10 favorite theology books

10 favorite theology books May 13, 2011

Someone asked me to list my 10 favorite theology books.  I’m flattered that anyone cares!  But maybe only one person cares.  Oh, well.  Here goes anyway (not in any particular order)….

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1

Emil Brunner, Revelation and Reason

Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love

Reinhold Niebuhr, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics

John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus

Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel

Thomas Oden, The Transforming Power of Grace

P. T. Forsyth, The Person and Place of Jesus Christ

Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God

Adrio Koenig, Here Am I! A Believer’s Reflection on God

Hans Kueng, Does God Exist?

Oops. That’s 11!  Oh, well, I could go on and on.  And if you ask me tomorrow, I’ll probably list some different ones.  And saying these are (among) my favorites does not mean I agree with everything in them!

Thanks for asking.

How about you?  What are your favorites?

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jeff Martin

    There are my favorite books in general:

    Stephen Fowl – Engaging Scripture: A Model for Theological Interpretation
    Donald Juel – Messianic Exegesis
    Philip King, Lawrence Stager – Life in Biblical Israel (Library of Ancient Israel)
    Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner – The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar New Testament Commentary)
    Iain W. Provan V. Philips Long Tremper, III Longman – A Biblical History of Israel
    James L. Kugel – The Bible as it was
    NT Wright – What St. Paul really said
    The Shack – William P Young (except the part where talks about forgiveness)
    Luke Timothy Johnson – Reading Romans
    Jacob Neusner – A Rabbi talks with Jesus

  • Bev Mitchell

    Recent favorites,

    Thomas Jay Oord – Theology of Love 
    Kenton Sparks – God’s Word in Human Words
    Gordon Fee – God’s Empowering Presence
    James Kugel – How to Read the Bible
    Clark Pinnock – The Openness ofGod
    Greg Boyd – Satan and the Problem of Evil
    Bruxy  Cavey – The End of Religion
    Dave Schmelzer – Not the Religious Type – Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist
    Greg Boyd – The Myth of a Christian Religion
    N.T. Wright – The Last Word – Beyond the Bible Wars
    Peter Enns – Inspiration and Incarnation



  • Bill B

    C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
    Wm. L. Craig, Reasonable Faith
    Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults
    Geisler & Howe, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties
    Hunt & White, Debating Calvinism
    F. LaGard Smith, Troubling Questions for Calvinists
    F. LaGard Smith, After Life
    Wm Crockett, ed, Four Views of Hell
    Max Sotak, Damning Assumptions
    Mark Baker, Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross
    Timothy Keller, The Reason For God

  • That’s a tough question! Certainly, the following would make the list:

    Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul (no kidding)

    Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine, by Peter J. Thuesen

    Paul: An Outline of His Theology by Herman Ridderbos

    Arminian Theology by Roger E. Olson

    Things to Come by J. Dwight Pentecost

    The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism by Robert L. Saucy

    Anyone who has not read Douglas Moo’s commentary on Romans or Craig Keener’s commentaries (2 volumes) on John of R.T. France’s commentary on Matthew must count themselves deprived!

    You can tell that I have little to no respect for systematic theology!


    • How interesting that you list me right above Dwight Pentecost. That makes me tell a story. When the thought of becoming a theologian first entered my mind many years ago (when in college) I asked my first theology teacher to recommend a book of theology that would help me decide whether that would be my vocation. He recommended Things to Come by Dwight Pentecost. I dutifully went to the local Book & Bible store and bought it. For a month I struggled to understand it and finally failed. I decided theology was not for me. It wasn’t until seminary, four or five years after my failure with Pentecost, that I found a theology that really excited me–Emil Brunner’s. That I understood–especially the pietist flavor of it. Things to Come almost derailed my theology career!

  • Bev Mitchell

    Dr. Olson,

    I should have begun my earlier post by thanking you for sharing your favorites list. Lists like this from people we respect are invaluable.

    As you can see, my recent theology reading has been primarily to better understand how we should be interpreting scripture in order to become more faithful to the revelation it contains. On another tack, our theodicy looms large as we watch the news, cringe at the way some of the faithful celebrate power and yield to fear, and see our non-believing friends continue to reject a God who seemingly does nothing to make things better while we claim He to be all-powerful.

    This is why I placed Thomas Jay Oord’s “The Nature of Love – a Theology” at the top. I’ve read Chapters 4 and 5 several times now, and am still coming to understand how much things change when we think of God’s Love as essential to his being and of God’s Power as God’s Love in action. God’s Omnipotence, in this view, recognizes that Love can overcome raw, coercive power. We worship power because of our spiritual blindness, but power cannot create, it can only destroy. One way to look at Satan’s rebellion, and this seems more and more true as I digest what Oord is saying, is as a sad decision to abandon love and opt for pure power. There are even theologies that look at it this way. Love, on the other hand, not only has (in Christ) and is (in the church through the Holy Spirit) but will, in the fullness of the Kingdom of God, completely overcome all power-centered projects. This is not because love is more powerful than coercive power but because it is utterly different from power and completely in harmony with God’s lovingly created universe. It will win because no power in heaven or earth can touch it. Love creates – power destroys; love gives freedom – power enslaves; love brings light – power brings darkness; we can place our hope in love – we can only fear power; love persuades – power coerces; love cooperates – power controls.

    It would be wonderful to have you thoughts on Oord’s ideas, particularly his Chapter 5 where he briefly outlines his theory of “Essential Kenosis”.

  • Randy

    Dr. Olson

    Thanks for the list. When the Feds did the digital conversion thing, we dumped our TV. Next to dumping credit cards, it was the best thing we have ever done. I started on a reading program and am always looking for new material.

    The best book I have read lately on that topic was The Story of Christian Theology (I know, better late than never). It gave me a renewed interest in the subject (mostly, I think, because it was so easy to read), and this list will help as well. I look forward to seeing what others have to say.

  • I care! Thanks for sharing. Not read a one of em, save Oden’s (which I too loved), but some of em have been on my ‘to read’ list for some time – and now I’ve added a few more! Right now mine might be (in no particular order and not all are technically theology books per se):

    Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology (not sucking up, promise!)

    Thomas Oden, Classic Christianity

    Alister McGrath, A Passion for Truth

    G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

    A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

    F . F. Bruce, Jesus: Past, Present, and Future

    Longman & Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament

    C. S. Lewis, Beyond Personality

    Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart

    Gene Wolfe, The Book of the Long Sun (fiction)



    • I’m flattered to be in such great company!

  • Matt W

    Last year I came across a great book called: Theology of Christian Spirituality by Samuel Powell. The book takes the concepts of holiness, election, and Christian community as tools to theologically explore the many dimensions of Christian spiritual practice.

    John Webster’s book on the Doctrine of Holiness is a also wonderful read.

    Tom Oden’s, Doctrinal Standards in the Wesleyan Tradition, is thankfully back in print and is a favorite of mine.

    Though I am not a full-fledged Barthian (whatever that is (I consider myself an evangelical Wesleyan)) I am regularly reading Barth. I am currently working through Church Dogmatics I.2. And I am also reading John Webster’s book on Barth’s Moral Theology.

    The Wesleyan Quadrilateral by Don Thorsen is an excellent theological treatment of theological method. Though I personally feel that Christians ought to take heed of, or at least seek to understand, Karl Barth’s doctrine of revelation (i.e. the theological reasoning behind the Barmen Declaration) before exploring issues of theological method.

    Bloesch’s first volume in the Christian Foundations series (Theology of Word & Spirit) is probably the best book around when it comes to theological method.

    What an amazing and dynamic Lord we have, whose Word has compelled us to read and explore his gracious ways. Praise Him from whom all blessings flow…

  • It was hard for me to pick but here are my ten plus one with the same caveats as yours :-):
    The Hidden Life of Prayer- D.M. M’Intyre
    Pursuit of God-A.W. Tozer
    Abide in Christ-Andrew Murray
    Trusting God- Jerry Bridges
    Systematic Theology- Wayne Grudem
    Knowing God-J.I. Packer
    Getting the Gospel Right-R.C. Sproul
    Joy Unspeakable-D.M. Lloyd-Jones
    Pleasures of God & Let the Nations Be Glad-John Piper
    The Prodigal God-Tim Keller

    • Well, that certainly reveals your theological leanings! 🙂

      • Yes…I suspect that is the case for all of us 🙂 . I have read a lot over the last thirty years and that top ten has changed and no doubt will continue to change. However, I would be very surprised if The Hidden Life of Prayer- D.M. M’Intyre, Pursuit of God-A.W. Tozer, Abide in Christ-Andrew Murray, Knowing God-J.I. Packer, Let the Nations Be Glad-John Piper, and my most recent add to the list Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God would get bumped off. I don’t want to get in a “rut” in my reading and try to read widely. I faithfully read your blog and appreciate it as it sharpens me in my pursuit of the Lord and my desire to make Him known where He is not…thank you brother!

        • …biographies over the years have had a great impact on my life, perhaps even the greatest. “Influential Biographies” would also make for an interesting post someday:-).

  • Jason White

    I have to say that I have four favorites right now.

    I am sincere in saying that this first choice is not a form of flattery: (1) Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology.

    (2) Gary Dorrien: The Remaking of Evangelical Theology

    (3) Greg Boyd: Letters from a Skeptic – Short, sweet, but good defense of the Christian faith done from sincerity, as well as because it was done in the context of a real conversation.

    (4) John Sanders – The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence – This books makes you think, even if you disagree.

    Dr. Olson, I would love to hear more of your favorites.

    • Ah, Gary Dorrien. What a great writer! I have read The Remaking of Evangelical Theology and several of his other books including his three volume history of liberal theology in America. And I’ve met him. He’s the epitome of a gentleman and a scholar. Too bad he’s an old fashioned theological liberal (something I think he’s proud of).

  • Clay Knick

    Essentials of Evan. Theo. by Don Bloesch

    The Living God, The Word of Life, Life in the Spirit by Tom Oden

    The Transforming Power of Grace by Tom Oden

    Flame of Love by Clark Pinnock

    Revelation and Reason by Emil Brunner

    The Word of Truth by Dale Moody

    Just to name a few!

    • Many years ago I had lunch with Dale Moody–not long before he died. He was very bitter about what happened to him at SBTS, but he preached a great sermon in chapel. But all he could talk about over lunch was his ill treatment at the hands of the SBTS administration. I like his book on the Holy Spirit. He was one of the few Southern Baptist scholars genuinely open to all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He spoke in chapel at Oral Roberts University in 1983 (I think it was).

  • Bill B

    Of course, my list did not include “Arminian Theology” by Roger Olson. I am sure that is “a given” on everyone’s list, right?! LOL

    BTW Roger, I appreciate your recommendation of the book “How Much Does God Foreknow?” by Steven Roy. I wanted a good book to educate me regarding the issue of “open theism,” especially one which covered lots of questionable texts. There are quite a few books out there, but I didn’t want one which was filled with unfair straw man arguments or one which questioned the “Christianity” of open theists. (As you know, there is alot of that going on.) When I saw that both you (Arminian) and Terrance Tiessen (Calvinist) recommended the book, I bought it and am very glad I did. (That could have also been on my list, but I’m not completely finished with it yet.)

  • Keith Noren

    Flame of Love amd The Poltics of Jesus are good. The others I have not read.

    Other books that have had a real effect on my religious thinking are (they are not necessarily theology books or well known):

    Your Bible*, by Louis Cassels (simple and old, but good)
    The New Tesatment Speaks, Barker, Lane and Michaels
    The Growing Edge*, Bruce Larson
    The Upside Down Kingdom, Donald Kraybill
    God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will*, Richard Rice
    Forming a Faith in a Hurricane*, N. Graham Standish
    Thinking about God, Fisher Humphreys
    The Moral Vision of the New Testament, Richard Hays
    Can God Intervene, Gary Stern

    And one by a theologian but more about this world’s affairs (which I regard as a key Kingdom issue):
    The New Pearl Harbor*, Davd Ray Griffin.

    The ones with asterisks have in fact changed my life substantially.

    • Ah, Fisher Humphreys. Another dear friend. I used his Thinking about God as a text when I first starting teaching theology. I used it to supplement and partially correct Shirley Guthrie’s Christian Doctrine which was wrong about Arminianism. I also liked the way Fisher handled the inerrancy issue. Fisher is a model of an irenic evangelical theologian. He and I shared a mentor–theologian Sam Mikolaski. I heard about Fisher from Dr. Sam long before Fisher and I met. Dr. Sam is still alive and teaching part-time at Saddleback Church.

  • Marc

    I started my MTS degree last year and these books have helped broaden my horizon, provoke me, enlighten me, and move me:

    N.T. Wright, Justification.

    Kevin Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine

    Frank Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit

    John Sanders, The God who Risks

    Walter Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament Vol. 2

    I also much like your “Story of Christian Theology.” The next books I really want to read are Moltmann’s theology of Hope and Volf’s exclusion and embrace. There are so many books to read, and I already put all the ones you listed on my ever expanding list.

    • Ah, Volf, Exclusion and Embrace–destined to become a classic. I use it as a text every year and, for the most part, students love it. A truly great book. And I know Miroslav. I knew him when he was “Mickey!” He was studying with Moltmann in Tubingen and I was studying with Pannenberg in Munichand he and his wife came to Munich to hear P. lecture. We had lunch together in the Englischer Garten near the university. Miroslav is another one of my postconservative evangelicals although I don’t know that he would appreciate the label.

  • Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace is certainly up there for me among my most recent reads. Thanks for the list. I’ll add a few of these to my list of books to read when I finish doctoral work.

  • Rick C.

    Not necessarily in an order of personal impact or relevance, but close….

    The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, James W. Sire
    Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, N.T. Wright
    Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, Karl Barth
    The Temple and the Church’s Mission, Gregory K. Beale
    The Blessed Hope, George E. Ladd
    The Story of Christian Theology, Roger E. Olson
    The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
    One God, One Lord, Larry Hurtado
    Two Powers in Heaven, Alan F. Segal
    Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. James Charlesworth

  • Alex

    Hello Roger,
    Here is my list:
    N.T. Wright – Jesus and the Victory of God
    Jurgen Moltmann – The Crucified God
    Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    Mañana – Justo Gonzalez
    The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World – Miroslav Volf
    Tortured Wonders – Rodney Clapp
    The Moral Vision of the New Testament – Richard B. Hays
    Christ and Time – Oscar Cullmann
    The Violence of Love – Oscar Romero
    What’s So Amazing About Grace – Philip Yancey
    The Four Loves – C.S. Lewis

    I followed your lead and chose 11 as well.

  • Jesse

    Not in any particular order:

    N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope
    Neal Punt, What’s Good About The Good News?
    Richard Foster, Celebration Of Discipline
    Edward Fudge, Questions and Answers
    Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship
    Bruxy Cavey, The End Of Religion
    Greg Boyd, The Myth Of A Christian Religion
    G. Ernest Wright, God Who Acts
    Floyd V. Filson, NT Against It’s Environment
    Oscar Cullmann, Immortality of the Soul Or Resurrection From The Dead

  • Steve Dominy


    I don’t know that these are my favorite books, but they have been the most influential in shaping my thinking, some will be better known than others.

    1. Athanasius, Against the Arians
    2. Yandall Woodfin, With All Your Mind (Probably the most influential book in helping me to learn to think critically.)
    3. Fretheim, The Suffering of God, An Old Testament Perspective
    4. Moltmann, The Crucified God
    5. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God
    6. Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology
    7. Barth, Church Dogmatics, I,2. This is Barth’s Critique of Religion, just being able to read and understand Barth convinced me that I was capable of doing graduate work! Barth’s influence on my thinking can be summed up in a quote from his Epistle to the Romans, “…the Gospel of Christ is a shattering disturbance, an assault which brings everything into question. For this reason, nothing is so meaningless as the attempt to construct a religion out of the Gospel, and to set it as one human possibility in the midst of others.”

  • I studied under Fisher Humphreys at Beeson Divinity School. A very gracious man who was not always treated well by male students of the Calvinist stripe. I was his graduate assistant for a semester and I grew to love him more as I got to know him better.

  • Bill B


    I am reading 2 books by a man named David Bercot called “Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up” & “A dictionary of early Christian beliefs.” If my list could expand to 2 more books, I would have to add these. I have never before really read (or been interested in) what the early Church leaders (pre-Nicea) wrote or believed. I guess I foolishly just made the assumption that they believed what Augustine believed, as well as much of what the Reformers believed. Pretty naive, huh? I am being blown away by how different both their beliefs and their lifestyles were from ours. They definitely would not agree with much of “reformed” theology!

    The author seems to believe that the Anabaptists (including todays Mennonites) have done the best job of getting back to “primitive church” beliefs and practices, even though he states that there are still many shortcomings and differences. I’m going to get your book “God in Dispute”. I figure since I am enjoying these books so much, that book should fit in and help me be less ignorant about some of the main participants in the history of my faith. I previewed it on googlebooks and it looks like a “fun” read and good introduction.

    Have you ever read any of Mr. Bercot’s books, or do you have any thoughts on the differences between what they believed in the first couple of centuries after Jesus’ death compared to what we believe today? (I realize that many errors could have crept into the early church as well.)


    • rogereolson

      I have not read anything by him but thanks for the mention. I’ll look into his books. I, too, discovered that especially the Greek fathers thought very differently from Augustine and the West generally. I suspect if, say, Irenaeus or Athanasius came among us they would be shocked at what most Western Christians believe and don’t believe and don’t even really know about.

  • Chris Criminger

    Great books by everyone . . . I quess I will be a contrarian and take a different approach.

    Great Christian authors or thinkers (think theologians :–)

    1. Henri Nouwen
    2. Lesslie Newbigin
    3. John H. Yoder
    4. N. T. Wright
    5. G. K. Chesterton
    6. G. K. Beale
    7. Mark Noll
    8. Raniero Cantalamessa
    9. Steven R. Harmon
    10. D. H. Williams
    11. Stanley Hauerwas
    12. Ephraim Radner
    13. William Abraham
    14. Joshua Heschel
    15. Theodore G. Stylianopoulos

    Okay, that’s 15 and not 10 but if you have not read some of these, check em out!

  • Chris Bradford

    Alas, I came late to the party, and I must unburden myself nonetheless!

    The Challenge of Jesus – N.T. Wright
    God’s Empowering Presence – Gordon Fee (my hero)
    Pursuit of God – A.W. Tozer
    The Scripture Principle – Clark Pinnock (I met him in reading his obituary Roger wrote in 2010)
    A Wideness of God’s Mercy – Clark Pinnock
    Who Will Be Saved – Will Willimon
    Jesus, Paul and the Gospels – James Dunn
    The Faith of a Physicist – John Polkinghorne
    Paul in Fresh Perspective – N. T. Wright
    Inerrancy and Incarnation – Peter Enns

    Dr. Olson, I read your blog regularly and have my first one of your books to read on it’s way – Reformed and Reforming. I appreciate you and your bold, loving leadership.

  • Dr. Olson

    Another belated response. I’ve reading back issues of your blog, which are not the usual run-of-the-mill blogs. Your blogs have substance. Enjoyed reading the other top ten lists too!

    Hal Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth

    J.I. Packer, Knowing God

    Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God

    Philip Yancy, What’s so Amazing about Grace

    Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei

    J.N.D.Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines

    Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover

    Max Lucado, Grace

    William P. Grady, What Hath God Wrought!

    Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society

    Israel My Glory (A bi-monthly magazine).