Books & Articles
The Foundation for Contemporary Theology has been concerned for most of its history with providing tools for critical discussion and debate on the transformative theological crisis that American Christianity in particular has been undergoing for more than a century. As these recommended readings attest, we have not abandoned the original focus, even though our perspectives on religion and society have become broader and more radically inclusive.
We recognize that the literature in biblical studies in its many forms and with its many specialized sub-components cannot be captured even in miniature in the list we are providing. Nevertheless, numerous members of the Foundation and visitors to this website have asked if we would select a set of readings for ordinary folks who might have little if any knowledge of biblical history or theological terminology, and might not be religious but are nevertheless interested in how Christianity began and evolved. The meaning of Christianity has always been contested terrain, and a “critical” response to the literature on the origins of Christianity asserts that the journey begins when we begin to deconstruct our own personal assumptions and presumptions about this religious tradition.
Some of these books may be available in hard-copy print format, but all come in paperback and/or e-Book formats through outlets like Amazon.com:
Armstrong, Karen. The Case for God (2009). Armstrong is best known for A History of God (1993) and for books on comparative religion—receiving popular acclaim, for example, for her studies of the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) as well as studies of Buddha and Mohammad. A prolific author, her latest book is entitled, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (2014).
Borg, Marcus J. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus & The Heart of Contemporary Faith (1994); The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith (2003); Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (2006); Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power--And How They Can Be Restored (2013). Borg (d. 2015) was a best-selling writer whose books are well written and worth reading. Perhaps the most revealing of Borg's books was his semi-autobiographical last book, entitled, Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most (2014).
Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (1992); Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (1994). These are classic texts by a former co-director of the Jesus Seminar and the acknowledged doyen of Jesus scholars in the U.S. Crossan is also author or co-author of numerous other works, including Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus (1996), The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering The Revolutionary Message of the Lord's Prayer (2010), and How To Read The Bible & Still Be A Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis to Revelation (2014).
Ehrman, Bart D. The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (1993); Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It into the New Testament (2003); Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2005); Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) (2009); How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher From Galilee (Kimble ed., 2014). Ehrman is one of the more lucid interpreters on the origins of Christianity, and his books are particularly accessible to readers not familiar with critical scholarship in biblical studies. His undergraduate college textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, for example, has a comprehensive bibliography and is now in its fifth edition (1911).
Flusser, David with R. Steven Notley. The Sage of Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius (2007). Flusser was a seminal Jewish scholar studying the life and times of Jesus. This edition, produced several years after Flusser’s death, is a revision of his magisterial Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, first published in German in 1968. Jewish as well as Christian interpreters have contributed enormously to our understanding of Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity. Other excellent studies exploring Jesus as a Jew include Geza Vermes, The Changing Faces of Jesus (2001); E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (1985); James Charlesworth (ed.), Jesus’ Jewishness: Exploring the Place of Jesus in Early Judaism (1991); Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Misunderstood Jesus (2006); Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi (2014). See also Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome (ca 1999). Rubenstein is a Jewish interpreter of Arian Christianity.
Levine, Amy-Jill & Brettler, Marc. The Jewish Annotated New Testament (2011). An exhaustive, scholarly project that covers in a broader biblical context what numerous critical scholars have said in various texts in the past 30 years or so. It could a Jewish companion of sorts to two seminal works by members of the Jesus Seminar: see Robert J. Miller (ed.), The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version (rev. and expanded ed., 1994); Dennis E. Smith & Joseph B. Tyson (eds.), Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report (2013).
Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels (1979). Pagels is a pioneer in the study of Gnostic writings, and this groundbreaking book was followed by numerous other books focusing on particular texts (including the gospels of Thomas and Judas, and Gnostic exegeses on the Pauline and Johannine epistles). See also Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (2012). Numerous writers have contributed to a Festschrift of sorts on her scholarly interests entitled, Beyond The Gnostic Gospel: Studies Building on the Work of Elaine Pagels (2014).
Spong, John Shelby. Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile (1999); A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying & How a New Faith is Being Born (2002); Jesus for the Non-Religious: Recovering the Divine at the Heart of the Human (2007); Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell (2010); Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World (2013). Spong has spent his life writing on behalf of what he once categorized as the “Church Alumni Association”—those women and men no longer associated with any Christian church or, for that matter, any religious tradition.
Hal Taussig (ed. & comp.), A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century ( 2013). Taussig, another founding member of the Jesus Seminar, is representative of a trend in recent Christian scholarship in America that has shifted somewhat from a critical focus on the origins and evolution of early Christianity to various prescriptions of what a non-traditional Christian stance might look like today—from our experiences in spirituality and our personal and corporate prayers to our patterns of worship and community life. E.g., Taussig, A New Spiritual Home: Progressive Christianity at the Grass Roots (2006); Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith (2006); Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (2008); Robin Meyers, The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus (2012).
Wink, Walter. The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man (2002). Wink (d. 2012) wrote a number of engaging books, including several versions of a Bible study guide. A memoir published after his death is entitled, Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human (2014 with Steven Berry).