Most Christians don’t buy commentary series, theological encyclopedias, Greek lexicons, or the like. Most people buy individual books on topics that interest them. And most people buy more based on author than topic (which is generally wise).
My own Bible study has been immensely aided by learning who among the great scholars of this age to read. And I wasted a lot of time and money reading bad books before I learned better.
So let’s suppose my 25-year old son or daughter came to me wanting a list of authors or books to read to supplement his or her Bible knowledge. What would I recommend? Well, I’d recommend the books that influenced me the most — taking into account the fact that young people don’t have to face some of the issues that I had to face. My kids don’t need to be cured of legalism.
So for the reader who doesn’t have legalist issues to wrestle through —
* Tom (N.T.) Wright is, of course, the theological and publishing giant who dominates this field. He seems to publish about one book per hour. Some are very long and consist of dense but important theology. Others are written more for the ordinary reader. All are recommended, but here are the most important ones —
— The New Testament for Everyone. This is actually a commentary series on the entire NT. At $151.74 for the entire collection, it’s a bargain, eminently readable, and great for someone wanting a commentary starter set. Or you can buy the books individually. There is no Kindle version, but the major Bible software publishers (such as Logos and Accordance) have the electronic version.
It will not be suitable for someone wanting a true theological commentary that delves into every nuance of the text. Rather, this series serves much the same purpose as Barclay’s Daily Study Bible series, except it’s more conservative, more scholarly, and more up to date.
— Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. Hugely influential, very readable. Explains Christianity in terms that will be unfamiliar to some long-time believers — and yet Wright’s explanation will be instantly comfortable and comforting. Great book.
— Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Perhaps the book that has changed more minds than any other.
* Scot McKnight. McKnight posts at the Jesus Creed blog and publishes a book or so a year. He grew up in a conservative, legalistic denomination, but as an adult displays no anger or resentment. Rather, he just tries to teach the Bible as he now understands it.
— The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. An excellent, basic book on understanding and interpreting the scriptures. Warning: it uses the role of women as an example of how to read ancient texts today (he’s right but not all my readers agree).
—Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. Extremely important book on the mission of the church — and the Christians in the church.
* Michael Gorman is a scholar mining much of the same material as Wright, except he approaches things from a different, vitally important angle.
— Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. Incredibly important work. REQUIRED READING. This will be on the final!! And, yes, I know he uses long words and even a little Greek. Read the book anyway.
* John Walton. Walton has radically reshaped our understanding of Genesis 1. You cannot have an intelligent conversation about the Creation without having read Walton — agree or disagree.
— Covenant. Asks what question holds the entirety of the Bible together? This is actually not for beginners. But it’s important.
PS — The answer is God’s self-revelation. Which doesn’t sound like a big deal at first glance, but it is. It changes everything to realize that the story of David isn’t about the hero David. It’s about what God did for David and did for us through David. God is the hero. And that’ll change your Sunday school class teaching more than you can imagine.
* Frederick Dale Brunner.
— A Theology of the Holy Spirit. It’s 40 years old, but still the best text on the Spirit. Despite being written from a Calvinist perspective. Despite being very scholarly. This is the book to read on the Holy Spirit if you read just one.
* Stanley Hauerwas.
— Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. Let me say this plainly: Buy this book. Read it. Insist that your small group or Bible class study it chapter by chapter.
Hauerwas has a way of expressing himself that is (what’s the word?) abstruse. In this case, his co-author William H. Willimon got Hauerwas to write in easily understood, unmistakable terms. Brilliant. Life changing. One of the most important works of theology written in the last half-century — and an easy, delightful read.
* John Mark Hicks. Hicks is a professor at Lipscomb and a blogger. His two books on baptism and the Lord’s Supper are indispensable —
— Down in the River to Pray (Revised Edition) (with Greg Taylor).
Both are written at a popular level and yet both are theologically rich.
Now, these are the highest of the highlights. There are other books by the same authors that are great reads. There are great books by other authors. I can only barely begin to list them all.
Readers, what would you add?