I have found that reading books has been one of the ways in which my theological development has been particularly stimulated. Here are some of my favorite theological books at the moment.
The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (Jürgen Moltmann)
This book discusses Christian ideas about “last things,” traditionally Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and Judgment Day. However, Moltmann comes at these topics from an alternative perspective. Moltmann begins with a survey of modern eschatology in both Christianity and Judaism. He then tackles eschatology from the perspectives of the individual (personal eschatology), the community (the Kingdom of God), the cosmos (cosmological eschatology), and God (divine eschatology). On pages 235-255, Moltmann argues for a kind of “universalism” from the traditional concept of Christ’s descent into Hell.
Christian Origins and the Question of God Part IV: Paul and the Faithfulness of God (N. T. Wright)
PFG is N. T. Wright’s major tome on the Apostle Paul. It considers Paul within his four worlds: Second Temple Judaism, Greek philosophy, First Century Religion, and the Roman Empire. The book goes on to discuss, based on Paul’s surviving letters, his overall “worldview” and his theology. It concludes by considering Paul’s historical impact from within his four worlds.
The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? (David Bentley Hart)
If I could recommend only one book to introduce someone to Christianity, I would choose this short and simple (100 page) essay. Recounting a major Tsunami and some responses that the event received from well-meaning Christians and atheists, Hart largely grants the emotional veracity of skeptics regarding God and evil while offering a profoundly Christian way through the problem that denies that evil has any teleological significance whatsoever in the divine order and asserts with poignant faith that God will one wipe away all tears from the eyes of humanity.
Hell: The Logic of Damnation (Jerry L. Walls)
A book about Hell? How depressing. Well, yes — but it is also an important book. This book is unique because it seeks to justify the theoretical possibility of an eternal Hell while upholding at all costs the moral goodness of God. In this surprisingly fascinating study, Walls makes a number of unconventional claims. To name a few examples, Walls insists that postmortem salvation must be a possibility in order to logically affirm the goodness of God, that Calvinistic predestination is philosophically unreasonable, and that it is possible for persons to come to actually prefer Hell to Heaven. Although eternal Hell is naturally “an abominable tragedy” (David Bentley Hart), Walls convincingly makes a case that eternal Hell is possible to affirm even within a framework that upholds the true moral goodness of God.
The Princess and the Goblin (George MacDonald)
The Princess and the Goblin, one of MacDonald’s beloved fairytales for children, tells its story as a moral democracy. That is, those who behave nobly are in fact noble. The princess is a princess only because she is noble, and the goblins are goblins only because they are ignoble. MacDonald is able to include a surprising number of themes in this creative book, including faith and doubt, parenthood and childhood, and institutional evil. MacDonald’s description of goblins had a particular influence on J. R. R. Tolkien, who in his own fairytale The Hobbit owes much of his description of goblins to The Princess and the Goblin. All in all, MacDonald remains one of the Victorian Era’s most accomplished and enigmatic authors.
The Unspoken Sermons (George MacDonald)
In addition to being an accomplished fantasy author, MacDonald was also an important figure in Christian spiritual devotion. His sermons contain strong themes of his — at the time — very revolutionary ideas, including themes of Christian universalism, affirmation of Purgatory, rejection of the typical Protestant axiom “Sola Scriptura,”and a profound mysticism. The Unspoken Sermons are a must read for spiritual formation.
The Kingdom New Testament (N. T. Wright)
N. T. Wright is commonly hailed as one of the world’s finest New Testament scholars. The Kingdom New Testament is Wright’s very own translation of the entire New Testament from its original Koine Greek dialect. Writing in a modern British vernacular, Wright produced one of the most readable translations of the New Testament that I have ever encountered. His translations of the gospels, the stories about Jesus’s life, flow particularly well. Wright, perhaps more than anyone else, has helped so much to bring the theology, social vision, and life of the Christian Scriptures into the Twenty-First Century, and The Kingdom New Testament is testimony to his legacy.
Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (N. T. Wright)
This is the single best introduction to Jesus of Nazareth that I have ever read. Wright approaches the life of Christ from both literary and historical perspectives. More than most books I’ve read, Simply Jesus brings Jesus to life in a way that is all at once understandable, mysterious, and deeply challenging.