I’ve been spending quite a bit of time perusing the new books on display in the publisher’s booths at the national meeting of the American Academy of Religion. Here are some trends I notice.
Books dealing with Pentecostalism have exploded on this scene. Numerous publishers (including academic ones) have new offerings on that subject. A leading Pentecostal theologian is Amos Yong who is very prolific; his books are very scholarly and I see many of them on display. But many of the books are about Pentecostalism in non-Western countries such as Nigeria and Korea. This trend bemuses me. Academics are seriously interested in Pentecostalism in other countries but would probably never darken the door of a Pentecostal church in their own neighborhood. I remember when we Pentecostals were viewed with extreme suspicion and even as “cultic” by mainstream society. Most of these new books treat Pentecostalism positively as a movement of the people giving them hope and meaning in difficult circumstances.
I bought a new books by Kevin Vanhoozer entitled Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion and Authorship (Cambridge University Press). It looks very good and I can’t wait to read it. But I wish it didn’t cost over $100! My own judgment, for what it’s worth, is that Vanhoozer is the most serious evangelical theologian working today. The only problem is that most of his books are too scholarly for use as a textbook in a course (below the doctoral level). Watch Vanhoozer and read him. He is wrestling with the big issues of theology from what I consider a postconservative evangelical approach.
Another trend is Kierkegaard. New books about Kierkegaard have suddenly exploded on the religious publishing scene. Mercer University Press has a series of scholarly treatments of K. But many other publishers have new books about his philosophy, religious life and theology. I credit my colleague Steve Evans with being one catalyst for this new interest in K.
A counter trend is fewer new books with “Queer” in the title.
Another trend is many new books on food. Not recipe books! But books about the theology and ethics of food. Some have to do with hunger, but that’s nothing new. The new trend is books about eating. I’m not sure what that is all about and I’m not interested enough to investigate.
What is really missing is new books by ”stand out” theologians. There is, of course, Justification by N. T. Wright (IVP). But otherwise, I am not seeing major works by well-known systematic theologians. There is one small, new book by Moltmann (Sun of Righteousness, Arise!), but it is not being promoted by the publisher. Nothing new from Hauerwas that I have seen. (Some years ago there was a joke going around AAR about Hauerwas’ reputation for being prolific. Says one browser to another “Have you seen Hauerwas’ new book?” The other replied “No; what’s the title this time?” Of course, this was said of other prolific writers as well.
Some publishers usually here are notably missing: Zondervan, St. Vladimir Press, Herald Press, Beacon Press–all publishers in whose stalls I have spent many happy hours browsing and reading chapters. I saw what looked like a really interesting book in a publisher’s display. Without looking first to see who the publisher was I picked it up and read parts of it. The table of contents looked really good. The book was about God and the problem of evil. Then I saw the publisher–The Swedenborg Foundation!
My advice to those of you wanting an emerging giant to follow is read Kevin Vanhoozer. I doubt he’ll ever grace the cover of TIME, but he ought to get more attention than he does in Christianity Today and Christian Century. His books are not popularly written, however, and those publications now tend to focus most of their attention on popular religious figures.