Books and Culture blog has recently posted two somewhat interesting posts on books (a hardly surprising topic). First, The Essential Seminary Reading List. I like the opening story as much as the book suggestions, none of which I have actually read. The second post, 20 Books That Are Changing Ministry, surveys some popular evangelical authors for their suggestions. I have read some of these.
Both lists may be faulted, however, for neither includes that most excellent book by moi!
It got me thinking, however, about what I would recommend as essential reading for theological students (note the emphasis here! I am not making these suggestions for those majoring in biblical studies or practical theology, although they too would benefit from these suggestions, I think). Such lists are difficult to make since one can only recommend what one has read, and often what we have read is only a very narrow slice of what is available. My recommendations, therefore, are sometimes more in terms of categories than titles, though I do append a title for each category.
What books have you found best? Which have informed, challenged, shaped your life and thought? Leave a comment and let us know!
- A large one-volume systematic theology in order to get a comprehensive overview of the field of systematic theology. There are many choices here, but I will recommend either Erickson’s Christian Theology or Grenz’s Theology for the Community of God. Both are Evangelical-Baptist, both quite comprehensive, both widely regarded, both biblically oriented and philosophically aware. Erickson is a more conservative Evangelical, while Grenz was more progressive.
- Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction. How could I not include at least one volume by Barth? This was Barth’s “swan-song,” his final series of lectures and concern what it means to actually do theology and more particularly, what it means to be a theologian. The book is accessible and profound, and serves as a great introduction to this modern church father.
- Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology. Not only is it necessary to gain an overview of the content of the Christian faith, it is also necessary and helpful to gain an understanding of the progress and development of Christian theology through history. Olson provides a very readable narrative which leads the reader through “twenty centuries of tradition and reform.”
- A good history of the church. Not only is it necessary to get an overview of the history of theology, but church history itself, for theology never occurs in a vacuum. Rather, it is informed and shaped by the culture and events of the times in which it emerges. Besides, church history is both fun and infuriating, filled with incredible and inspiring characters as well as tragic events, decisions and moments. At Vose, we use Justo González, The Story of Christianity, Vols. 1 & 2, for an engaging and accessible introduction to the topic.
- A substantial volume on Christian ethics, especially one dealing with the task of moving from Scripture to ethics. The Christian faith is not simply about knowing or believing: it must be expressed in life. Stassen & Gushee’s Kingdom Ethics or Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament are both an excellent place to start. For those wanting to explore Old Testament ethics, see Chris Wright’s Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. Other, more systematic rather than biblical treatments, can be found in Grenz, The Moral Quest, Thielicke, Theological Ethics Vol. 1, or Ramsay, Basic Christian Ethics.
- At least one “classic” from the tradition: Athanasius’ On the Incarnation of the Word, or Augustine’s Confessions, Luther’s The Freedom of the Christian, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Wesley’s Forty Four Sermons, etc.
Well, that’s a start. These are essentials. Other books that have meant much to me include Barth’s Church Dogmatics – those volumes, at least, which I have read. Hauerwas’ A Community of Character and Hannah’s Child; Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places; Lois Barrett et al., Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness; George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament; and so the list goes on…