There are hundreds of excellent books, both popular and highly technical, on theology. These are just five of my favorites (mostly popular) that anyone interested in theology should read and are listed in no particular order.
1- A Little Exercise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke
Why? This little book reminds us that theology must begin with humility.
My plea is simply this: every theological idea which makes an impression upon you must be regarded as a challenge to your faith. Do not assume as a matter of course that you believe whatever impresses you theologically and enlightens you intellectually. Otherwise suddenly you are believing no longer in Jesus Christ, but in Luther, or in one of your other theological teachers.
2- The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis
Why? No better book written on the question, “if God is good and all-powerful, then why suffering?”
We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
The mold in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions.
Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it — made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.
3- How God Became King by N.T. Wright
Why? Our theology should come from the intentions of the biblical authors, not our notions of the original intent from imposed systems of theology.
The gospels are, and were written to be, fresh tellings of the story of Jesus designed to be the charter of the community of Jesus’s first followers and those who, through their witness, then and subsequently, have joined in and have learned to hear, see, and know Jesus in word and sacrament.
Jesus himself is the new Temple at the heart of the new creation, against that day when the whole earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. And so this Temple, like the wilderness tabernacle, is a temple on the move, as Jesus’s people go out, in the energy of the Spirit, to be the dwelling of God in each place, to anticipate that eventual promise by their common and cross-shaped life and work.
4- The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
Why? Theology is first a matter of being apprenticed by Christ.
We must understand that God does not “love” us without liking us – through gritted teeth – as “Christian” love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core – which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word “love”.
Kingdom praying and its efficacy is entirely a matter of the innermost heart’s being totally open and honest before God. It is a matter of what we are saying with our whole being, moving with resolute intent and clarity of mind into the flow of God’s action.
5- On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius of Alexandria
Why? For every few books of contemporary theology, a Christian should wash his mind out with a church Father. Athanasius has given the church a primary understanding of the incarnation of Christ.
Even on the cross He did not hide Himself from sight; rather, He made all creation witness to the presence of its Maker.
He, the Life of all, our Lord and Saviour, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No. He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those other His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognised as finally annulled. A marvellous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonour and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat.
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