A Good Place to Start Reading Good Theology
I’ve had a couple conversations in different contexts over the past week about the importance of reading good theology. Obviously our theology (theos – logos, thinking and talking about God) should come first and primarily from the Bible. Scripture is where our Creator, Father and King has spoken! This fountain of divine revelation, Jonathan Edwards exhorts us, must not lie by us neglected. It is the very “word of life” as Paul calls it in Philippians 2:16, and we must live by it!
Part of what it means to obey the command of Philippians 4:8, however, and think on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent must include reading substantial, faithful Christian theology. The kind of books I have in mind take us deeper into the heart and mind of God as it is expressed in Scripture, and therefore are His gifts to us as a church.
Inevitably the conversations about the importance of reading good theology turn to the difficulty of ferreting out which books are trustworthy and edifying, and which are confusing or a waste of time. We are not helped by the fact that the books that are hyped nationally or encountered at national bookstore chains tend to be of the later variety.
In response, I have put together a list of 5 books that I can wholeheartedly recommend, both from personal testimony of their impact on my life and from the faithful theological track record of their authors. If you find yourself convinced of the importance of reading good theology but unsure of where to start, the first thing I would do is buy these five books and take a whole year to work through them slowly and thoughtfully. The way you will encounter God in these books can quite literally change your life. If you have been reading theology for a while, chances are you have some of these. If it has been a while since you have read them, why don’t you pick a different color highlighter and work through them again! You may well find that through all the Lord has worked in you since you read them last, He has given you new eyes to encounter the beauty of His truth and the glory of His character!
So here they are – the top 5 books to (re)read in 2010:
1. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, by John Piper
2. Knowing God, by J.I. Packer
3. Praying Backwards: Transform Your Prayer Life by Beginning in Jesus’ Name, by Bryan Chappell
4. The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul
5. The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, by John Piper
As a further resource, I would encourage every household to have a copy of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Many systematic theologies have been written by faithful, helpful men but Grudem’s stands apart in that he chose to interact primarily with the Bible in making his points, rather than with those books that had gone before. The result is a book that is saturated with Scripture rather than with footnotes to other scholars. It is a most clear and edifying guide into the things of God. You can use it as a reference for a specific question, or you can sit down and read it all the way through! Either way, you are going to want to use it!