Where to start? Half my library could be shelved as theology, for crying out loud.
How about I start with disclaimers. First, I am only dealing here with Christian theology books, although I’d like to give a shout out to The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran. That book is . . . how can one say . . . interesting. Second, I’m lumping prayer, devotional, biblical studies, and books about church into this category. That might not be fair, but I have no intention of dragging this out to that level of precision. I didn’t do it for fiction and I’m not going to do it here. Third, I recognize that not many people read theology (at least not as many who read fiction or biographies) but since it is an important part of my reading background, I want to include it in this series. After all, these are my top three books.
Christian Theology, Millard Erickson
In seminary we called this thing the Green Monster, even though my copy is blue. One should think of this work as more of a reference piece than a theology book you’d sit down and read in a day or two. Instead, I think every home should have it on the shelf in order to do a study on the Trinity, soteriology, or the divinity of Jesus. Erickson’s work is huge, but the chapters are relatively bite size with precise language yet not overly technical. I also find that he avoids the problems I have with other theologians, which is to say that he is even handed in treating subjects from differing positions without compromising where he really stands on the subject.
The Reason for God, Tim Keller
Tim Keller may well be the smartest person in North America. He certainly has gotten everyone’s attention with his amazingly successful church in New York City. The reason I love this book is because it is intelligent and shrewd in dealing with all of the tough questions and criticisms that those of us who believe are often accosted with–faith and science, the veracity of the Bible, and the idea of judgment just to name a few. I almost listed C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity here instead of Keller. Lewis, of course, is much more classical in his approach but Keller does for our age what Lewis did sixty years ago and he does it against the backdrop of contemporary culture.
Plus, he quotes Darth Vader. How can you not love a theologian who quotes Darth Vader. In fact, I’m so impressed by Keller he gets a line in my new novel.
Worship is a Verb, Robert Webber
Liturgy. Silence. Participation. Beauty. Time. Scripture. These are all foundational elements to Christian worship that are often missing form most evangelical churches. Robert Webber teaches us that they are important and tells us how to integrate them without (and this is particularly true of my tribe of Baptists, who are petrified of contemplation and transcendence) frightening everyone. Most churches get two things wrong: Worship and spiritual formations which are replaced with a show and programs. Webber saw all of this coming when he wrote this classic in 1985. It is a little dated now, but it is still true.
I only have a couple, yea verily, maybe three more of these posts on my top three books left. But here are three really great theology books that I love and treasure. I’d like to know what your favorites are.
9 responses to “TOP THREE BOOKS: THEOLOGY”
Your top two here are on my TBR list. I think The Reason for God is next. I just finished Keller’s The Prodigal God and loved it.
I’m certain I haven’t read as many theology books as you have, but here are my top three:
Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis: I still think Lewis is the master, and I love that Mere Christianity began as a series of radio addresses that the BBC actually requested Lewis give during a dark time. I love Lewis’ clarity of thought, his wit, and his ability to make the deepest questions about Christianity accessible to the layperson. If people ask me to recommend one book about Christianity, this would be the one. (As a side note, I think Keller’s The Prodigal God will prove to be this generation’s Mere Christianity.)
The Holiness of God, by R. C. Sproul: I read this one when I really desperately needed to center myself on Truth, so maybe that’s why it made such a deep impression on me. I came away with a profound sense of awe and wonder at God’s holiness–and consequently, a desire to pursue holiness more myself.
Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton: I only recently read this one, but I think it’ll be up there with my favorites. I love Chesterton’s wit, intellect, and style. I also think that Chesterton is a helpful model for how to approach disagreements in this day and age. He disagreed with a lot of people, but they all called him “friend.”
There are probably a lot more books I can list here, and I have a lot more theology/apologetics/doctrine books on my TBR list. But I suspect these three will always stay at the top of the list or fairly close to it. 🙂
i so agree with you on the significance and importance of mere christianity. i read holiness of God a long time and i like it a whole lot, although sproul’s hyper-calvinism sometimes leaves a bad taste in my mouth–however most of that doesn’t come through in holiness.
its funny to me that we both feel so strongly about keller’s link to mere christianity, but we just have different books! figures.
I’ll mention two unusual examples (one of which I think, alas, is out of print). And I’ll follow your example of not being to pedantic in what goes under the “theology” category.
The Meaning of Icons by Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky. The latter of these authors especially is well-known in Orthodoxy for other, denser writings (such as his Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church), and this book is not chock full of words, but that’s what makes it such a treasure of Orthodox theology: it’s mostly icons, including one or two that fold out of the book, accompanied by a bit of text. Icons tell stories. Images of holy persons and events teach.
I also rather like the journals of Fr. Alexander Schmemann. It really was just his private diaries, compiled (edited for privacy and what-have-you) and published after his death, if memory serves. (I also seem to recall that he did expect the writings would find their way to the public one way or another, by the way.) It’s not strictly theology. He too is better known for denser books he’s written. His observations in his journals, many of them wonderfully comical or cantankerous, on the modern world are worth reading, and the very design of the book rewards just sitting down and reading an entry or two at a time.
thanks for sharing virgil. i may get the cantankerous fellow schmemman because i dig cantankerous. i so appreciate you sharing these from the orthodox tradition. i have read many catholic and episcopalian theologians, but i am woefully bereft of experience reading orthodox theologians. maybe i can correct this.
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