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).

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).

Recommended Reading: Books for Seminary

A seminarian’s life is a life of reading.  Throughout a seminary degree program, you will read thousands of pages.  In this series, “Recommended Reading,” we have selected some of the best books and articles assigned in seminary classes throughout North America.

Every Friday, we will feature five books in a variety of subjects, such as Old Testament, New Testament, Theology, Church History, among others.  When possible, we will highlight special discounts and promotions of free books, as seminarians are always looking to save a few bucks on books.

This Week’s Recommended Books

Old Testament: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Longman and Dillard)

Synopsis: A standard, easy-to-read introduction to each Old Testament book.  A useful resource for starting research on or reviewing a book of the Old Testament.

An Introduction to the Old Testament
An Introduction to the Old Testament

An Introduction to the Old Testament, by Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, is a standard introductory text to Old Testament books.  It is written from an evangelical point of view yet deals fairly with critical scholarship.  Emphasizing a special introduction to each book, the introduction focuses on the content of the book, although it also considers the historical and cultural setting that each book was written in.  This is helpful for understanding the historical setting, literary aspects, and theological meaning in any Old Testament book.

An Introduction to the Old Testament is assigned reading in many Old Testament classes at both seminaries and Bible colleges.  We’re purchasing it, because it will be a useful reference during ministry in the years to come.  It is available on both Kindle and as a hardcover book.

New Testament: The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol. 5 (Nicoll)

Synopsis: An old, but still useful commentary on the Greek text of the New Testament.  Logos is offering volume 5 for free during July 2013, so why not download it?

The Expositors Greek Testament, vol. 5
The Expositors Greek Testament, vol. 5

The Expositor’s Greek Testament, by W. Robertson Nicoll, is one of the most thorough commentaries from the 19th Century.  As you might guess from its name, it goes phrase-by-phrase through the Greek of the New Testament.  Therefore, it will be most useful to those who know Greek.  If you don’t know Greek, you might be better off passing on this one – unless you want it for free and plan on learning Greek sometime.

Admittedly, this is an old commentary.  There have been many advances in New Testament Studies since it was published, and it will not address the current debates among New Testament scholars.  Nevertheless, this is still a commentary worth having – if it is free, at least.  D.A. Carson gives it his endorsement, saying, “The five volumes of the old Expositor’s Greek New Testament are still worth owning and reading, along with more recent works.”

We don’t recommend shelling out the $199.95 that Logos wants for all five volumes of the set, but we’re definitely going to download volume 5 for free.  Those who don’t have Logos Bible Software can download the Logos 5 engine for free, which will let them read The Expositor’s Greek Testament.

Theology: Reformed Dogmatics (Herman Bavink)

Synopsis: An advanced articulation of the reformed tradition; a must-own resource for pastors of reformed churches.  It should be read after reading an introductory Systematic Theology book.

Reformed Dogmatics
Reformed Dogmatics

Herman Bavink’s Reformed Dogmatics, a four-volume work, continues to be one of the best articulations of the Reformed Tradition.  Richard B. Gaffin, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, has only praise for Bavink’s work: “Arguably the most important systematic theology ever produced in the Reformed tradition – I have found it to be the most valuable. “

Reformed Dogmatics is not easy to read, but those who labor in it will be blessed.  Those who have not read a rudimentary Systematic Theology book before may want to wait before diving into Bavink’s volumes.  Anyone who is being trained in the Reformed Tradition, though, will come back to this work time and again.

We’re reading Bavink’s four-volume work, as this is the edition typically assigned in seminary classes.  Those who want a condensed version, however, might want to purchase the much less expensive abridged, one-volume edition.

Apologetics: Orthodoxy (G.K. Chesterton)

Synopsis: Orthodoxy is a classic Apologetic work by G.K. Chesterton.  It can be found free online or on Amazon’s Kindle.

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

Orthodoxy is one of G.K. Chesterton’s most well-known works.  In this apologetic for Christianity, Chesterton presents the faith as the “answer to a riddle,” rather than an objective fact.  This is a remarkable tact for his day, when science and technology were generally regarded as the answer to the world’s problems, before the World Wars.  It is also a strategy that rings true in today’s postmodern culture.

Chesterton wrote Orthodoxy to “attempt an explanation, not of whether the Christian faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it.”  That is an apologetic that any Christian can follow, and any reader can connect with.

Orthodoxy is a pleasure to read and a classic.  We’ll be reading it on Kindle, but it can also be read at Project Gutenberg.

Practical Theology: Called to the Ministry (Edmund Clowney)

Synopsis: Should be required reading for anyone considering attending Bible college or seminary.

Called to the Ministry by Edmund Clowney
Called to the Ministry

Edmund Clowney’s Called to the Ministry should be required reading in your first semester of your theological training.  Clowney argues against an emotionally based sense of calling, stating that the call of the Lord is clear, distinctive and personal.  He also strongly encourages readers to begin ministering where they currently are, for the opportunities they have are where they are being called right now.

We’ve read this book, and highly recommend it to anyone considering going to a theology school.  It is a short read, and will help you discern your specific calling.


Have a book to suggest?  Let us know in the comments below.