…is finally out. (Robert C. Fennell ‘s review of Calvin’s Salvation in Writing: A Confessional Academic Theology, by William A. Wright, in Journal of Theological Studies, November, 2016.) And it’s not too bad! The funny part is that for a few months I could only access the first page, which was available free online. I had no access to the second page, unless I wanted to pay something like $46. And the end of that first page reads thus: “Wright speaks of his writing as ‘a text of severe hemeneutical complexity and density.’… I would suggest that the problem is not so much complexity (though it is surely a complex model executed within a complex book), but occasionally that the writing veers into opacity.”
So I was afraid (over the course of several months) that the rest of the whole review would dwell at great length on what an unclear writer I am! Happily, Dr. Fennell does not rake me over the coals on that score. Instead, the book received some nice compliments: “Wright’s impressive and thoroughgoing knowledge and understanding of Calvin are clearly in evidence. One of the most outstanding elements of the book is the way in which Wright outlines theology’s necessary task of being critical of its own academic context and practices, even as it is symbiotically interwoven with them.” (For my non-academic readers here, you can imagine how, if this guy is saying I am opaque, I must really be opaque! And I am in this book.)
In the end, Dr. Fennell says that readers familiar with the philosophers and theologians featured in my book “will find this book to be a splendid excursion through an intricate and interesting problem.” But for the rest of the world (and that is most of you): “Those seeking a more transparent (and practically applicable) investigation into Calvin’s doctrinal work on salvation may find this book less appealing.” Touché!
For those unfamiliar with academia, this kind of review of one’s work is a welcome part of the profession. Some people cringe at having their work subject to scrutiny, but I pretty much relish it. (And this review was easy to relish.) Even while academia trains one to build up one’s ego in some ways, it subjects you to relentless scrutiny and criticism. Learning to appreciate that takes a disciplined ego, one that is at least capable of distancing your sense of who you are from the quality of your work (on other people’s estimation, at least).
I do miss that part of being a professor, and so I hope this is not my last review, of this book or of a future one!