I don’t read a whole lot of contemporary theology books these days. I tend to buy more “reference” books like commentaries when I have money for books. And when I have time for free reading, I tend to like reading older “classics” (like something in the Puritan Paperbacks or Popular Patristics series) or something outside of the field of theology altogether. Of course, there are some modern day theological books that I have benefited enormously from, as many others have—books like J.I. Packer’s Knowing God or Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, or so many of D.A. Carson’s expositions of Scripture. Most contemporary books in the realm of theology I don’t really have as much time for these days. However, there are a few contemporary theology books that I have greatly enjoyed, and seem also to be generally less well-known, and thus I think they deserve a wider reading. I was looking over my shelves the other day and pulling down books which fit this category, and six in particular stood out. This list is very partial and ad hoc, but here goes:
1) Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (P&R 2004). $24.99.
One of the best theological books I’ve ever read. People know about this book, but not as much as they should, in my opinion. Its faithful, grounded, careful (unlike some other recent works on the Trinity that seem to try to use the Trinity to solve all the world’s problems). Its quite learned and informed, in ways that evangelical books often are not (about the Eastern tradition, for instance). Its conversant with modern theologians like Barth and Moltmann and Thomas Torrance, and able to sympathetically engage with them amidst disagreements. It covers both Bible and history, both quite capably. And it has a practical, concluding section that is really helpful and rounds out the book. It has two interesting appendices on issues of gender roles, which are part of a larger conversation Letham has been a part of in the past. It even has the most useful and interesting glossary of all things Trinitarian in the back (how many books do that?). And all this on a topic that evangelicals often neglect!
2) Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (New Studies in Biblical Theology 15; InterVarsity 2003). $24.00
The New Studies in Biblical Theology series is great, and I’ve especially enjoyed this book. I don’t know how much people know about it, but it seems to me like its not as well known as it should be. Its a fantastic treatment of the twin themes of dominion and dynasty as lenses by which to view the entire Hebrew Bible. He views the Old Testament as one unified story building an expectation for land and offspring, or geography (dominion) and genealogy (dynasty). There are so many connections and echoes throughout the Old Testament that I am more aware of from this book. It especially shows how the imago Dei develops continuously throughout the Old Testament, especially in relation to the Davidic covenant, whereas many people see it only in Genesis 1, 5, and 9. I highly recommend this book for people who want to see how the entire Old Testament fits together. If you are aware of the work of Greg Beale, it fits in nicely with what he is doing.
3) Dane Ortlund, Defiant Grace: The Surprising Message and Mission of Jesus (Evangelical Press 2011). $11.99.
This book by my brother Dane is outstanding. I wish even more people knew of it. Readable, biblical, and full of rich gospel insights. Dane shows how Jesus’ ministry overturns the social and moral conventions of our fallen world, and brings out a different aspect of this from each of the four gospels. One funny Amazon review reads, “The author and Doctor of Doxological Dogma is scholastically erudite yet fascinatingly simple in his unpacking of Biblical truth,” and (haha) I can’t say it better than that!
4) Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Broadman and Holman, 1988). $29.99
This book was first released in 1988, and last year a 25 year Anniversary Edition came out with a new chapter on William Tyndale. There are lots of books about the theology of the Reformers out there, and many of them quite good. Perhaps in some respects other more recent books on this topic have eclipsed this one. But I still like George’s so much. I think what makes it have enduring value in my mind is how readable it is, while at the same time penetrating deeply into the thought of the Reformers. I also appreciated the fact that he includes Menno Simons. His framing, introductory chapter on the late medieval church sets the stage well, and his concluding chapter draws out practical ramifications of the Reformers’ thought.
I will never forget reading this book slowly and carefully in the summer of 2009 and being driven to my knees by George’s description of Luther’s notion of “resignation to hell” on pp. 77-78. I will never think about God in the same way after reading those pages.
5) Sam Storms, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3 (Crossway 2008). $14.99
I’ve been helped by a lot of Storms’ books, but for some reason this one is my favorite. Its not one of his better known books (I had to upload my own photo of it—can you tell?). Maybe I like it partly because Revelation 2-3 is one of my favorite portions of Scripture. But its also a very helpful resource because it hones in on short chunks from these letters and provides a depth of both exegetical insight and devotional sensitivity. Because it has such a devotional thrust, I turn to it before commentaries for sermon prep help on this section of Scripture. If you are ever preaching through Revelation 2-3, you should definitely use this book as a resource! Also, because it comes in 50 short chapters, it could be used very effectively for daily personal devotions, or for working through in a small group or reading group.
6) Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Tynale House 2004). $24.99
I know this book has been widely received already, but I wish even more people read it. Heaven is a hugely neglected topic in contemporary theology, in my opinion (hence part of the interest in my doctoral work). The pastoral drive behind the book is Alcorn’s desire to see people excited about heaven, which is wonderful. Its very well-researched and thorough, and answers lots of practical questions that people have about heaven. Its great theme is the physicality of heaven and its continuity with creation. Alcorn hammers this more covenantal view of heaven again and again, and it serves the goal of helping his readers look forward to heaven. One of my long-term goals after my PhD is to keep studying about heaven, so I think this book will be a life-long companion. I highly recommend it. Its quite lengthy, and perhaps a bit repetitive at points, so this could be one to skip around in, rather than read all the way through.
Thanks, Gavin. I have greatly benefited from Heaven, and also Defiant Grace. Looks like I’ve got my summer reading list organized for me!