggles to reconcile the desires of his heart with the expectations and obligations of his family and community.  It's one of the few books I've read multiple times.  For many emotionally difficult years of my life, I resonated with the angst of the protagonist, a young lawyer named Newland Archer.  Ultimately, I hope to find the right balance between reason and passion, monotony and adventure, responsibility and excitement -- all themes the novel explores.  Also, though there is no sex, the story oozes with sexual tension.  Kind of like Bison Hill, haha!

It sounds cliche, but the most life-changing book was and is the Bible.  I had read it a lot over my 18 years, but usually only a sentence or two at a time.  At OBU, I really read the Bible.  OBU encouraged me to read the text seriously rather than literally, and I guess you could say my life was never the same after that.  I also read books about the Bible that helped me synthesize my new knowledge with a theology that I could believe honestly and with integrity.

While on a date with my girlfriend at Zio's in Bricktown, we met a waiter who mentioned that his pastor was preaching a series of sermons about a new book, Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity.  The book made sense of what I was learning and what I had experienced.  It argues that the divide in American religious life is between legalistic and compassionate religion --- between the "Church of Law" and the "Church of Love."  I eventually ended up accepting this stranger's invitation to attend his church, where I worshipped regularly during the later part of my time in Oklahoma.  Though I am unknown to him, I count the church's minister, the Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers, as the pastor who influenced most greatly and most positively.

Around the same time, I came across the writings of the Rt. Rev. Jack Spong.  On a summer road trip to Alaska in 2001 with my best friend from back home, I read Spong's book, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture.  In this book and a dozen others, Spong lays out a vision for what theology might look like if we take the Bible seriously rather than literally.  Of course, few of my classmates affirmed this kind of thinking or believing, and none of our professors would have endorsed it.  But for me personally, as I was struggling to reconcile what I was learning about the Bible with what I believed about God, salvation, ethics, and the church, Spong was tremendously helpful to me.  On page 24 of this book, Spong writes,  "A literal Bible presents me with far more problems than assets.  It offers me a God I cannot respect, much less worship; a deity whose needs and prejudices are at least as large as my own.  I meet in the literal understanding of Scripture a God who is simply not viable, and what the mind cannot believe, the heart can never finally adore."

So, that's my story.  Now I'd like to hear from you.  Please share in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter, what book(s) changed your life at OBU!


  1. Although it wasn't a required text for any class, we had a year of chapel services based on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. I can say it changed my life in that it changed my outlook on what discipleship really means. I was struggling with several issues I had with popular bible interpretation, and this book really opened my eyes to what discipleship really should look like to us as Christians.

  2. While at OBU, I think the books that most changed my life are Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, and Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory by Peter Barry.

  3. Books I read outside of class while at OBU that changed my monistry. Brothers We Are Not Profesionals by John Piper and Why I Preach That The Bible Is Literaly True by WA Criswell. None of the class readings inspired me.

  4. The New Testament and the People of God, by N. T. Wright; Texts of Terror, by Phyllis Trible; The Historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan; Fundamentalism and American Culture, George Marsden; and Character in Crisis: A Fresh Approach to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament.

    Those are just a few. As you can tell, OBU was a formative time for me.

    1. Great list. I read all of those except the Marsden. But I did read his Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief later. In NT studies, I mostly remember reading commentaries, which are more technical than thrilling. But I read some really great books on the OT. I try not to say anything that might implicate anyone through guilt by association, but a certain OT prof assigned fantastic books in all his classes.

    2. I had a typo on my review of Tribble. I wrote Text of Terror. Dr K asked me if I did it on purpose lol. I would have to add learning to appreciate the writing of Blomberg from life of Christ has been a help also

    3. That is funny, Kevin. I too found found Blomberg to be fascinating. He was what drew me to studying the gospels closely. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. I posted on facebook, but for anyone who might be interested I will post here as well. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, Texts of Terror by Phyllis Trible, and The Most Moved Mover by Clark Pinnock. All were assigned texts, from Civ, Hermeneutics, and Contemporary Theology, respectively.

  6. I was the anonymous comentor on Friday who said that reading "The Feminine Mystique" changed my life. We read it my senior year at OBU in Dr. Humphrey's women's history class. That was a formative year for me and several other young women as we discovered our feminist leanings. When I read the first chapter of "The Feminine Mystique," I feverishly took notes and underlined and generally felt a series of small explosions going off in my mind. Finally, everything that I had been wrestling with about the strong but suppressed women in my family, and life as a smart young woman at OBU made sense - "the problem that has no name." Friedan's book forever changed the way I think about women's issues and helped me discover my own identity as a feminist. One of my younger friends who had the same class about 5 years later had the same experience. That book is potent stuff :)

    Also, I second the above comment on Blomberg's Life of Christ. I also really enjoyed reading Dreams of Trespass in Comp Civ, although I can't say it changed my life in the ways that The Feminine Mystique did. We read Texts of Terror in preparation for some conference that Phyilis Trible was attending, but I recall disagreeing with a lot of her theology.

  7. "All Quiet on the Western Front", "Beowulf" "The Bible Jesus Read", I would have to say "Dear Chris" by Warren McWilliams made me laugh, I think I sold it back to the bookstore.
    Of course there is the bible, the more I read it while at OBU the more I realized how unique it is. Also, "The Dicitionary of Jesus and the Gospels" was very good, one of the best dictionaries of the New Testament.

  8. "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe really made me rethink how I view the rise of modern society. It was a heart wrenching experience both times I read it at OBU.

  9. "Art Needs No Justification" by Rookmaker. Read it for Arts and Western Culture. It says that we as Christians should not steer clear of art - any art - for fear of it damaging Faith. We should instead embrace it and learn what it tells us about Faith. It changed the way I look at everything. God is everywhere, even in controversial beauty.


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