Do you think Christian theology books are a conspiracy by academics to obscure the mysteries of God: a well-orchestrated attempt to make complex the simplicity of the Gospel?
You’re not alone. Most of agree with you. You are afraid of reading Christian theology books because you believe it might turn you away from the love of the Father, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
You remember stories of people who lost their faith after devoting much of their time studying books on Christian doctrine. You remember a friend who became prideful and arrogant after reading biblical theology books by famous Christian theologians. And you remember there’s no systematic theology book that can systematically deepen your relationship with the Triune God besides the Bible.
These fears are not unfounded. They’re based on accurate observations. And I want to congratulate you for being a faithful steward of the temple God gave you: your mind, your body, and your spirit. You’re doing good jealously guarding the temple God gave you. Not all Christian theology books are good for you.
It’s true that many people grow their head instead of their heart after studying Christian theology books or attending a theological seminary. And it’s true some popular books on understanding Christian theology are like a parade of fools-much talking and zero wisdom.
In the past two months, I read at least 20 books on different areas of Christian theology, such as public theology, biblical theology, Trinity, the priesthood of all believers and much more. Taking time to read books on Biblical theology, bible interpretation and the person of God helped me grow in my knowledge of God. God helped me through some of the books to get rid of some wrong beliefs, dangerous beliefs and sometimes recurring sin.
My goal this year is to read 120 books. So, far I have read 60 books and in the last two months, I have been trying to cut back on my reading. Obviously, I failed. But, you can sit down and enjoy the fruits of my epic failure.
In this article, I want to help you to find good Christian books that can help you understand Christian theology more and better, show you some problems with popular biblical theology books and then share with you 10 excellent books that I read in the past two months.
- A Little Exercise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke
- A Little Book for New Theologians by Kelly M. Kapic
- Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story by Michael Horton
- A Guide to Interpreting Scripture: Context, Harmony, and Application by Michael Kyomya
- Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians by J.A. Medders and Brandon D. Smith
- Developing a Biblical Worldview: Seeing Things God’s Way by C. Fred Smith
- Faithful: A Theology of Sex by Beth Felker Jones
- Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney
- What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns by James M. Hamilton Jr.
- Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God by Tim Challies and Josh Byers
How did I manage to read 20 Christian theology books considering I was also writing my dissertation?
This is what I did:
1. Scouted for free or bargain eBooks
I am on a grad student stipend, so I have developed a system of finding free good Christian books.
- Sign up for eBook alerts from good Christian publishers. I subscribed to David C Cook, Zondervan Academic, and Crossway.
- Subscribe to websites devoted to eBook deals and bargains such as Gospel eBooks.
- Enroll for book review gigs for bloggers to receive free ebooks. I use Crossway, Tyndale, and NetGalley.
- Read daily book links from Christian blogs such as Aaron Armstrong’s links I like or Tim Challies’ a la Carte.
- Manually search for free or bargain books on Amazon. This is risky because some bargain books are trash.
2. Read articles on Christian theology books
Not all books are created equal. Some books shouldn’t have been written because of terrible writing, arguments or theology. But some books are precious like diamonds, you have to know where to find them, how to find them and how to mine them. So, this is what I did.
- Read reviews, by reviewers I trust, on the Christian theology books
- Search for list post such as 7 Christian theology books you should read.
- Read book blurbs and sample chapters of interesting Christian books.
3. Value time even when studying Christian theology
I was preparing my dissertation when I started on this project. Time was important to me. I didn’t want to waste time reading a terrible book. And I didn’t want to spend 15 hours reading about one idea. I wasn’t in a race or anything, but time was important to me. So, I did this:
- Read short books. Honestly, most Christian theology books end at Chapter 3. Everything else will be unnecessary repetition. So, I decided to read Christian theology books under 200 pages.
- Listened to books. Sometimes when I am writing, listening to a book helps me focus. Biographies were best suited for this exercise.
- Threw away some books. This was probably the best strategy I used. It’s not worth it to continue reading an obviously terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book even if it’s claimed to be Christian.
- Skimmed through some books. The last book I read I skimmed through. I first read the first three chapters and realized the author had already said everything. But it was a good book, so I went through the headings and briefly stopping to read a paragraph or two.
Using this strategy to read books taught me a lot about Christian theology books in general.
Most of the general observations I had were not good at all and I believe you’re supposed to know these things. Of course, they were great things I learned to but I want to start with the negatives.
1. People only recommend Christian theology books that agree with their beliefs
People who believe in Reformed theology only recommend books by their fellows. Even if the Christian theology book is a replica of another book already on the market or a terrible book in general. The church you belong to is more important than the substance of your book. Sad.
2. People generally recommend the writer not the writing
In Christian circles, people just assume being a great verbal teacher means you’re a great writer. They also assume having written a great book before means all your books are great. And the most terrible assumption is the more educated the writer the more brilliant their books are.
It seems we no longer have students of the Bible but fans of popular Christian theologians. People can easily question in disagreement with what the Bible says and not what their favorite theologian said. Of course, they are free to blast and vilify anyone that is not from their theological camp.
3. The Holy Spirit plays second fiddle to Bible scholars
The majority of the Christian books I read dismissed the present day ministry of the Holy Spirit. One famous theologian actually had a chapter in his celebrated book dismissing and rebuking any claims of miracles and wonders. Of course, he was comfortable talking about the wisdom of Calvin, Luther, Jonathan Edwards and Spurgeon.
4. Christian Theology books are not written with us in mind
This was a hard nut to swallow for me. Remember, how I have been rallying believers to study Christian theology? Most of the books on Christian theology are meant for people who are comfortable in discussing ideas and not those who want to incorporate their theology in their vocations. Written in abstract language, they discuss on which argument is wrong and which theologian is right and most of us don’t care about such fluff.
All the books you find listed on articles like Top 10 Christian Theology Books of 2016 are not written for you and me. They’re written for seminary students. They’re the ones who have the time to read a book with a theology dictionary by the side.
[bctt tweet=”A Christian theology book more complicated than the Bible is not worth your time.” username=”VaSanganyado”]
Now that you have seen how I read the books and the problems I faced, let us look at the best Christian theology books I read in the last two months. Here are the reasons I chose the books:
- The authors used accessible language
- The books were short and to the point
- The book changed my belief system
- The book helped me grow in faith
- The book was a joy to read
Publishing: Eerdmans (1962)
Helmut Thielicke wasn’t afraid to call out the inconsistencies between the head knowledge and the heart among theologians. In this booklet, he helped the reader understand the importance of character and humility in studying theology. This book is relevant today because it reminds us that character and a constant fellowship with God are more important than a theology degree.
Reading The Little Exercise for Young Theologians helped understand that Christian theology isn’t just for me, but the people God brought in my life. A good theologian isn’t the one with the most qualifications, but the man or woman who’s humble enough to wash the feet of the rejected and the ungrateful.
3 Memorable Quotes from The Little Exercise for Theologians
If the theologian, however, does not take more seriously the objections of the ordinary washerwoman and the simple hourly-wage earner, and if he then thinks – he would hardly express it this way – that the spiritual proletariat is not aware of the delicate questions and must have nothing to do with them – which is just the way of that esoteric club – surely something is not right with theology.
There is a hiatus between the arena of the young theologian’s actual spiritual growth and what he already knows intellectually about this arena.
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.
Publishing: InterVarsity Press (2012)
You might have noticed it in your life. Sometimes your spirituality is in conflict with your theology, your faith with your actions and your life with your thoughts. Kelly M. Kapic called this dichotomy a theological detachment. The reasons for this detachment are discussed well by Helmut Thielicke. But in A Little Book for New Theologians, Kelly M. Kapic focuses on the answer to this problem.
The premise of Kapic’s Little Book is sound theology should lead to authentic worship. A true representative knowledge of God and his glory reveals his majesty. And when a finite, and fallible man or woman encounters God, song, dance, and a desire to know more of him is provoked. In short, we study theology because we want to worship God and be consistently and constantly in awe of his glory.
3 Memorable Quotes from A Little Book for New Theologians
Theology is all about knowing how to sing the song of redemption: to know when to shout, when to mourn, when to be silent and when to hope. But in order to enjoy the song and sing it well, we must learn the words and the music.
How sad for us to speak of God often, and yet neglect our own communion with him.
Christian theology is an active response to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, whereby the believer, in the power of the Holy Spirit, subordinate to the testimonies of the prophets and apostles as recorded in the Scriptures and in communion with the saints, wrestles with and rests in the mysteries of God, his work and his world.
Publishing: Zondervan (2016)
The world around us teaches you that only those who are narcissistic have a chance of succeeding in life. Sadly, most people treat the Bible as a story about them and misquote it to support their sinful lifestyles. Michael Horton tackles this problem by walking through the fundamental teachings of Christian theology with the reader.
You can only benefit from Christian theology when you understand it’s not about you but Christ. Horton begins by showing Jesus Christ is God. Though basic most of us live as if he’s not. He goes on to show the importance of understanding who the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is by revealing their glorious work and divine nature. Importantly, Horton emphasized that God speaks and you need to trust his voice.
3 Memorable Quotes from Core Christianity: Finding Yourself In God’s Story
In worship we are given our own lines in the script, joining the cast of characters. It is not just a great story with interesting doctrines; it grabs our heart.
We have to come to Scripture with humility, allowing it to give us its own questions as well as answers. This means that we need to interpret Scripture in its natural sense, recognizing the differences in genre between historical narrative and apocalyptic, poetry and prose, parable, and doctrinal exposition.
Human beings are God’s viceroys, his representatives among the creatures he made.
Publishing: Zondervan (2010)
Have you ever wondered why two people can read the same scripture and they come up with totally different interpretations? Why do some Christians grow as they read the Bible while others become vicious skeptics? Michael Kyomya has a simple answer: read in context, see the harmony and apply what you learn.
Biblical interpretation is best illustrated through a sentence in my wife’s TshiVenda language: Vhana vhana vhana vhavho. Depending on context and tone this statement can mean boys have their own kids or kids have their own kids. But in my language it means the four kids are their children. Michael Kyomya uses stories such as these to help the read love reading the Bible and benefit from the discipline.
3 Memorable Quotes from A Guide to Interpreting Scripture
Scripture interprets Scripture. Scripture itself is the sure guide to interpretation and its sure foundation – not personality, imagination and coincidences!
The historical context sheds light on the meaning of a passage or term, but does not determine its meaning. The literary context is more important.
Seek the whole counsel of Scripture so that you do not make applications or draw principles that violate the harmony of Scripture.
Publishing: Rainer Publishing (2016)
The problem with most Christian books on theology for everyone is they use obscure language while attempting to prove why theology matters. Medders and Smith avoid this trap in Rooted and use simple everyday language to answer deep theological questions: is the doctrine of Trinity relevant in your life; can you trust the Bible in the 21st century; is the fellowship of believers necessary?
The most important lesson I learned from Rooted is theology is best learned in the community, and in life. You can never appreciate the importance of the doctrine of Trinity until you prioritize worshipping God. And biblical inerrancy will remain a concept open for debate until the day God’s word becomes alive in you.
3 Memorable Quotes from Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians
Theology is all about God: all God is, all he has done, all he does, and all he will do. And the task of theology is that we would speak of God rightly, truthfully, and worshipfully.
As the perfect prototype for all earthly fathers, our Heavenly Father demonstrates intense love for his children through discipline, provision, and protection.
Every Christian should have this goal for their life: Don’t read the Bible like the Pharisees; read the Bible like the apostles and authors of the New Testament.
Publishing: B&H Academic (2015)
I am an African, I grew up as an orphan and I hate thunder. I see my world as a black person, I interpret events around me as an African, I hear what people say as an orphan, and when it rains I think of one summer afternoon in 1995. The purpose of the gospel is to renew my mind. God wants me to see the world the way he sees it. Only then will I be able to honor and glorify him.
This is the message in C. Fred Smith’s Developing a Biblical Worldview. Smith confronts popular culture, the American dream, entertainment with the double-edged sword of God’s word. He didn’t even spare my favorite TV show, I Love Lucy.
3 Memorable Quotes in Developing a Biblical Worldview
If the Bible is relevant for all parts of everyday life— and it is— then the biblical worldview must govern how we see every aspect of our lives, how we make decisions, and even our attitudes, every day.
Churches that are serious about a biblical worldview will find incentive and direction to reach their communities as they call people to repent of self-centered, entertainment -driven values and materialism.
Developing a biblical worldview is a lifelong process of discipleship. It begins when you decide that God’s Word, not the larger world, nor evangelical subculture, nor even normal standards of respectability, will be your guide for how you see the world.
Publishing: Zondervan (2015)
When I was a freshman in high school, a group of missionaries came to my school. They were part of a movement called True Love Waits. We were supposed to commit to a life of abstinence until marriage. I wasn’t a Christian then, but I signed the pledge, got the bracelet and the certificate. Cool. This looks pious and all, but it shows how Christians worship marriage and virginity more than God. We need a proper understanding of sex and marriage.
Beth Felker Jones’ Faithful is part of the Ordinary Theology Series edited by Gene L. Greene. In Faithful, Jones shows that marriage is not an award for faithfulness, and neither is singleness a sign of unfaithfulness. Borrowing from church history, Jones shows singleness was actually common among people who radically follow Christ. Faithful is a must read for both single and married people because it will change how you view sex forever.
3 Memorable Quotes from Faithful: A Theology of Sex
But if sex is real, if bodies matter, then we are accountable to something beyond ourselves, something beyond whatever is in fashion or whatever the market will bear. We are accountable to reality. To truth and goodness and beauty.
Single adults are subject to suspicion or are constantly asked about when they will marry or are segregated from the rest of the body of Christ in singles groups meant to get them unsingle. Maybe we’ve bought into the distorted cultural belief that there’s something wrong with people who aren’t having sex.
A good theology of sex needs to reclaim and proclaim the good of both marriage and singleness. In both marriage and singleness, Christian bodies are testimony to the faithfulness of God.
Publishing: Crossway (2016)
Confession. I neglected to worship with my family for a long time. I had one excuse: I have to finish writing my dissertation. But I found time to do other things like watching my teams, Leicester City early in the morning or Los Angeles Clippers in the evening. Family worship wasn’t a priority for me.
I prayed with my wife and the first thing we did was remove the Bible from our phones and take away my son’s kindle tablet. We wanted to be a family again. My family was connected to information but getting more and disconnected to God because of the 21st-century digital conveniences. Donald S. Whitney takes up the role of a spiritual guide in Family Worship helping families to find their bearing in Christ. Family is probably one of the best Christian theology books that addresses the importance of family in Christian growth.
3 Memorable Quotes from Family Worship
And without some regularity, structure, and purpose, bringing our children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” is one of those things that we can assume we are doing but never actually do as well as we might think.
Basically, there are three elements to family worship: read the Bible, pray, and sing. Only three syllables to remember— read, pray, sing.
The blessings of family worship are too dangerous for Satan to let pass unopposed. Nevertheless, we must stand on this bedrock truth: God deserves to be worshiped daily in our homes by our families. And for that reason, start today.
9. What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns by James M. Hamilton Jr.
Publishing: Crossway (2013)
My grandfather liked telling us a story about a man called Bhoké. Bhoké found a love for his life and decided to go and pay bride price. But there was one problem, he had no butt. So, he borrowed from his dog on condition that he will share with the dog some of his meat on the wedding day. It was a reasonable demand so Bhoké accepted. But on the wedding day, Bhoké failed to honor his pledge. So the dog began singing, “Bhoké, give me my butt. Bhoké, give me my butt.”
The story didn’t actually happen, yet it gives a glimpse about identity, personal values, marriage and faithfulness. My grandfather told us the story to intrigue us with the drama and entertain us with the song. The Bible is much more than a folklore, it’s a story that has stories within it that give the story of your life a new meaning. The Bible is the foundational textbook for Christian theology. And James M. Hamilton Jr. skillfully in a few words show that in What Is Biblical Theology?.
3 Memorable Quotes from What Is Biblical Theology?
The Bible’s big story opens the windows on stale, stuffy rooms of deadlines and due dates, deaths and disappointments, and fresh winds of the creation-to-new-creation breezes blow through.
The Bible is, of course, brimming with themes, and every one of them shimmers with God’s glory. These themes all flow out of and feed back into the glory of God. Founding and launching them is the bedrock of God’s justice, on which he builds a tower of mercy to make a name for himself.
Symbols summarize and interpret the Bible’s big story. Key events in that story come to be used as images that connect creation to judgment and redemption. There are also key patterns that foreshadow the type of thing God’s people come to understand him to do when he saves through judgment to show his glory.
Publishing: Zondervan (2016)
Last fall, I taught an Organismal Biology lab. During one of the labs, I noticed my students were having a hard time understanding the concept of soil potential. I drew a hill with a rock on top on the whiteboard and used the diagram to explain the fundamentals of soil potential. In an instant, I saw the faces of my students light up.
If Christian theology seems obscure, boring and complicated to you, then Tim Challies and Josh Byers are going to light up your face in Visual Theology. Take for example the exhortation the Bible gives us that we need to become like Christ:
Most Christian theology books will hammer you with a literature review on sanctification or the pros and cons of theosis, divinization and exaltation. But Challies and Byers tell a simple story on Nigerian and Canadian wedding dresses, share two visually rich diagrams and discuss what the Bible says. Period. It’s simple, it’s captivating and it’s edifying.
3 Memorable Quotes from Visual Theology
Christian, you are absolutely secure. You can live your life free from fear.
When you know doctrine, when you believe doctrine as truth, it changes how you think and feel, and it leads you to prepare yourself to live in ways that express love to God.
The dignity of work does not come from the amount of skill necessary to do the job. It does not come from the importance of that work for the functioning of a nation, or society. The dignity of work comes from the source of that work, which is always God himself.