The Top Theology Books of 2013

In keeping with our year-end tradition, here is a list of the top Mockingbird theology […]

Todd Brewer / 12.31.13


In keeping with our year-end tradition, here is a list of the top Mockingbird theology books of 2013 – and I must say it’s been quite the year! For fun, I’ve categorized them according to the most fitting high school stereotypes.

The Jocks (Books by Superstar Scholars)

Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking A Pauline Theme by Stephen Westerholm – A great introduction to the recent debate on the doctrine of Justification (specifically the New Perspective on Paul). Westerholm looks at several prominent figures in the field (Stendahl, Dunn, Wright, Campbell) and provides a stirring defense of a “Lutheran” Paul.

friday-night-lightsJustification and the Gospel: Understanding the Contexts and Controversies by Michael Allen – This impressive work uniquely places the doctrine of justification in conversation with Biblical studies and the wider field of systematic theology.

Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective by Francis Watson. A book that narrates the formation of the fourfold Gospel canon from the earliest Jesus traditions to its canonization in Irenaeus. The book is as ambitious as it is long, with several consequences for canonical unity, historical Jesus studies, and the role of non-canonical Gospels.

Honorable Mentions: Comfortable Words: Essays in Honor of Paul F.M. Zahl, edited by John D. Koch and (um) myself. Forgive the not-so-veiled self-promotion! Featuring an impressive list of contributors (James Dunn, Jürgen Moltmann, 2014 Mockingbird Conference speaker Ashley Null and former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey – to name a handful), as well as compelling essay topics, and a can’t-miss retrospective from Paul Zahl himself, I can’t say enough about this book.

Reading the Gospels Wisely by Jonathan Pennington. A great book on how to best interpret the Gospels according to their narrative and theological contexts. The section on preaching is particularly useful and reflects a good deal of hermeneutical depth.

The Cool Kids (Books with Wide Appeal)

One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian – This former Mockingbird speaker keeps churning out outstanding, accessible, provocative, grace-filled books, and One Way Love may be his best yet. Tullian articulates the Gospel of Grace in its purest form, 200-proof, without reservation or compromise! Its exceptional clarity, copious illustrations, and courageous vulnerability are what make OWL our favorite “mass market” book of the year. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we get so many shout-outs…!

My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman – An earnest exploration of Christianity by a poet recently diagnosed with cancer. Contains a wealth of thought-provoking reflections as Wiman grapples with the language and dynamics of faith amid persisting doubt. See here and here for more on Wiman’s work.


PZ’s Panopticon by Paul F.M. Zahl – It’s been 7 years since PZ’s last book, and it was well worth the wait. The Panopticon explores a variety of world religions from the perspective of what they have to say to the near-dead man on the operating table. Which probably makes it sound heavier than it actually reads. We are biased of course, but it’s about as funny a book on world religion as one is ever likely to find. As one reviewer on Amazon writes, “this book is not so much a ‘systematic’ anything, but functions like a wise and witty `traveler’s guide’ to life, love, and God.” PZ’s discussion of the atonement is worth the price of the book alone. For more info, see here.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber. A spiritual memoir from a foul-mouthed, grace-loving ELCA Lutheran pastor. This riveting account isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a fantastic portrayal of what happens when the Gospel is preached into the “messiest” of places. If you liked our Grace in Addiction this may be a perfect sequel.

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford – Released in the UK last year (and making it on to last year’s “best theology books” list), its publication in the US merits another mention here – the book is just that good. Spufford offers an almost irresistible portrayal of Christian faith without getting bogged down by apologetic arguments. Oh, and did I mention he’s a speaker at the 2014 Mockingbird Conference? Read part of our interview with him here.

Honorable Mentions: Flannery O’Connor’s recently discovered/published A Prayer Journal. Surprise!

The Mockingbird Devotional – 450+ pages of everything you’ve come to love about Mockingbird (fun pop-culture, theology, and a disdain for abstraction) packed into a year-long Bible devotional.

The Honors Students (Recently Published Ph.D Theses Worth Reading)

God, Grace, and Righteousness in Wisdom of Solomon and Paul’s Letter to the Romans by Jonathan Linebaugh. If you can bear the sticker price, you’ll be generously rewarded by this outstanding and surprisingly fun book. Linebaugh reads the letter to the Romans with the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon, highlighting both convergences and Romans’ radical emphasis on the justification of the ungodly. It even includes quotes from Pascal, Bob Dylan, and George Eliot.

Paul and the Early Jewish Encounter with Deuteronomy by David Lincicum. This study seeks to understand Paul’s use of the book of Deuteronomy by way of a comparison with his fellow Jewish interpreters, such as Qumran, Philo, and Josephus. The Paul that emerges is one who shares with his fellow Jews a similar interest and approach to Deuteronomy, while also highlighting Paul’s distinctive reading – one that sees it testifying to God’s unilateral saving act in Christ.

The Rising Freshmen (Books to be Published Next Year)

Cory Matthews

The Early Luther: Stages in a Reformation Reorientation by Berndt Hamm (to be published Jan 4, 2014). For Luther buffs, this newly translated work seeks to place Luther within his late-medieval context and then understand how he shifted in his thought to become the great Reformer.

The Second Letter to the Corinthians by Mark Seifrid (to be published May 31, 2014). A significant commentary on a much-overlooked Pauline book, this promises to be a masterful exposition. Seifrid’s previous work “Christ Our Righteousness” explored Paul’s doctrine of justification.

Paul and the Gift by John Barclay (publication date TBD, for a talk on the topic see here). This long awaited tome seeks to compare and contrast Paul’s doctrine of grace with his Jewish contemporaries. While many Jewish writers used the word “grace” (χάρις), Paul alone preached an unconditioned grace that is specifically directed to the unworthy. This book will make waves!