A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Over Your Head

I got an unusual number of personal responses from last week’s post about reading over your head. One pastor in particular asked a terrific question: what books do you recommend? I love to talk books so I thought I’d answer his question with another blog post. I’ll limit myself to contemporary authors and roughly contemporary books that feel a notch or two (or three) above the popular level.

Read whatever you can in the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series (edited by D.A. Carson). I’ve read Alan Thompson on Acts, Tim Laniak on pastoral ministry, Kostenberger and O’Brien on mission, Craig Blomberg on money and possessions, Mark Seifrid on the righteousness of God, David Peterson on holiness, and Mark Thompson on the clarity of Scripture.

In the same genre, but more all encompassing, try Greg Beale’s magnum opus, A New Testament Biblical Theology.

Also, read everything in the IVP Contours of Theology Series. Pure gold. I have Bray on the doctrine of God, Letham on the work of Christ, Helm on providence, Ferguson on the Holy Spirit, MacLeod on the person of Christ, and Clowney on the Church.

For big books on mission, you’ll learn a lot from Eckhard Schnabel (both Early Christian Mission and Paul the Missionary). And speaking of mission, the best full length treatment I know of on the Insider Movement is Doug Coleman’s dissertation A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm.

I have all seven volumes of Hughes Oliphant Old’s magisterial work The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. I’ve read one or two volumes most of the way through and have enjoyed dipping into the others. A great reference work and not hard to read.

Every pastor should read David Wells. Start with either the first or the last of his five theological-sociological works: No Place for Truth, God in the Wasteland, Losing our Virtue, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, The Courage to be Protestant.

The next time you get an itch to read a biography, try one of the more scholarly ones (even if you don’t agree with every thing). Maybe Marsden on Jonathan Edwards or Oberman on Luther or Bruce Gordon on Calvin.

Gary Dorrien’s three volume work on The Making of American Liberal Theology is invaluable.

The “Cambridge Companion” volumes are helpful, like the Cambridge Companion to the Scottish Enlightenment and the one on The Puritans.

Mike Horton has a heady four volume theology series which is much less well known than his popular works. The volumes are Covenant and Eschatology, Lord and Servant, Covenant and Salvation, and People and Place.

Robert George and Jean Bethke Elshtain have edited an important book on The Meaning of Marriage. You may also want to read the new book What Is Marriage by Gergis, Anderson, and George. And for the world’s expert on homosexuality in the Bible, pick up Robert Gagnon’s masterpiece The Bible and Homosexual Practice.

Okay, it’s getting too difficult for me to categorize everything, so here we go with a haphazard list of some deep-end books. I trust the title will give you an idea as to the content of each:

Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, 1689-1765
Robert Letham, The Wesminster Assembly
Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity
Lyle Bierma, An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism
Nicolaas Grootjes, The Belgic Confession
Oliver Crip and Doug Sweeney (eds.), After Jonathan Edwards
Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards
Paul Helseth, Right Reason and the Princeton Mind
Seyoon Kim, Christ and Caesar
Carl Trueman and R. Scott Clark (eds.), Protestant Scholasticism
Paul Helm and Carl Trueman (eds.), The Trustworthiness of God
David Van Drunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
Fred Zaspel, The Theology of B.B. Warfield
William Van Doodewaard, The Marrow Controversy and Seceder Tradition
Thomas Weinandy, Does God Suffer?
Rob Lister, God Is Impassible and Impassioned

And of course, don’t forget about the two books I mentioned last week, Scott Manetsch on Calvin’s Company of Pastors and Richard Muller on Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics.

This isn’t everything I would recommend, let alone the tiniest fraction of all the good stuff out there. This is just what I came up with glancing around the bookshelves in my study. If you have a great scholarly book to recommend, feel free to mention it in the comments.