Recommended Reading for Seminary: Paul, Divorce, Atonement and More

Every Friday, we come out with a list of recommended books for theology students.  Because theology – more importantly ministry – encompasses a diverse range of disciplines, we seek to include books on every aspect of the Christianity.  It is our hope that among these books, you might find one that either further encourages you in your study or broadens your training for ministry.  If you find this list helpful, please share it with friends.  If you have a book to recommend, please let us know if the comments section.

This Week’s Recommended Books for Theology Students

Church History: The Confessions of St. Augustine

St. Augustine's Confessions
St. Augustine’s Confessions

Synopsis: A classic narrative of St. Augustine’s life, written by the Church Father himself.  Great to read for personal enjoyment or to learn more about St. Augustine and the Early Church.

St. Augustine wrote his Confessions, which include both his faults before God and his praises to God, for others to read and God to hear.  Deeply personal, this classic work tells the story of St. Augustine’s struggles and joys.  It shows how a completely unrepentant sinner, by the grace of God, repented and praised the Lord.

We’ve read St. Augustine’s Confessions several times now, for both personal enjoyment and for class.  This is an excellent book for people who want a meaningful summer read.  The book is available online for free from many sites, including Georgetown University.

Old Testament: The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Vern Poythress)

The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses by Vern Poythress
The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses

Synopsis: A good introduction to typology in the Mosaic Law and how the Mosaic Law relates to modern society.

The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses by Vern Poythress (Westminster Theological Seminary) can be divided into two sections.  In the first section, Poythress looks at typology of Christ in the Mosaic Law, seeing how Christ is anticipated in the first five books of the Old Testament.  In the latter half of the book, Poythress explores how the Mosaic Law relates to us today.  This second section includes a critique of modern prisons, as well as a theological examination of how exactly Christ fulfills the Law.

The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses is a solid introduction to typology and the Mosaic Law.  Those unfamiliar with these topics would benefit from reading Poythress’ work.  The sixth draft is available free from John Frame’s and Vern Poythress’ website.

New Testament: Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Herman Ridderbos)

Paul: An Outline of His Theology by Herman Ridderbos
Paul: An Outline of His Theology

Synopsis: A thorough Biblical-Theological approach to Paul’s theology.  A difficult read, but those who wade through the book will be blessed by its insights.

Paul: An Outline of His Theology by Herman Riddrebos approaches Pauline Studies from a Biblical Theology perspective.  This book was originally published in 1975, so it does not take up any of the issues raised by the New Perspective on Paul.  Despite its age, though, Ridderbos’ work remains a standard in Pauline Studies.  He thoroughly examines the Scriptures and interacts with the scholarship of his day.

Reading Paul: An Outline of His Theology was difficult, but we are glad we persevered and finished the book.  Ridderbos is hard to read, but those who are already familiar with theological studies (not necessarily Pauline scholarship) should go through this book.

Practical Theology: Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (David Instone-Brewer)

Divorce and Remarriage in the Church by David Instone-Brewer
Divorce and Remarriage in the Church

Synopsis: A highly controversial book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church proposes four biblical grounds for divorce.  David Instone-Brewer’s scholarship is excellent, and pastors should think through his argument for themselves.

Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities is by far the most controversial book we have recommended yet.  In his book, David Instone-Brewer (Tyndale House at Cambridge) applies insights from his years of studying Rabbinic literature to the New Testament.  His thesis argues for four biblical grounds for divorce, which include reasons beyond the traditional ones that have historically been recognized by the Church.  Instone-Brewer’s scholarship is of the highest quality, and his arguments are well developed.  Pastors and students will have to read the book for themselves, to see if they are compelling enough to rethink divorce in the Church.

We greatly enjoyed Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, and believe that anyone who can interact with opposing views (regardless of one’s view on divorce) maturely will benefit from the challenges that Instone-Brewer presents.

Systematic Theology: The Atonement Debate (Tidball, Hilborn, and Thacker)

The Atonement Debate
The Atonement Debate

Synopsis: A collection of papers that address the nature of the atonement.  Previous knowledge of the various theories of atonement would help when reading this.

The Atonement Debate: Papers from the London Symposium on the Theology of Atonement, which was edited by Derek Tidbal, David Hilborn and Justin Thacker, is exactly what its title indicates.  This is a collection of papers that were presented by theologians on the nature of the atonement.  As with any book published after a conference or symposium, the work itself is somewhat disjointed.  There are several excellent papers on the atonement within this book though.  Readers will notice several different views as they read through the papers.

We found some of the papers given in The Atonement Debate more beneficial than others.  The ones that are most interesting to any given reader will depend on the reader’s theological bent and the issues he or she is reading.  We would recommend skimming all the papers and reading the ones that you find intriguing.

(For more books, check out the other Recommended Reading posts).

Q&A – What Degrees Do Seminary Professors Need?

The qualifications required to teach at a seminary vary from school to school, but most professors at accredited seminaries have a doctoral degree.  This does not have to be a Ph.D., however, and some professors that teach at accredited theology schools do not even have a doctoral degree.  More advanced degrees, though, open up more teaching opportunities.

Professors teach in lecture halls
Becoming a Lecturer

Seminary Professors with Ph.D. Degrees

The standard degree for any professor, whether at a seminary or another academic institution in the United States, is a Ph.D. (or a D.Th. if trained in Europe).  This is an academic doctoral degree.  As such, it academically qualifies one to teach at any accredited Bible college or seminary.

(Although a Ph.D. meets the academic requirements for teaching at a seminary, it hardly guarantees one a position as a seminary professor.  Professorships are extremely coveted positions).

Seminary Professors with D.Min. Degrees

The D.Min. is another doctoral degree, on par with the Ph.D.  The D.Min. degree is more of a professional degree for pastors than an academic degree for professors, though.  Many seminary professors have a D.Min. degree instead of a Ph.D., and they should not be looked down upon, for the D.Min. is a doctoral degree.

At seminaries where there are professors with Ph.D.s and professors with D.Min.s, those with D.Min. degrees usually teach the practical theology classes.  Professors with Ph.D.s tend to be given the language and Bible courses, for their degrees focused on those disciplines more.  Professors with D.Mins. tend to teach classes on worship, spiritual development and running a ministry, because that is what they have studied and have experience in.

Seminary Professors with Th.M. and M.Div. Degrees

A number of accredited seminaries have professors who do not have a doctoral degree but hold either a Th.M. or an M.Div.  These professors tend to be the junior members of the faculty, and they are usually not voting members.

Professors who only have a Th.M. or M.Div. generally fall into one of two categories.  Some may be working on a Ph.D. or have completed some Ph.D. studies.  It is not uncommon to teach courses while completing a doctoral degree.  Others may have extended experience in a specific area.  They may be brought on as adjunct faculty to teach an elective or two in their area of expertise.

At most seminaries, there are professors with Ph.D.s, professors with D.Min.s and professors with M.Div.s.  Those with a Ph.D. have the most opportunities in academia, but those with a D.Min. or M.Div. may be just as well, or better, equipped to train students in a specific area of ministry.

(This is the third post in our Q&A series.  You can find the entire series here.)

Recommended Reading for Preaching: 5 Books on Homiletics

Preaching has been a part of worship services ever since God’s people began gathering to worship him – even before Jesus walked this earth.  Through preaching, God declares his truth to his people.  Therefore, every pastor should invest time and energy in developing their ability to preach.

Below are five excellent books on preaching, many of which are assigned in seminary and Bible college classes throughout the U.S.  Rather than creating a definitive list of the top five books on preaching, though, we have selected five that look at homiletics from different angles.

This Week’s Recommended Books on Preaching

Homiletics:  Christ Centered Preaching (Bryan Chappell)

Christ Centered Preaching
Christ Centered Preaching

Synopsis: A standard textbook on expository preaching, useful for both novice and experienced preachers.

Christ Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon by Bryan Chappell (former President and current Chancellor of Covenant Theological Seminary) is a standard textbook on expository preaching.  It is intensely practical, taking students through the steps of preparing and delivering a sermon.  Throughout all the steps, students are encouraged to focus their sermon on Christ.  The chapters contain a number of helpful diagrams and the appendices provide additional practical advice.

We’ve read Christ Centered Preaching multiple times and heartily recommend it to anyone who preaches regularly.

Old Testament: Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (Sydney Greindanus)

Preaching Christ from the Old Testament
Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

Synopsis: Greindanus shows how preachers can deliver sermons from the Old Testament that focus on Christ, a skill every preacher should have.

In Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method, Sydney Greindanus (Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Calvin Seminary) holds two premises.  First, every sermon must focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Second, pastors should regularly preach from the Old Testament.  Greindanus’ book shows how Christ can be preached from the Old Testament by looking at the Old Testament in first its original historical setting and then in light of the New Testament.

We’ll be consulting Preaching Christ from the Old Testament for our next sermon series in the Old Testament.

New Testament: Preaching the New Testament (Paul & Wenham, ed.)

Preaching the New Testament
Preaching the New Testament

Synopsis: A good resource that helps pastors write sermons from the various genres of the New Testament.

Preaching the New Testament, edited by Ian Paul and David Wenham, is a collection of essays from some of today’s leading preachers.  As with any book that multiple contributors write a chapter for, there is some unevenness to the book as a whole.  Within it, though, are some excellent chapters on how to preach the narratives of the New Testament.  Chapters address the different genres within the New Testament, and help preachers create sermons from the infancy narratives, Sermon on the Mount, miracles, parables, ethical teachings and more.

Many homiletics classes discuss how the New Testament narratives should be related to churches today, a topic that this book takes up.  This is why we’ll be reading Preaching the New Testament and expect to see it become required reading in homiletics classes at seminaries.

Church History: The Art of Prophesying (William Perkins)

The Art of Prophesying
The Art of Prophesying

Synopsis: A brief manual on Preaching from an excellent Puritan preacher.  Everyone who preaches should take an hour to read this work, which is available online for free, even if they are not a fan of the Puritans.

William Perkins (1558 – 1602) was one of the best Puritan preachers.  The messages he delivered at Cambridge influenced his Church, his town and a movement long after his death.  The Art of Prophesying is Perkin’s manual on how to read and preach the Bible.  (For the Puritans, ”prophesying” was the proclamation of the Bible, which is different from how others use the term today).

The Art of Prophesying will help anyone read the Bible, but it is especially useful for ministers who derive sermons from the Bible’s passages.  It explores what “prophesying” (preaching) is and what the Word of God is, but it also has many practical points for preachers to consider when preparing a sermon.

Perkin’s summarizes his approach at the end of the book in four brief points:

Preaching involves: 

    1. Reading the text clearly from the canonical Scriptures. 
    2. Explaining the meaning of it, once it has been read, in the light of the Scriptures themselves. 
    3. Gathering a few profitable points of doctrine from the natural sense of the passage. 
    4. If the preacher is suitably gifted, applying the doctrines thus explained to the life and practice of the congregation in straightforward, plain speech. (Perkins, The Art of Prophesying)

We’ve read Perkin’s The Art of Prophesying and love it.  Who better to learn preaching from than one of the best preachers of the Puritans, who were known for preaching?  The book is available online for free and takes less than an hour to read.

Practical Theology: Why Johnny Can’t Preach (T. David Gordon)

Why Johnny Can't Preach
Why Johnny Can’t Preach

Synopsis: Gordon explains why pastors are unable to preach, mainly because our ability to communicate has been altered by the media.  He does not provide a great solution, though.

We have mixed feelings about T. David Gordon’s (Professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College) Why Johnny Can’t Preach.  The book has a strong thesis, which Gordon convincingly develops: The average pastor (“Johnny”) cannot preach a good sermon.  Ultimately, Gordon says pastors are unable to preach, because the media has influenced how we communicate.

We wholeheartedly agree with Gordon’s complaint (partly because he develops a strong argument), but Why Johnny Can’t Preach does not provide a satisfactory solution.  Gordon points out the problem, but falls short of overcoming it.

We’ve read Why Johnny Can’t Preach, but will not consult it again.  It is worth skimming, if you want to know why sermons are so pathetic today, but you will have to think about a solution yourself.

(This is the second post in our series “Recommended Reading.”  For more book suggestions, check out Books for Seminary, the first post in the series).

Q&A: What are Good Majors for Prospective Seminary Students?

Man Sitting in ChairThere is not one major that every college student who is considering seminary should declare.  Students come to seminary from many different backgrounds, and they have a variety of undergraduate degrees.  At any given seminary, there are likely engineers, Bible college graduates, philosophy majors and musicians.

Although there is no one major that every prospective seminary student should have, students who are considering graduate-level theology school should choose their major wisely.  Here are some considerations to think about when declaring an undergraduate major and thinking about seminary.

Will my college major help me find a job?

Most seminary students work, at least part time, while taking classes.  Many must support a family, as well as themselves.  It may be wise to pursue a bachelor’s degree that has a high post-college employment rate.  Graduating with a degree that can help you land a good job will help with the bills during seminary.  Some degrees to consider are:

  • Natural sciences (Chemistry, Biology, Physics)
  • Engineering
  • Accounting
  • Education

Will my college major help me understand my culture?

The ultimate goal of going to seminary is to learn how to connect the Bible’s message with your culture (or the culture you will be serving, if you are considering becoming a missionary).  Seminaries, however, focus more on the Bible, unless you are in a specifically cross-cultural degree program.  College, therefore, is one of the best times to learn about the culture you will be serving.  Some degrees that can help you understand your culture are:

  • Modern languages (French, Spanish, German, etc.)
  • History
  • Film
  • Art
  • Philosophy
  • English

Will my college major prepare me for seminary?

Seminaries are graduate schools.  As such, their academic programs are more rigorous than those at undergraduate colleges.  In theory, all majors will prepare you for graduate-level work, but some degrees will develop your critical thinking and writing skills more than others.  To prepare academically for seminary, consider:

  • Philosophy
  • Mathematics (develops critical thinking)
  • Writing

None of the above questions mention degrees in Bible or theology.  That is because seminaries are meant to provide the theological training necessary to be a pastor, missionary or other Christian leader.  While a degree in Bible or theology would not be a bad way to prepare for seminary, these other degrees would round out your education more.  College is the perfect time to pursue training outside of theology proper, if your plan on going to seminary.

(This is the second post in our Q&A series.  The first post was about whether non-denominational pastors need seminary degrees).