Happy New Year!
Now that the hectic holiday time has passed, it’s time to set resolutions for 2013. Healthy eating and exercise frequently make the list, but mental and spiritual fitness should, too. To encourage your intellectual growth in the New Year, I offer up this two-part list of great theological works.
Influential educator Mortimer J. Adler defines a “great book” as one that continues to challenge the reader no matter how many times the book is read.1 The Bible surely stands as the greatest of all great books—no one can exhaust the enduring truths of sacred Scripture. But the following ten theological books have had an enduring positive influence upon generations of readers—myself included. I list the books in alphabetical order according to author. I’ve included comments on each text and how it has impacted me. This list encompasses both centuries-old books and contemporary texts.
1. On the Incarnation by Athanasius
In this early Christian classic, one of the great theological heroes of the Eastern church attempts to explain the doctrine of the Incarnation (Jesus Christ as God in human flesh). Athanasius’s (c. AD 296–373) work inspired me to think deeply about the doctrine that stands at the theological heart of Christianity and to seek to defend it in my apologetics ministry. The edition I recommend contains an introduction by C. S. Lewis.
2. Confessions by Augustine
Considered a classic of both Western civilization in general and of Christian literature in particular, Confessions is St. Augustine’s (AD 354–430) autobiographical account (the first of its kind) of his—and every human’s—soul search for God. Augustine is arguably the greatest Christian thinker outside of the New Testament and this amazing book made me forever an Augustinian in my theological thinking and faith journey.
3. The City of God by Augustine
Augustine’s magnum opus, this classic work sets forth the first Christian philosophy of history by introducing the reader to two representative “cities”—namely, the City of Man and the City of God. This work presents the Christian worldview in light of its pagan competitors. Knowing that one of Western civilization’s greatest thinkers and writers was a passionate follower of Jesus Christ has always inspired me.
4. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton
This is a modern work on the life and thought of the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546). Church historian Roland Bainton skillfully tells the tale of Luther’s journey toward discovering the doctrine of justification by faith and how that doctrine lit the torch of the Protestant Reformation. Reading this book shaped my Protestant theological ethos.
5. Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
John Calvin’s (1509–1564) classic theological work succeeded in changing the world forever. An often-misunderstood theological genius, Calvin is at heart a biblical scholar. This work set forth a Reformed Protestant theological system and it served to focus my Protestant theological orientation.
Check back next Tuesday for the continuation of this list of influential theological books.
- Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), 343.