Big theology works Meme


I saw this great quotation from Martyn-Lloyd Jones over at Per Crucem ad Lucem on the importance of reading for the preacher:

Time must be found for reading, and we turn now to the more intellectual type of reading. The first is theology. There is no greater mistake than to think that you finish with theology when you leave a seminary. The preacher should continue to read theology as long as he is alive. The more he reads the better and there are any authors and systems to be studied. I have known men in the ministry, and men in various other works of life who stop reading when they finish their training. They think they have acquired all they need; they have their lecture notes, and nothing further is necessary. The result is that they vegetate and become quite useless. Keep on reading; and read the big works’.

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones Preaching and Preachers (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), 177.  (Underline mine)

Read the big works, he says.

Which caused me to ask, “Which ones?”

For a bit of fun, here is my own  “big theology works meme.” The list below represents 10 of the bigger theological works (mostly multi-volume works, but with some exceptions) I think everyone in ministry should tackle sometime in their lifetime. I’ve split the list into two: Pre-20th century and 20th century.

Pre-20th Century

  1. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. (I’ve read through this one for my doctoral comps, and it was in the old Ante-Nicene Father’s translation–which is fine (and available free online!), but uses somewhat archaic English. There are better translations, I understand. You need to press through the first three books of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. Books 4 and 5 are the most profound and important.)
  2. Augustine’s City of God Against the Pagans. (I’ve read through the Cambridge edition three times. It’s a great translation. Very readable. As with Irenaeus, you may struggle through the first three or four books, but press on. It gets better the further you go!)
  3. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. (The whole Summa is available online here, but I doubt I could make it through any of these “big books” online. I need a book in my hands! Unfortunately, this is one of the “big works” that I haven’t read through–yet. Hopefully some day. By the way, seems to have a good deal on for the full five volume set here).
  4. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. (The two volume McNeil edition is best. It’s actually easier reading that you might think.)
  5. Friederich Schleiermacher’s The Christian Faith. (I’ve read large chunks of Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre, but have never read through cover-to-cover. I gotta get to this one sometime. I think Schleiermacher is vitally important for getting a handle on where modern theology has gone in the 19th and 20th centuries. Evangelicals especially need to read Schleiermacher…they may be shocked that he sounds more us than we realize at points!)

    Twentieth Century

  6. Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. (You shouldn’t be surprised hearing this from me. But really–reading the Church Dogmatics continues to be a joy for me. I rarely read a section without thinking, “Now why didn’t I think of that??” And remember: If you need a primer on reading the Church Dogmatics, you can find my own introduction here. And now there is a new paperback edition of the CD in 31 volumes, as well as a searchable CD-Rom version from Logos)
  7. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic  Theology. (I’ve often said that reading Pannenberg’s 3 volume systematic theology is a theological education in itself. Pannenberg is still, in my opinion, one of the most important living systematic theologians. His importance is in how he tries to do theology in light of the modern disciplines of science and humanities.)
  8. Thomas Oden, Systematic Theology in 3 volumes: The Living God, The Word of Life, and Life in the Spirit. (I had the privilege of meeting and working together briefly with Thomas Oden at a WEA Theological consultation a few summers ago. He is a delightful and humble man. His systematic “paleo-orthodoxy” is designed to help us to see what Christians have “everywhere and always believed.”)
  9. Donald Bloesch’s Christian Foundations series in 7 volumes: Theology of Word and Spirit, Holy Scripture, God Almighty, Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, The Church, and The Last Things. (Bloesch is an evangelical who is sympathetic to Barth, but is also willing to critique him where he feels necessary. Bloesch’s genius is being able to summarize diverse theological viewpoints in a well-worded phrase or sentence, while setting his own position against that backdrop. He takes some getting used to reading, but I continue to use his works as introductory texts in my seminary theology classes.)
  10. N.T. Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God series. This includes: The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God. (Wright, of course, is probably one of the most important living biblical theologians. I must confess that I have not paid as much attention to these as I should (I’ve spent most of my time in the third volume on Resurrection), but these are undisputably important works for any pastor to be aware of these days.)

There you have it. I’m guessing that the above 10 “big theology works” represent somewhere in the range of 25,000 pages. Let’s see… at 10 pages a day, this will only take about 7 years to finish. What are you waiting for?

So what do you think? Have I missed anything much more important?


5 thoughts on “Big theology works Meme

  1. Dustin

    Fun post!

    The pre-20th century section is a hard one to narrow. Luther’s multivolume commentary on Genesis and his work on Romans are crucial, as is Athanasius’ 3 books Against the Arians. Origen’s commentaries are brilliant. I’m not sure which to replace, though. Plus, Calvin and Aquinas do a good job of summarizing the fruit of the history of doctrine, so one kinda gets a sense of the tradition in these two.

    The twentieth century, I think, needs a good liberation theologian. Perhaps Sobrino? I’d drop the Bloesch, Oden, and Wright, personally. I would also want to include either or both Rahner and von Balthasar. One might also want to include some Bultmann… for “symbolic” value.

  2. Brad Penner

    Um, what about Paul Tillich’s 3-volume Systematic Theology? (-:

    If you are going to read ol’ Freddy’s dogmatics, then why not “correlate the methods” with Paul’s theosophy?

    Even the reject are determined to be elect.

  3. Dustin, yeah it was pretty hard to pick, especially the pre-20th century. I DID have Athanasius and Luther in mind, but choices had to be made! If I had to pick one 20th century theologian to replace another, I would likely pick von Balthasar in replacement of Oden.

    Brad, I actually enjoy reading Tillich. I don’t so much “reject” him as…pass over him! 😉

  4. Tyler

    Restricting yourself to 10 books is a disservice! 😉

    I’d add Bondage of the Will for the Luther selection myself.

  5. There is something important, I think, in doing an exercise like this. I obviously know that there are a bajillion other works that could be included. But try doing this yourself, and you see just how hard it is to make the selections! As I noted, the 10 works listed represent years and years of reading for a busy pastor, who hopefully is doing all kinds of other reading besides.

    Maybe Lloyd-Jones is wrong. Maybe in our culture, pastors simply can’t afford the time to read the “big works.” It is easy for me as a theologian to say, “Read all this stuff!” but I know that even I, as a theologian, don’t have enough time to read all that I would like to read.

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