New Readings in Theology

This is another in an irregular series on new books worth noting – this time just on theology and biblical studies. Of course hundreds of such books pour off the presses each year, and this listing simply features some of the volumes I happen to now be reading.

Important theological tomes are always becoming available, and the books featured here are only a small sampling of what is currently available. They happen to reflect my particular interests at the moment, so this list is quite selective and restricted. Many of these books for example are written by New Testament scholars, so that is a major focus of this selection of titles.

But for those who enjoy reading theological tomes, along with biblical studies, with a bit of apologetics and philosophy of religion thrown in, these dozen volumes – simply listed alphabetically – will provide for some stimulating and mind-stretching reading.

Alcorn, Randy, If God is Good. Multnomah, 2009.
The problem of evil and suffering is one of the greatest challenges Christians can face – both in seeking to win over non-believers, and in convincing themselves of God’s love and goodness. In this valuable volume Alcorn offers an extensive, although easy to read examination of the problem. In this substantial work of over 500 pages he covers most of the bases concerning this complex and multi-layered issue. A very helpful treatment indeed.

Bauckham, Richard, Jesus and the God of Israel. Eerdmans,  2008.
Back in 1999 Bauckham penned a brief but important monograph, God Crucified. This volume is a major expansion and revision of that work, focussing on how the early worship of Christ was seen to cohere with Jewish monotheism. Other key aspects of early Christology, including the issue of the divine identity of Christ, are featured here. An important set of essays by a major NT scholar.

Cameron, Andrew and Brian Rosner, eds., The Trials of Theology. Christian Focus, 2010.
In this short but pungent volume two Australian theologians bring together experts both past and present to discuss why we should do theology; the hazards of theological study; and the benefits of it. Past writers include Augustine, Luther, Spurgeon, and CS Lewis, while contemporary words of wisdom are offered by DA Carson, John Woodhouse and others. A delightful and informative little volume.

Carson, D.A., Scandalous. Crossway, 2010.
At the very centre of Christian beliefs is the work of Christ on the cross and his resurrection. These beliefs are regarded as scandalous by many, but they are the bedrock foundation of all Christian belief and practice. Here the leading New Testament expert offers a brief overview of these truths, based on a series of talks he delivered back in 2008. As always, first-rate material from a first-rate scholar.

Gilbert, Greg, What is the Gospel? Crossway, 2010.
In an age in which truth is relativised and doctrine is downplayed, it is more important than ever to reaffirm basic Christian teachings. Here in a very slim yet cogent volume Gilbert restates and explains the major biblical beliefs which comprise the Christian gospel. Key items such as sin, salvation, Christ, the Kingdom, and the cross are briefly but carefully explained and affirmed.

Keener, Craig, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Eerdmans, 2009.
In this monumental volume of over 800 pages the renowned New Testament scholar and expert in early Christian background explores the world of the Synoptic Gospels and the richness of material that establishes the Christian story. This is an extensive and scholarly investigation into the ancient sources that make up the New Testament understanding of who Jesus is, demonstrating their authority and reliability. A very important and substantial work indeed.

Kostenberger, Andreas, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. Zondervan, 2009.
In nearly 700 pages the noted expert in Johannine studies offers a detailed look at the Fourth Gospel and the Epistles of John. Kostenberger is an authority in this field, having written extensively in the area, including his fine commentary on John in the BECNT series. A comprehensive, up-to-date and carefully crafted work.

Miles, Todd, A God of Many Understandings? Broadman & Holman, 2010.
How are Christians to understand other religions? Can truth be found in non-Christian religions? Is Jesus the only way to salvation? Miles, a theology professor, tackles these and related questions, affirming that exclusivism is in fact the biblical position, and we must not shrink back from the uniqueness of the Christian truth claims. A very solid and informative volume.

Tidball, Derek, The Message of Holiness. IVP, 2010.
This is the latest in the Bible Speaks Today series on biblical themes. There can be few greater themes than that of Christian holiness. As with other volumes in the series, meaty chapters centring on a passage of Scripture are presented to fully tease out the issue at hand. Here Tidball does a very good job of marshalling the data and presenting the biblical message about the need for, and the importance of, holiness.

Wax, Trevin, Holy Subversion. Crossway, 2010.
In his brief but helpful volume an American Baptist pastor warns us of the many idols which we can become ensnared with. The Lordship of Christ should extend to every area of life, and Wax looks at key areas where idolatry can creep in: the workplace, our private life, the political arena, our sexual life, and so on. A challenging reminder to avoid the idols of our age.

Witherington, Ben, The Indelible Image, 2 vols. IVP, 2009, 2010.
I have previously remarked on the first volume of this set. Now that both volumes are out, it is worth highlighting the set once again. Totalling some 1700 pages, this magisterial work is both a theology of the New Testament as well as an examination of the ethical world of the NT. Theology and ethics go together in the NT, argues Witherington, but too often we have tried to study these aspects separately. But here we see how they intermingle and play off each other. A terrific effort by a noted NT scholar.

Wright, Tom, Virtue Reborn. SPCK, 2010.
One is always amazed at how Tom Wright can crank out so much material, and always of a very high level. Whether writing for a more popular-level audience, or for the scholarly community, his writings are always marked by wisdom, insight and theological nous. This latest volume examines the Christian life, and how the renewing and life-changing work of Christ is an ongoing process. A changed, Christlike life is ever the goal of our Christian profession. More great wisdom and theological understanding here from the Bishop of Durham.

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7 Replies to “New Readings in Theology”

  1. Thanks Jonathan

    Given that I own at least 25 volumes by and about Wright, I do know a bit about his thinking, and the various criticisms of it. As I have said before about Wright, his views on a number of matters are the subject of much debate. Not everyone – including myself – is happy with all that he says on these matters. That his views would be considered by some to be heterodox is certain, but whether that equates to heresy is another matter. I am not sure if it is. Authors like Piper and the many authors in the collection of essays edited by Newman can certainly sharply disagree with him, yet not put him outside the Christian faith.

    There is of course a very large and growing body of literature on the so-called NPP, with defenders and detractors alike weighing into the debate. Wright has much to offer, even if one does not follow him fully in various areas. To agree with an author on a number of points does not mean one must agree with that writer on everything. I don’t always totally agree with myself at times!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  2. Jonathan,

    To simply dismiss Wright’s views on justification as “rubbish”, is far too harsh. By all means, disagree with him – even passionately so. But to throw an epithet like that around fails to take into account the genuine efforts on Wright’s part to understand the Pauline doctrine of justification historically.

    Thanks Bill for a great series of books.

    Scott Buchanan

  3. Wow, thanks Bill. I’m looking forward to the time when I have the time to be able to spend many hours devouring some of these works.

    If you were going to pick a few that cover the differing views in central topics in theology to begin with, which would they be?

    And… like you “I don’t always agree with myself at times!” either. It’s a bit of a worry that I always seem to lose when I argue with myself. 🙂

    Garth Penglase

  4. Jonathan,

    I find positives and negatives in some of N. T. Wright’s theology. I’m currently writing my PhD dissertation on an aspect of the historical Jesus (critique of John D. Crossan’s ideology), so I’ve covered a lot of Wright’s material. There are large sections of his three major publications that I have found insightful: The New Testament & the People of God; Jesus & the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God.

    I have a real disagreement with his views on justification and the authority of Scripture. In his book, The Last Word (HarperSanFrancisco 2005), he states that “the central claim of this book [is] that the phrase ‘authority of Scripture’ can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for ‘the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture” (p. 23). I disagree with this view. In my understanding, the Scriptures are breathed out by God and are inerrantly authoritative in the original documents.

    However, this does not prevent my gaining great value from his three major publications. But we must read all authors, including you and me, with God’s view: “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 4:1).

    I find that some of Wright’s publications are not beneficial to newer Christians. People need to be grounded in the Scriptures to be able to discern the truth from the error with him. That said, his writings are way closer to orthodoxy than, say, J. D. Crossan, Robert Funk, Marcus Borg, Burton Mack and others of the Jesus Seminar ilk. Perhaps this is what makes Wright so challenging to me. He seems to adopt similar critical methodology to the Jesus Seminar fellows but comes up with some radically different conclusions.

    By the way, have you read Appendix B of Antony Flew (with Roy Abraham Varghese), There is a God (HarperOne 2007) in which Wright has a response titled, “How do we know that Jesus existed?” (p. 187f) in which he doesn’t go directly to the NT statements to prove that Jesus is God incarnate. He appeals to 5 parallels between the OT views of God and how Jesus fulfilled them.

    To question whether Wright’s view of justification is “rubbish” seems to verge on an ad hominem fallacy.

    Thanks, Bill, for exposing us to some of the contents of provocative books.

    Spencer Gear

  5. Thanks Garth

    I wrote this elsewhere recently, and it may still apply to your question:

    If you read and master the 3-volume, 2700-page Old Testament Theology by John Goldingay, and the 2-volume, 1700-page The Indelible Image by Ben Witherington, you will be well on your way toward having a very firm grasp of biblical theology and ethics.

    They are not lightweight reading, but they cover a lot of ground.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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