Sunday, March 12, 2006

The most boring book of all time

I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s, A Short History of Nearly Everything recently. It’s a tad bit unreliable on certain details of fact, at least as far as I’m convinced, however, it is a real fun read and highly informative. In chapter 5 he details the contributions of the first real geologist, James Hutton (1726-1797) - who explained the features of the Earth’s crust by positing natural processes over geologic activity over long periods of time i.e., uniformitarianism.

A fascinating and brilliant man this Hutton with one significant weakness: ‘Nearly every line he penned’, says Bryson, ‘was an invitation to slumber’!

Bryson cites an example of the geologist:
‘In the one case, the forming cause is in the body which is separated; for, after the body has been actuated by heat, it is by the reaction of the proper matter of the body, that the chasm which constitutes the vein is formed ...’ etc. I think you get the drift.
Now the question: What is the most dull and incomprehensible theologically or biblically related book you have ever read?

My choice has to be the biblical Aramaic grammar book we used in my undergraduate studies. It was like reading a foreign language – utterly impenetrable. Rather appropriately, I have forgotten the details of the book.

However, this seems to be a problem of many grammar books. Wallace’s intermediate Greek grammar tends in this direction too. An example of his attempt to clarify what could be meant by the mysterious heading ‘Semantics and “Semantic Situation”’:
‘Both semantics and the “semantic situation” of the categories are frequently developed. That is, rather than mere definition for labels, the nuancing of the category (semantics) and the situations (e.g., contexts, lexical intrusions, etc.) …’ (xi)

After pondering this question for a while, it finally occurred to me what he meant by ‘lexical intrusions’. Words!

Certainly sounds clever, for sure, but why didn’t he just use the word ‘words’?!

Anyway, what would your choice be?


At 3/13/2006 2:05 AM, Anonymous Jim said...

Most boring book? Hands down it has to be Paul Tillich's "Systematic Theology". What nonsense.

At 3/13/2006 2:40 AM, Anonymous dan said...

"Lexical intrustions"! That made me laugh, especially since I have somehow decided to continue reading books about language. "Lexical intrusions" ain't nothin' compared to how some of these whankers talk. I find myself continually think, "oh, that just means 'letters'... oh, that means 'words'... oh, that means 'sentences'." Usually such thoughts are also rapidly followed by other thoughts that probably shouldn't be recorded in any way that could be traced back to me.

Most boring theology book I've read? I'll disregard any of the Greek textbooks since those would win, hands down, every time. Hmmm... I'm half inclined to say Christian Theology by Millard J. Erickson. "Chlorophyll? More like bore-ophyll!"

At 3/13/2006 4:34 AM, Anonymous Eddie said...

Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World by Dennis P. Holinger comes to mind when I think boring. Says the same old stuff but in a less than fresh way. So Dennis...

At 3/13/2006 5:46 AM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

I have tried, really tried to get started on several of Alistair McGrath's works and never have I ever been able to finish even a chapter much less an entire book. Just to prove I can read, I did Jonathan Edwards treatise on the freedom of the will and most of his other major works as well as reading Calvin's Institutes from front to back and I didn't find either of them the least bit dull. J.Edward's as "a real trip".

I tried to read Paul Tillich's "the courage to be" but I didn't have the courage to finish it.


At 3/13/2006 6:56 AM, Anonymous Chris Petersen said...

No offense to the man but "Knowing God" by J.I. Packer was definitely a yawner...

At 3/13/2006 7:07 AM, Anonymous dan said...


Speaking of Jim Packer: that guy's lectures are even more dull than his books. He teaches systematic theology at my school and he hasn't changed his lectures since he started teaching in the 1860s. He says that he got them right the first time so there's no point in changing them now (which I suppose fits well with his notion of God -- any change in his lectures would be a change towards or away from perfection... but since they were originally perfect, change would result in imperfection).

He looks strikingly like a character from "Shaun of the Dead" and I have a suspicion that his body actually died five years ago but his brain is still going.

At 3/13/2006 1:07 PM, Anonymous Jason Goroncy said...

Hi. I love your blog. Most boring book: The Oxford Manual of Style. By the way, does one have to read it in its entirity to qualify to answer this question? I'm in the process of setting up a blog... on PT Forsyth ( I hope we might be able to chat and compare notes. Keep up the great work.

At 3/13/2006 7:04 PM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Dan said:

"Speaking of Jim Packer: that guy's lectures are even more dull than his books. He teaches systematic theology at my school and he hasn't changed his lectures since he started teaching in the 1860s."

A class taught by a someone for 145 years. That is a record. My cousin up the street would disagree with you. He considers the teaching of JI Packer the most lucid and stimulating instruction on theology he has ever experienced. Granted, he is not a seminarian.

I cannot evaluate this since I have never heard him speak.

Dan wrote:
"which I suppose fits well with his notion of God -- any change in his lectures would be a change towards or away from perfection..."

Sounds like "Open Theism" at work here.


At 3/13/2006 7:48 PM, Anonymous dan said...

Uh-oh. I've been found me out. Okay, I admit I may have been exagerating a little when I said that Jim Packer has been teaching since the 1860s.


Your second comment is a little unclear: do you think it is Jim or I that is the open theist? In either case, let me put your worries to rest. I am most emphatically not an open theist, and neither is Jim. There is a way to challenge the whole notion of immutability without drifting into open theism. "Open theism" is a term that people like to throw around when they don't want to deal with serious challenges to immutability (much like people like to throw around the term "sectarian" instead of dealing with the actual arguments raised by the likes of Hauerwas, but I digress).


At 3/13/2006 8:17 PM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Dan wrote:
""Open theism" is a term that people like to throw around when they don't want to deal with serious challenges to immutability "

Use any term you like. If you have a problem with immutability then you perhaps are only a second cousin of the "Open" Theists. Didn't want to start a discussion of Open Theism, I had a minor interest in the topic a decade ago which has now faded.

JI Packer's books tend to be for general audiences, i.e. "popular" and for that reason will not appeal to more scholarly people. When I was in graduate school a visiting lecturer from the UK, Peter Toon, was shocked that "Knowing God" was one of our text books. What he didn't understand was that Knowing God was introduced as additional reading along with a very heavy dose of dense academic theology.

JI Packer has been called a neo-Puritan. I don't think he would have any problems with that. Having read tons of Jonathan Edwards 30 years ago I have some respect for neo-Puritans. I am certainly not one of them.

It would be a lot more simple to list the books on theology which were not boring. That list would be very small.


At 3/13/2006 9:15 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

Yeah well just wait till mine comes out in May (the book on systematic theology). Then you'll have something to put on your not boring list Clay! ;-)

At 3/14/2006 3:39 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Moorhead said...

F.F. Bruce, "NT History"

At 3/14/2006 6:56 AM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...


Dr. West I presume. I cannot imagine you writing anything boring.


At 3/14/2006 8:12 AM, Anonymous Ben Myers said...

Well, Jim, I'm still sulking with you for speaking so unkindly of Paul Tillich's Systematic Theology. But I still feel sure that your own systematic theology will be far from boring!

In 1653, a Puritan by the name of William Twisse wrote an enormous 2-volume work (with tiny print) entitled The Riches of God's Love unto the Vessells of Mercy, Consistent with His Absolute Hatred or Reprobation of the Vessells of Wrath, which is an astonishingly detailed defence of supralapsarianism against the infralpsarian Calvinists. As a doctoral student I trudged through a fair bit of it, but I certainly didn't have the stamina to read the whole thing.

And my boredom was confirmed when in one of William Cunningham's books (he was a 19th-century Calvinist church historian), Cunningham mentions someone who had engaged in depth with Twisse's work -- and Cunningham remarks good-humouredly that this critic must be the only person who has ever managed to read Twisse's whole work from cover to cover.

So anyway, this is my choice for the "most boring" prize.

At 3/14/2006 11:21 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for all of your comments - they have been fun reading.

Jim, I somehow thought Tillich would be there somewhere.

As for the rest of your votes - at least I now know what to avoid...

Except Clay! I always felt McGrath was a very easy read. His work on the history of German Christology was a great read. Which of his books did you try?

I must admit to, tzhat J I Packer'S Knowing God didn't really do it for me either - and that is when I liked the conservative stuff more.

At 3/14/2006 11:52 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Jason, thanks for this visit, I'll have a look at your blog...

At 3/14/2006 11:55 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

we're waiting with baited breath for this systematics Jim ...

Once again, cheers for all of your suggestions. I guess I wasn't in danger of reading Twisse, but a couple of the others perhaps, so this could have saved me some boring hours

At 4/01/2006 4:57 AM, Anonymous Brian said...

Now, and added question. Is there anyone who seems to merit what Samuel Johnson said to Boswell of the poet, Thomas ("Elegy")Gray? Viz:

"Sir, he was dull in company, dull in his closet, dull everywhere. He was dull in a new way, and that made many people think him GREAT. "

At 4/01/2006 5:00 AM, Anonymous Brian said...

I must add, at the risk of being uncharitable and thus unChristian, that I more than half agree with what dan wrote:

"Hmmm... I'm half inclined to say Christian Theology by Millard J. Erickson."

Oh, dread! The true soporific has arrived. Put up that Ambien; retire the bottle of Lunesta pills! Swear off cups of warm milk and piles of turkey meat.

Sadly, however, the more accurately descriptive word that applies here is insipid rather than merely boring. The book doesn't just put one off, it actively drives the reader away.


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