June 9, 2021

Basic Theological Texts for Growing Systematic Theologians

Scripture is normative for our theology and must remain our everyday text, as one of my PhD students, the leading Dalit theologian, Binu C. Paul, recently noted here. As embodied persons living in history, moreover, we would be wise to read the Bible with other saints from throughout the history of Christianity. Paul noted the Holy Spirit does not restrict himself to certain believers (1 Cor 7:40). Moreover, the same Holy Spirit who inspired the biblical text (2 Tim 3:16) illumines the perfect Word of God to believers in every age. The Apostle thus considered "private interpretations" theologically dubious (2 Pet 1:19-21).

Often, I am asked by young theologians who attend my lectures and wish to move further in their theological studies, "What should I read next?" In response, I refer them to texts which have shaped classical Christianity and the various Reformation traditions as well as the Baptist tradition. (On the treasures which Baptists have accessed in classical Christianity, see this helpful text edited by Matthew Emerson, Chris Morgan, and Luke Stamps.)

Recently asked by a student for such a list, I offered the following 15 writers with their basic texts. These are the leading writings from the history of the Church which I recommend every rising theologian read. It is becoming increasingly obvious with novel systematic theologians today that they could have avoided theological error, such as denying the eternal generation of the Son of God, if they had first immersed themselves in the basic theological treasures of the past.

None of the following basic theological texts are sufficient; none are perfect, not even together; for only Scripture is sufficient and perfect. But in the midst of reading the tested exegesis of Scripture offered by those Christians who have preceded us, we learn a thing or two which keep us from the errors and heresies which may crop up among those who neglect to listen to the Spirit's witness through the ages. Enjoy!

  1. Athanasius, On the Incarnation
  2. Gregory of Nazianzus, Five Theological Orations
  3. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions and On Christian Teaching
  4. Gregory, On Pastoral Rule
  5. Anselm, Monologion and Cur Deus Homo
  6. Martin Luther, On Christian Freedom
  7. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1
  8. The Heidelberg Catechism
  9. Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor
  10. Philip Jacob Spener, Pia Desideria
  11. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship
  12. J.I. Packer, Knowing God
  13. John Stott, The Cross of Christ
  14. Paul Fiddes, Tracks & Traces
  15. Scott Swain, The Trinity: An Introduction

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