Occasionally, people ask me for a list of books to read. I’ve sent out two such lists this week. So I thought I would post a list here. Here is a list of books (limited to modern theology) that I believe every seminarian and minister should read. This began as a pre-seminary reading list for a student who is already pretty well-versed in Christian theology. So, consider this pre, during, or post seminary reading. Any way you have it, you should read these books. At least, I am of the opinion that you should. They are in (a very rough) order of importance. For those with multiple books listed, I would recommend reading the first applicable one and then move on through the list (revisit the other books later).
This is not a list of books that will give you a broad and comprehensive understanding of modern theology. Rather, this is a list of books that, in my humble opinion, will form you into a better theologian.
1) Read Karl Barth
Read: Evangelical Theology: An Introduction
If you’ve already read that read: Dogmatics in Outline
If you’ve already read that read: The Word of God and Theology
If you’ve already read that read: Epistle to the Romans
2) Read Stanley Hauerwas
Read: Resident Aliens
If you’ve already read that read: After Christendom?
If you’ve already read that read: The Peaceable Kingdom
If you’ve already read that read: The Hauerwas Reader
3) Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace
4) Alasidar MacIntyre’s After Virtue
6) Read William Placher’s Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation
7) Read Alan Lewis’s Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday
8) Read Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God
9) Read Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations
(This is not a theology book, but philosophy. It is still one of the most important texts of the last century. It’s also quite readable for a philosophical text. Many of the theologians on this list go about their theological projects in conversation with this text.)
10) Read Lohfink’s Does God Need the Church?
12) Read Rowan Williams’s Ray of Darkness
14) Read Gustavo Gurierrez’s A Theology of Liberation
15) Read William Robinson’s The Biblical Doctrine of the Church
(This book is especially important if you are coming out of the Stone-Campbell tradition. Robinson represents the best of our tradition, in my opinion.)
16) Read Louis-Marie Chauvet’s The Sacraments: Word of God at the Mercy of the Body
17) Read James Allison’s Raising Able: The Recovery of Eschatological Imagination
18) Read Clark Pinnock’s Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit
19) Read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together
20) Read George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age
This is not everything that you should read. You should supplement this list in at least three ways.
1) Read good poetry and fiction. This will make you a better minister and theologian. I highly recommend the work of Flannery O’Connor (start with her short stories (esp. “Revelation” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find”) and then move on to Wise Blood. Also, you should read plenty of T. S. Eliot, Wendell Berry, Dostoevsky, and Graham Greene. Also, Tolkien should always be within reach of your desk.
2) Read good biblical studies. It wasn’t that long ago that biblical studies and theology were a single discipline. Regrettably, that is no longer the case. However, it is true that the best theologians and pastors are conversant with biblical studies in addition to church history and theology (e.g. Yoder and Lohfink). So, you should stay abreast with what is going on in biblical studies. Begin with the work of Brevard Childs, Christopher Seitz, Jon Levenson, and Walter Brueggemann (Old Testament) and Richard Hayes, Ed Sanders, N.T. Wright, and Larry Hurtado (New Testament). Also, a little Hans Frei is always a good idea. I could give specific texts here, but I trust you to figure it out. Begin with the shorter ones and go from there.
3) Read primary sources in theology and philosophy. This is crucially important for both academic and pastoral work. I’d recommend as a starting point something like McGrath’s Theology Reader or something more specific to your interests (e.g. From Ireanus to Grotius: A Sourcebook of Christian Political Thought. They also have readers on other issues like creation, disability, The Holy Spirit, etc.). Eventually, you should move on to reading more extended works from single theologians from history. To this end, I highly recommend the Popular Patristics series from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. This series is full of affordable, readable texts from patristic theologians. Pastors and theological scholars of all types need to be taking advantage of this significant resource.
The best advice that I have is: READ. Don’t just read blog posts, news articles, facebook updates and tweets. Read carefully and patiently difficult texts that struggle with significant questions about God, Christ, and how we are to live in the world. We are inundated with sensationalistic and impressionistic texts that too many readily accept as sources or targets for their Sunday Sermons. In this milieu, it is vitally important for Christian pastors and theologians to read.
Otherwise we might find ourselves in the position of having an extremely loud voice with which we are convicted to say nothing in particular.
I skipped a number, so I was able to add one more book! I followed Jordan’s keen insight and added Williams.
I also added Tolkien. You’re welcome, Alex.