September 2, 2010


Category: Theology :: Permalink

The other day, I came across a blog entry by Davey Henreckson, an acquaintance of mine from long ago, entitled “Trajectories in Contemporary Reformed Theology.”  In it, he lists “some of the more interesting contemporary scholars” working in the Reformed tradition (somewhat broadly defined) in various fields.  You can read his comments on that blog, but here’s his list:

Systematic Theology
John Webster
Kevin VanHoozer
Todd Billings
Daniel Treier
Edwin Chr. van Driel, Incarnation Anyway
Oliver Crisp
Paul Dafydd Jones
James K. A. Smith
Michael Horton
Paul DeHart
Peter Leithart

Historical Theology
Richard Muller
John Bowlin (on Aquinas)
Bruce Gordon (“new standard biography of John Calvin”)
Paul Helm
Mark Noll

Moral Theology
David VanDrunen
Stephen Grabill
Jennifer Herdt, Putting On Virtue
Oliver O’Donovan
John Witte
Philip Benedict
Eric Gregory
Peter Leithart
Michael Scott Horton
Gerald McKenny
John Bowlin
George Hunsinger
Philip Ziegler

In the comments, Jamie Smith recommends (under Moral Theology) Rebecca DeYoung’s Glittering Vices, and Henreckson mentions Graeme Smith’s Political Theology.

Now to my point: I look over this list and realize that I don’t know who most of these people are.  I recognize a handful of names, more under Historical Theology than under the other categories.  In fact, I think I’ve read something — anything! — by only two of the people mentioned here, Michael Scott Horton and Peter Leithart.

That makes me recognize that (a) theology is probably not my strong point right now, at least not high-level academic theology, which is understandable, given that I’m a pastor and not a full-time theologian and so my primary focus is on the text of Scripture and on pastoral work, but also that (b) I’m apparently completely out of date when it comes to my theological reading and studies.

When I was in seminary, I read Berkhof.  I’m somewhat familiar with Bavinck and Berkouwer, Dabney and Hodge, Kuyper and Schilder, Hoekema and Hoeksema, Murray and Van Til, Shepherd and Frame and Gaffin.  I’ve read some Barth, though barely.  I know James B. Jordan and Peter Leithart.  But I don’t know who else is good out there — and by “good, ” I mean worth spending my money and my time on (especially given that I’m a pastor and not an academic theologian).  I’m not interested in parting with the hard-earned for a book full of academic jargon and mumbo-jumbo or for something that isn’t well grounded in Scripture or for something that tells me what I already know.

For instance, Van Driel’s Incarnation Anyway looks interesting, given that it’s an argument that the incarnation was part of God’s plan even apart from the Fall.  But I’ve already heard a pretty good case for that from Jim Jordan, and I don’t know that it’s worth paying $60 to have Van Driel make it (and, I suspect, perhaps not make it as well, that is, as Scripturally).

This is my problem with a lot of biblical theology: I buy the books and then discover that they tell me things I already learned — and learned better — from Jordan.  (See Bill DeJong’s forthcoming essay on “Preaching and Typology,” for a comparison between Jordan and G. K. Beale on the Temple, in which he argues that Jordan and Beale cover a lot of the same ground, except that Jordan does more with it and is therefore more of an aid for preaching.)

So here’s my big request, for those of you who do read contemporary theology.  Could you please list for me the best books or authors — that is, the most interesting, most stimulating, most thought-provoking, most helpful, most worth the buck and the time for a guy like me.  Please don’t limit yourself to people within the “Reformed” field, as Henreckson does, either.  But if the guys he mentions are really worth reading, please do let me know.  And let’s add some categories to Henreckson’s list:

Systematic Theology
Historical Theology
Moral (and Political) Theology
Liturgical Theology
Biblical Theology
Pastoral Theology

The ball’s in your court.  Fire away!

Posted by John Barach @ 2:30 pm | Discuss (4)

4 Responses to “Theology”

  1. Paul Baxter Says:

    Oliver O’Donovan is definitely worth reading. I read one or two articles by George Hunsinger in a collection and I thought he was terrific.

    I’m pretty sure you are already familiar with his work, but I’ve always come away learning something from anything by Stan Hauerwas.

    The most interesting work of theology I read in the past year or two was Improvisations by Samuel Wells. He is currently the Dean at Duke Chapel. The book expands quite a bit on NT Wright’s model of biblical history as a multi-act play and how that might shape our ethics.

    For someone who is a liberal on many issues, I’ve really enjoyed AKMA’s work, particularly What Is Postmodern Biblical Criticism.

    For someone who is not a Christian at all, I’ve also been stimulated quite a bit by Bruce Malina’s work on the New Testament. Malina can serve as a good introduction to the whole constellation of Context Group scholars.

  2. Davey Henreckson Says:


    I’m glad you’re keeping the conversation going. I thought I’d chip in with just a few recent books that were particularly profitable for me (some of them were responsible for specific ‘eureka!’ moments as well):

    – Todd Billings, Calvin, Participation, and Gift. (Plus, his recent intro to theological hermeneutics is top notch.)

    – Charles Mathewes, A Theology of Public Life.

    – Madigan and Levenson, Resurrection
    The Power of God for Christians and Jews.

    – Eric Gregory, Politics and the Order of Love.

    – Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (daunting, but well worth reading even if you only make it half way through).

    – Jennifer Herdt, Putting on Virtue.

  3. Marc Lloyd Says:

    One problem is that so much acedemic theology is so amazingly pricey. Only a library could afford most OUP publications. Even if a book is worth a look or worth reading, at their prices it is rarely worth owning.

  4. Michael Shover Says:

    Pastoral Theology: Thomas Oden’s Pastoral Theology is really really good. He does make an attempt to defend womens ordination, but it seems evidently clear to me that he was paid off to put that chapter in that book, The rest of the book is worth its weight in gold.

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