Transformative Christian Books

A former student recently asked me to give him: “a list of Christian books that have significantly shaped your theology and thinking.” I took the task seriously, particularly because the young man in question is a very smart and extremely mature high school senior. It was fun thinking through the different books that either shaped me into or simply reflect my “flavor” of Christian theology and so I thought I would share. Here is the list I came up with along with a quick explanation for each book that made it on the list:

#1: The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder
This is the book that got me thinking about taking the Gospel’s messages seriously, particularly Jesus’ ethic of nonviolence. 

#2: Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright
A great synthesis of biblical Christian eschatology – emphasizing the resurrection & new creation, in a world full of vague hopes for heaven, Left-Behind & Harold Camping. 

#3: The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith
I read this after losing my faith in “biblicism” – but it is an enjoyable read and a clear presentation of all that is wrong with claims to biblical literalism.

#4: Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon
Like Yoder’s book, this is the book that got me thinking seriously about the church and its proper role in the world.

#5: The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? by David Bentley Hart
This is a beautifully written book addressing the problem of evil through the lens of The Brothers Karamazov and the Asian tsunami in 2004. Interesting fact: I disagreed with most of the book when I first read it in an undergrad course. But, I’ve re-read it almost 10 times since then and each time I find it more powerful.

#6: Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? (A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity) by J.R. Daniel Kirk
Like Smith’s book on the Bible, I came across this book long after being convinced of the importance of Jesus & the Gospels in any New Testament Theology. However, this is a good read that synthesizes Paul and Jesus with a satisfying theological vision.

What about you?
What book would you recommend to a young person who asked you for a challenging and significant Christian text?

8 thoughts on “Transformative Christian Books

  1. I have to mention the following titles are being most influential in my theological development:

    1) *Mere Christianity* by C. S. Lewis. Exceptionally influential in my conversion to Christianity midway through my senior year in college.

    2) *Triune Identity* by Robert W. Jenson. Jens made sense of the Trinity for me. Although I no longer follow him in his rejection of divine impassibility and immutability, this title remains, for me, one of the best presentations of the Trinity of which I’m acquainted.

    3) *The Trinitarian Faith* by T. F. Torrance. After reading this book I was “stuck” on the Church Fathers. I may no longer accept some of his interpretations of the patristic material; but this remains a book I continue to grab off my library shelf.

    4) *The Eucharist* by Alexander Schmemann. There’s just no other book like this. It’s hard to describe. One day I hope to have assimilated Schmemann’s sacramental vision and to be able to articulate it in words.

    5) *Christ, the Christian and the Church* by E. L. Mascall. This was one of my first “serious” theological books that I read. My parish priest gave it to me after I started attending the Episcopal Church immediately after college. Mascall’s Anglican Thomism remains an influence upon my theological reflection.

    6) *The Bride of the Lamb* by Sergius Bulgakov. I jumped ahead to the third book of Bulgakov’s Great Trilogy in order to read the long section on eschatology. This is the most powerful presentation of apokatastasis ever written. This book is a theological and mystical masterpiece.


    1. Thanks for adding to the list – these are some heavy hitting additions. I’m adding a few to my reading list! Lewis is obviously a classic – I’m also a huge fan of Torrance and Jensen. Haven’t read his Triune Identity yet, though. I’ve also been meaning to read Schmemann – see below, Michael recommended him as well!

      Thanks again!


  2. _Spaces for the Sacred_ by Philip Sheldrake
    _For the Life of the World_ by Alexander Schmemann
    _Chance or the Dance?_ by Thomas Howard

    There are many, many more, but those are the three books that are usually not on anyone else’s list.


  3. Messianic Exegesis by Donald Juel
    Does a great job in showing how there was messianic passages acknowledged by everyone before the NT was written. It also makes a great argument why Christians would use passages not Messianic but can be justified by current hermeneutical principles

    2 Corinthians by Christian Kling
    A 19th century work not properly mined in current commentaries to the detriment of current studies. Everyone needs to go back to it and consult it every time one studies 2 Cor.

    The Jewish Study Bible esp the notes on Leviticus. Many commentaries do not even consider the great points that are brought up in the notes!


    1. Hey – thanks for the comment. I haven’t read either of those two works, but I do have the Jewish Study Bible here in my office (somewhere! can’t seem to find it under piles right now… haha!).



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