Pelikan provides eighteen different historical and cultural perceptions or “images” of Christ. Among other things, Jesus has been historically and culturally perceived as a bridegroom of the soul, a crusader of holy war, a pacifist, a teacher of common sense, a poet of the Spirit, and the liberator of those who are socially oppressed. Pelikan’s book underscores the truism that people tend to accentuate the features of Jesus they find most appealing and minimize His other marvelous, mystifying, and emotionally troubling qualities. Pelikan helped me to see that Jesus is far beyond what I perceive Him to be. The book brought an awareness to the cultural baggage that I bring to my own perception of Christ.
6. Gabriel Marcel, Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysic of Hope
During my Ph. D. studies I was introduced to Marcel by one of my mentors. Marcel was a French theistic-existentialist philosopher. He maintained that humans approach the struggles of life as problems to be solved or fixed through rigorous rational explanations. In contrast to this approach, Marcel believed that life’s struggles are to be viewed in a concrete, experiential, transparent, and relational way. One comes to terms with disappointment not so much through philosophizing, but more so in the context of meaningful person-to-person communication. All humans have an inner sense of emptiness that Marcel termed “mystery.” This emptiness is not something that can be satisfied through the rigors of reason. The ambiguities, conundrums, and emptiness experienced in life are what comprise "mystery" and what leads the soul to hope, faith, and love. Hope is both individual and relational in scope. The possibility for hope cannot exist without despair. However, his insights yielded a number of significant implications for my personal and professional life. His category of “mystery” allowed me to see that hope for the future is learning to live with the tribulations, tensions, and disappointments that life poses. Marcel’s ideas underscored the relational dimensions of eschatological hope. My hope is MORE an issue of being rightly related to Christ and others than it is for being delivered out of tribulation(s). Marcel’s ideas also allowed me to come to peace with my intellectual limitations. Moreover, being relationally healthy has taken precedence over always having to be right. Marcel also showed me the pitfalls of trying to fix people.
7. Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
My earliest days as a Christian were spent in churches where the social responsibilities of the Church were not discussed. I was under the impression that “liberal” Christians engaged in discussions of how to address and change the evils in society. I first heard of Sider’s book in my senior year of college in a political science course. With some degree of embarrassment, I admit that I did not read the book until later, in my second year in seminary. Being a part of an inner-city church in Dallas caused me to think more seriously about how Christians are to respond poverty. Sider pointed out that American evangelicals reflect much of the excessive materialism of American culture. I had often wondered why in my involvement in different suburban evangelical churches I had seen very few impoverished people. His book opened my eyes to the fuller implications of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus taught that loving neighbors “as yourself” means extending mercy to people in misery, people with whom we may not normally associate (Luke 10:25-37). This translates into feeding the poor, clothing the naked, helping widows and orphans, ministering to strangers and foreigners. This kind of ministry invites a simplicity of lifestyle that allows God’s material blessings to be given to those who are truly in need. At the same time, this ministry of mercy is one of balance, wisdom, and discerning stewardship. By ministering to neighbors in need, God’s kingdom presence is made known in the world.