Book Review: Reading Theologically (Eric Barreto)
Editor: Eric D. Barretto
Publisher: Fortress Press
Reading Level: Leisure
“Share what you have acquired so that the religious community you serve can be uplifted and better equipped to carry out God’s ministry. After all, what good is learning how to read spiritually if you keep it to yourself?” (136)
Theological education is daunting. Certainly the cost of theological education plays a role in discouraging students. But the materials and education itself also plays a role. A dichotomy of spirit between laymen and academics has developed in the church that is now only bravely crossed by the blissfully naïve “seminary students.”
Or so the stereotype persists. Eric Baretto, editor of Reading Theologically (henceforth Reading), hits the nail on the head when he stresses, “Reading is never just about the collection of data” (12). Though the collection of essays in Reading is intended for those considering or starting seminary training (11-13), the communicated advice is practical and helpful for individuals throughout the church as they study the Scriptures, commentaries and various theological works.
Reading is the compilation of eight chapters each focused on a particular method of reading (e.g. “Reading Basically,” “Reading Biblically,” and “Reading Digitally”). With some overlap, each of the authors presents the tools necessary to reading materials in seminary. Included in these are chapters to help students read materials they initially view favorably (Chapter 5 “Reading Critically”) or unfavorably (Chapter 4 “Reading Generously”).
The stressed theme of dialoguing with other authors and texts (e.g. 37-41, 92-93, 128-130) marks the opening of Melissa Browning’s chapter (15-16) and highlights her excellent opening chapter on “Reading Basically.” In contrast the chapters by Amy Peeler (Chapter 3 “Reading Biblically”) and Sarah Brubaker (Chapter 7 “Reading Digitally”) stand out for their unique presentations of material. Peeler correctly challenges the type of reading that permits the Scriptures to remain an object (49-50). Instead the Scriptures must be allowed to read and challenge us. Among the many good chapters in Reading, Brubaker’s chapter stands out in her presentation of reading in the digital age. The criticism of “confirmation bias” (118-119) and practical advice for online reading (120-123) are helpful in an age that “has suddenly found itself in possession of technology that lets any entitled dilettante [amateur] effortlessly blurt ill-informed blather to the world at large” (119).
All in all, Reading is an outstanding, and surprisingly brief, volume that can move theological reading ahead at a tremendous pace both in academia and in the church. Conservative readers will find themselves challenged both in the content (Chapter 4 “Reading Generously”) and recommendations (Chapter 8 “Reading Spiritually”) of these powerful essays. Reading Theologically prompts laymen, pastors and especially seminary students to read texts of all types in the most beneficial manner both for the church and themselves.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”