The Cross and Salvation by Bruce Demarest
An outstanding book on the doctrine of salvation. This was the main textbook for my Soteriology class at DTS and I was thoroughly impressed by the book. Obviously, the doctrine of salvation is important and complex. Demarest, a theologian, has a strong grasp of the Biblical text and is able to move from the text to theology with ease. The book covers doctrines such as: grace, election, atonement, divine calling, conversion, regeneration, union with Christ, justification, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification (each topic mentioned has its own chapter). Demarest separates each chapter into four sections: (I) Introductory Concerns (II) Historical Interpretation (III) Exposition (IV) Practical Implications. Demarest covers the historical interpretation (II) of doctrines well and keeps his discussion quite fair, even when discussing interpretations that he disagrees with. He is quite thorough in part (III) in working through and defending his view of the said doctrine. Overall, this is a fantastic textbook for any soteriology class/group study and highly recommend it to any and every Christian. The Cross and Salvation will leave you in awe of the God who saves. Praise Him!
The God Who Became Human by Graham Cole
This book is different than other theology books on the list in that it is a “Biblical Theology” book. I’ve recently grown to love Graham Cole’s work, so if you can get your hands on any of his books, you’ll be better for it. In The God Who Became Human, Cole traces the theme of incarnation throughout the Biblical Story. This is quite the endeavor, because the incarnation of God is not something most scholars see in the OT (Cole agrees that it’s not explicit). He handles these issues well: “The Old Testament expected human agents or even divine agents of the Divine purpose to come to Israel’s aid at some juncture and it’s future… But an incarnate divine-human deliver? On the surface of it there seen then to have been two distinct but unsynthesized lines of expectation–one concerning God and another concerning a human agent–that constituted the mainsprings of Israel’s hope.”[note]Graham Cole, The God Who Became Human: a Biblical Theology of Incarnation (New Studies in Biblical Theology)(Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013), 95.[/note] Cole spends about half the book tracing the Biblical narrative of the OT, so some may be disappointed with the amount of attention given to the Biblical narrative if you’re looking for verbose theology. Personally, I loved Cole’s account of the narrative and how the incarnation flows out of it. The verbose theology is dealt with in the “Excursus” sections. These include: (1) Would the incarnation have taken place irrespective of the fall? (2) The pre-incarnate Christ, theophany and the Old Testament debate. (3) Did the divine Son assume fallen or unfallen human nature? Overall, I highly recommend this book. Cole deals with the doctrine of the incarnation within the beautiful framework of the Biblical Story. I’ll leave you with a masterful quote from Cole that causes me to worship of Christ. “The wonderful news of the gospel is that God did not send a mere revelatory spirit nor a mere prophetic surrogate but the Son himself (Mark 12:1-12). No other could reveal the Father as the Son could. No other could redeem alienated humanity as the Son could. No other could both represent and substitute for us as the Son could. No other could defeat the evil one as the Son could. No other could model all that Adam and Israel should have been as the sinless, ever obedient, ever trusting Son could. And He did!”[note]Graham Cole, The God Who Became Human: a Biblical Theology of Incarnation (New Studies in Biblical Theology)(Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013), 139.[/note] Amen.
God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham Cole
What a title right? Graham Cole says this of the title, “[The title] attempts to capture this important biblical perspective on what God intends for His broken creation.”[note]Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 22.[/note] Cole, a respected theologian, sets out to write a Biblical theology on atonement (quite the task), and he hits a biblical-theological-doxological home run. The first three chapters tell the story of the world’s problem while the next three chapters tell the story of God’s solution. These six chapters are an outstanding and edifying overview of the Biblical storyline. Chapter 7 “explores how the peace/shalom that comes through the cross works itself out at the personal, corporate and cosmic levels.”[note]Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 30.[/note] Chapter 8 deals with how we are to live in light of what God’s done and chapter 9 discusses the purpose for it all: God’s glory. Cole concludes with this grand statement, “The triune God’s reconciling project will see God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule living God’s way enjoying shalom in God’s holy and loving presence to God’s glory.”[note]Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 230.[/note] This is one of my favorite books because I came away having learned A LOT (about the Biblical narrative and about atonement), but also having worshiped God A LOT. Cole communicates deep biblical-theological truths in ways that produce doxological(worshipful) hearts. I pray that reading this book will help you understand what God has done in Christ, but that this understanding will lead to worship.
On the Apostolic Preaching (or known as The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching) by St. Irenaeus of Lyons
Some of you are probably wondering, “Who the heck is Irenaeus of Lyons?” It’s ok I was in the same boat. Irenaeus was the bishop of the church in Lyons, France (Gaul at the time) in the 2nd century. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of…John the Apostle. In this work, Irenaeus sets out to write a concise summary of the faith. This summary of the faith is essentially a biblical/systematic theology. Do you see how crazy this is?! A guy who was taught by a disciple of John (who was taught by Jesus in case you forgot) is writing a concise summary of the Christian faith in the second century! Whoa. We should probably read this. It’s only about 60 pages, but man does this book pack a punch. Irenaeus begins with a brief introduction to the faith and specifically the doctrine of God. He says, “Without the Spirit it is not possible to see the Word of God, and without the Son one is not able to approach the Father; for the knowledge of the Father is the Son, and knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit.” [note]St. Irenaeus of Lyons, On the Apostolic Preaching (Crestwood, N.Y.: St Vladimirs Seminary Pr, 1997), 44.[/note]Then, he begins in Genesis and moves through the Old Testament, showing how Christ’s person and work is foreshadowed and subsequently moves through the New Testament showing how Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, “So, by means of the obedience by which He obeyed unto death, hanging upon the tree, He undid the old disobedience occasioned by the tree.” [note]St. Irenaeus of Lyons, On the Apostolic Preaching (Crestwood, N.Y.: St Vladimirs Seminary Pr, 1997), 62.[/note] Reading this book will not only inform you historically as to what Christians have believed since the beginning, but will also inform your understanding of all the Bible pointing to Christ.
On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius
A classic work on a central belief of Christianity, the incarnation of the Son of God. St. Athanasius, the African theologian, scholar, and pastor was Bishop of Alexandria in the early 4th century and a stalwart of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. In this book, Athanasius sets out to explain and defend that Jesus is both God and man. It is beautifully written, deeply theological, and yet quite accessible. C.S Lewis introduces the book in this edition, “When I first opened his De Incarnatione I soon discovered by a very simple test that I was reading a masterpiece…only a master mind could, in the fourth century, have written so deeply on such a subject with such classical simplicity.” [note]Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation: Saint Athanasius (Popular Patristics) (Yonkers, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Pr, 2012), 9.[/note] Quite a statement from quite an author. The book itself is only 70 pages, but they are dense and packed with theological gems so be sure to take your time as you read this fantastic work. I remember the first time I read this, I read the second paragraph about 10 times because it was so deep and so worshipful. A snippet of this paragraph shows what I mean, “We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the one Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.”[note]Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation: Saint Athanasius (Popular Patristics) (Yonkers, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Pr, 2012), 26.[/note] Whoa…read that a few times and reflect on it. Reading this book, will lead you to be amazed at what Christ has done for you, for the world. I’ll let Athanasius say the last word: “From the Scriptures you will learn also of his second manifestation to us, glorious and divine indeed, when he shall come not in lowliliness but in His proper glory, no longer in humiliation but in majesty, no longer to suffer but to bestow on us all the fruit of His cross–the resurrection and incorruptibility. No longer will He then be judged, but rather will Himself be Judge.[note]Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation: Saint Athanasius (Popular Patristics) (Yonkers, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Pr, 2012), 95.[/note]
Exploring Christian Theology edited by Nathan D. Holstein & Michael J. Svigel
This three volume work written and edited by Theology Professors at Dallas Theological Seminary covers the basic doctrines of the Christian faith: “Creation, Scripture, and the Triune God” (Volume One), “Creation, Fall, and Salvation” (Volume Two), and “The Church, Spiritual Growth, and the End Times” (Volume Three). The introduction to the series states the purpose of the books, “Exploring Christian Theology will offer introductions, overviews, and reviews of key Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical tenets without belaboring details or broiling up debates. The three ECT volumes, compact but substantial, provide accessible and convenient summaries of major themes; they’re intended as guidebooks for a church that, overall, is starving for the very doctrine and it has to long avoided.”[note]Michael J. Svigel and Nathan D. Holsteen, eds., Exploring Christian Theology: Revelation, Scripture, and the Triune God(Bloomington: Bethany House Publishers, 2014), 9.[/note] I’m not sure if I need to say much more, that pretty much covers it (but because I want to talk this book up I’ll continue). The authors avoid picking sides when there are interpretive/theological options within the boundaries of Orthodoxy, making these books tremendously valuable across denominational lines. These books are relatively short (around 250 pages each), are theologically rich, yet very accessible to any reader. The books are also set up in an easy-to-use fashion. Each doctrinal tenet is introduced (dubbed the “High Altitude Survey”), the reader is given Bible passages and discussion of the passages that are pertinent to the doctrine at hand (“Passages to Master”), next is the history and development of the doctrine (“[doctrine] in Retrospect”), then a short list of “Facts to Never Forget” about the doctrine, followed by a short list of the most important “Dangers to Avoid” pertaining to the doctrine, rounded out by “Principles to Put into Practice,” and quotations from other theologians and Christians on the doctrine (“Voices from the Past and Present”). Additionally, every section ends with a detailed list of recommended books for further study. As you can see, a lot is covered in a short space. Yet, the authors/editors have done a great job of covering a vast amount of material without making the reader feel overwhelmed. The series is really quite an enjoyable read! I may be partial (I have studied under and been poured into by many of the authors in the series), but I think every Christian would find great benefit, learning, and encouragement from these books. I’ll end with one more quote from the introduction that frames the rest of the series, “Most people seeking to grow in their faith want practical principles, not theoretical concepts. They want to know God, not just know about Him. Yet the fact is that we can’t experience real spiritual growth without solid spiritual truth. We can’t know the true God without knowing God truly.”[note]Michael J. Svigel and Nathan D. Holsteen, eds., Exploring Christian Theology: Revelation, Scripture, and the Triune God(Bloomington: Bethany House Publishers, 2014), 9.[/note]
The Story of Christianity (2 Volumes) by Justo Gonzalez
These two volumes written by preeminent historical theologian Justo Gonzalez are probably the best overview of Church history available today. He covers the “early Church to the dawn of the Reformation” in volume 1 and the “Reformation to the present day” in volume 2. Each volume is approximately 500 pages, bringing the total page count to around 1,000. Gonzalez’ knowledge and ability to communicate the vast swaths of information in these books is impressive. Furthermore, Gonzalez is Cuban, and his attention to Hispanic church history, developments in the Caribbean, and Colonial Christianity is a needed part of Church history that can sometimes be disregarded. The book is formatted well, separated by chronological “parts.” Each part ends with a list of suggested readings for further study that would be useful for students. I realize that even thinking about reading 1,000 pages of Church history seems brutally boring (I had the same feeling), but it’s not! Not only is the history of the church fascinating on its own, but Gonzalez is a talented writer and able to draw in his readers to this “Story of Christianity.” I think Church history is an area that is often neglected by Christians, and an area of study that would be fruitful for most anyone. I recommend this to anyone interested with the history of Christianity, but especially seminary students and pastors. It’s encouraging to read the stories of past brothers and sisters, challenging and convicting when reading of many past sins the Church has committed, but also comforting to see God’s hand throughout Church history as we seek to exalt our Lord, our King, our God: Jesus.
Christian Theology an Introduction by Alister McGrath
A fundamental book to any theological student’s library. McGrath is a well-rounded (understatement) and top-notch scholar who holds three doctorates (molecular biophysics, theology, and history). This book is a great mixture of both systematic theology and historical theology. Although, McGrath seems to be more focused on the explaining the different teachings of theologians about said doctrine then focused on explaining his own conclusions. He briefly covers the key periods and people of Christian theology (~100 pg.) in a chronological order before moving on to explaining the sources and methods of Christian theology (~70 pg.). The bulk of the book is found in Part III, where McGrath goes doctrine by doctrine through the Christian faith. He explains the doctrines mostly through the eyes of past, prominent Christians and theologians. I’ll admit this book is dense; a lot of ground is covered in under 500 pages, but it’s worth it (a side note: I just read a short paragraph in the “Doctrine of God” chapter and couldn’t stop reading for several pages). Whether you’re a professional theologian or a new believer, there’s plenty to take away from this fine introduction to Christian theology.
The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson
D.A. Carson is a leading Biblical scholar and president/co-founder of The Gospel Coalition. This book is short (only 75 pages), but man is it dense. The book, as you may have guessed, is about the love of God. Of all the complex or philosophical doctrines of Christianity, God’s love seems relatively uncomplicated. However, all too often, God’s love is grossly misunderstood, both by Christians and non-Christians alike. Carson argues that there are “five distinguishable ways that the Bible talks about God’s love”.[note]D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2000), 16.[/note] These include: (1) The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father. (2) God’s providential love over all that he has made. (3) God’s salvific stance towards his fallen world. (4) God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect. (5) God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way — conditioned, that is, on obedience.[note]List taken from D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2000), 16-19.[/note] Carson argues that if any of these are “absolutized” or made “the controlling grid” (which often happens) by which we understand God’s love then disaster will ensue. Instead, “we must hold these truths together and learn to integrate them in biblical proportion and balance.[note]D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2000), 24.[/note] The rest of the book dives into a discussion as to how to do that, covering big themes such as “God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty” (chapter 3) and “God’s Love and God’s Wrath” (chapter 4). I believe this book and its topic are pertinent for today’s church and I pray that it will help you reach a better understanding of God’s love, but also result in the worship of our God and His love, shown especially in His Son.
Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves
This is the book, other than the Bible, that has most deeply impacted my life. Michael Reeves has written an amazing “Introduction to the Christian Faith” (subtitle) that will absolutely transform your understanding of, and love for, the Triune God. The introduction to the book ends with this invitation: “The irony could not be thicker: what we assume would be a dull or peculiar irrelevance [the Trinity] turns out to be the source of all that is good in Christianity. Neither a problem nor technicality, the triune being of God is the vital oxygen of Christian life and joy. And so it is my hope and prayer that as you read this book, the knowledge of Father, Son and Spirit will breathe fresh life into you.”[note] Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: an Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 18.[/note] Reeves begins with “What Was God Doing Before Creation?” (chapter 1) and he dives into deep theological reflection, starting with John 17:24.[note] Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.[/note] From there, the chapter titles overview the book well. Creation: The Father’s Love Overflows (chapter 2), Salvation: The Son Shares What is His (chapter 3), The Christian Life: The Spirit Beautifies (chapter 4), and Who Among the Gods is Like You, O Lord? (chapter 5). Reeves continually expresses that as Christians, whether we know it or not (hopefully the book helps this), we are thoroughly Trinitarian. “When you start with the Jesus of the Bible, it is a triune God that you get. The Trinity, then, is not the product of abstract speculation: when you proclaim Jesus, the Spirit-anointed Son of the Father, you proclaim the Triune God.”[note] Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: an Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 37-38.[/note] Why is God love? Why can we be saved? How are we able to live the Christian life?[note]Questions on the back cover.[/note] The answer: because God is triune. I pray this book leads to discovery and worship of our awesome God: Father, Son, and Spirit.
The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders
This is an outstanding book on the Trinity by a well-established theologian. Fred Sanders’ The Deep Things of God is about “how the Trinity changes everything” (the subtitle of the book). Sanders hopes to communicate that Evangelicals (gospel people) are inherently Trinitarian, whether they recognize it or not, because the Gospel is inherently Trinitarian: “The good news of salvation is that God, who in himself is eternally the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, has become for us the adoptive Father, the incarnate Son, and the outpoured Holy Spirit. God the Father sent the Son to do something for us and the Spirit to be something in us, to bring us into the family life of God.”[note]Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 165.[/note] Sanders does an outstanding job communicating some heady truths in a gettable manner, making this book a great resource for any Christian regardless of your theological prowess. Additionally, the second edition of the book has a study guide that helps readers think through the chapters and would aid group discussion if used in a small group (which would be a brilliant move). On a personal note, the chapters “Praying with the Grain” and “What Makes Christian Prayer Possible” changed my life because they changed my prayer life. Here are a couple quotes from these chapters that hopefully impact your prayer life now and also make you read the book because these chapters are transforming. “Christian prayer, as a subset of Christian communion with God, is an approach to God the Father, through God the Son, in the Holy Spirit… Prayer thus opens up to an eternal Trinitarian vista. There is always already a conversation going on among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we pray, we are joining that conversation. We have been invited to call on God as Father, and invited by a Spirit of sonship that cries out ‘Abba, Father’ as the eternal Son does.”[note]Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 214-215.[/note] Praise God!! I highly recommend this book for any and every Christian. May you walk away praising the Triune God that saves.