I did a teaching recently on the value of reading theological books and knowing the importance of learning to think theologically. Following up on that teaching I felt I should strengthen my position on this with some suggested book lists. I have two lists, so look carefully at these descriptions:
Basic Theology Reading List: This list is designed for people who have either never read books that deal with theological topics, or have been turned off by theological books.
Intermediate Theology Reading List: This is for those who have already waded into the waters of theological reflection and now want to get a really good foundation on theological books that challenge the mind more thoroughly.
I have not included any books on systematic theology. That is, none of these titles covers all the subjects in theology. There indeed are books that do this, and I may do an article later this month giving my viewpoints on which of those comprehensive volumes is best.
Without further explanation, here are my recommended beginning and intermediate theology reading lists.
Beginner’s List for the Appreciation of Theology:
1. Know Why You Believe by Paul Little. This gem of a book may seem small and simple, but it will challenge you to think all things through theologically.
2. The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Strobel takes you back to the beginning of your faith and asks all the questions that would have been good to ask then. By doing so, he makes it possible for us to understand our salvation in a reasonable format.
3. The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer. This classic never goes out of style. Tozer, in a series of essays, makes it clear that we can find God when we understand who we are looking for. Since theology is the study of God, this book is a great beginning place.
4. Knowing God by J. I. Packer. Dr. Packer takes the simplicity of Tozer’s subject and shows how deep the well can go if you think about our amazing God.
5. The God Who is There/He is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer. These two volumes are really parts 1 and 2 of the same book. Schaeffer gives a philosopher’s take on why the church gave in to the Enlightenment and how we can recover from it both theologically and practically.
6. Wholly Sanctified by Dr. A. B. Simpson. Simpson wrote in the 19th century, but he shows us how theology can be a language not just of the mind but also of the heart.
7. Exegetical Fallacies by D. A. Carson. Dr. Carson shows us how easy it is to make mistakes in interpreting Scripture. And of course, he outlines both how to avoid those mistakes and how to spot them when preachers/teachers are using them.
8. Four Views on Hell by several authors including William Crockett. Actually any of the “Four Views” books would work here. This is a format of theological book which collects major views on a topic and lays out the different views one by one. The reason I think this is invaluable for a beginning reader of theology is that it shows how to consider more than one view on a major doctrine.
9. Heaven by Randy Alcorn. This is a wonderful example of how an author explores every scripture on a particular subject (in this case, heaven) and how he lays out that scriptural underpinning into a workable theory. All budding theologians need to know how to do this. A very helpful AND entertaining book
10. Orthdoxy by G. K. Chesterton. This is a classic work of theology by one of the world’s greatest minds. It is not a long book, but it cannot be read fast. I think this may be the best example of a theologian who keeps all viewpoints in mind when he writes.
11. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Boenhoeffer. Boenhoeffer is a practical theologian. He is one of the very few pastors who stood up publicly against Adolph Hitler in Nazi Germany. This book is the theological underpinning for how he lived his life. This is where theology meets action.
12. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. I could have chosen a half dozen different Lewis books to show his ability to take a difficult theological concept and present it logically and fairly. In this case, he shows how he came to believe in Christ and why the simple Gospel is so profound. I recommend also, “The Great Divorce”, the “Problem of Pain” and a “Severe Mercy” as other examples.
Intermediate Reading List for Learning to be Theologically Reflective
1. Confessions by Augustine. One of the oldest theological works known to the church. You can’t call yourself a theologian without wrestling with Augustine, considered the greatest post-biblical theologian.
2. The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? by F. F. Bruce. Don’t just accept the Bible as God’s Word. Find out why we accept the New Testament as readily as we do.
3. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll. We have often settled for much less than good reflective thinking as evangelicals. This book will greatly challenge you.
4. The Blessed Hope by George Ladd. There are many sensationalistic books on the End Times. Here is one written by a scholar who knows how to get to the point. Not a long book but a great example of saying more with less on a touchy issue.
5. The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins. What will Christianity look like as other cultures are more dominant in the church than North America. How will that affect our doctrines and practices?
6. Benefit of a Doubt by Greg Boyd. Do we always have to believe everything with 100% certainty to be a good follower of God. Boyd says that this can make dangerous disciples. He proposes another way of Faith.
7. The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. One of the great classics of Christianity and a difficult book to read without thinking deeply. I challenge every person who wants to be a good theologian to wrestle with this one.
8. For Calvinism (Michael Horton), Against Calvinism (Roger Olson): Here are two books that were created as interactive discussions on a touchy theological subject: Namely, Calvinism. These are two of the most articulate writers on this subject and they are also friends. They show a considerable amount of knowledge on the subject, but they also show how one can be gentle, considerate and humble in presentation of theological viewpoints.
9. Power Evangelism by John Wimber. Wimber was a seminary professor and a theologian when God began to use him in healing power. That Holy Spirit power had to be incorporated with good theology. Notice in this book how Wimber attempts to do this, though not always successfully.