The Top Theology Books of 2017

Were you given an Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift card, but don’t know what […]

Todd Brewer / 12.28.17

Were you given an Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift card, but don’t know what to spend it on? Or perhaps you’re a bibliophile like me and have an insatiable appetite for the latest and greatest theology books. In either case, I’ve got just the list for you: the top Mockingbird theology books from 2017. Click here to read last year’s list.

Books on St. Paul

Paul and the Person: Reframing Paul’s Anthropology by Susan Grove Eastman

This is a fantastic book. According to Eastman, Paul believed that one’s identity is irreducibly social, determined by the influence of external powers—whether it be sin/flesh or Christ/Spirit. But perhaps most interestingly, Eastman places this apocalyptic battlefield for the self in dialogue with the worlds of diverse science, psychology, and philosophy. The Paul that emerges from this conversation is surprisingly contemporary. It’s been quite a long time since anyone attempted a sustained discussion of Paul’s understanding of personal identity, and Eastman’s book is a welcome addition.

Reading Paul With the Reformers: Reconciling Old and New Perspectives by Stephen Chester

For far too long, New Testament scholarship has employed the terms “Lutheran” or “Reformation” as pejorative slurs, and most who do so have barely read Luther. Chester is not uncritical of the Reformers, yet their readings of Paul are largely vindicated. It turns out that Luther and his theological heirs weren’t idiots. Not only that, but in his own reading of Paul, Chester offers a compelling rapprochement between forensic and participationist understandings of justification. This is a careful study and monumental achievement.

Paul: A Very Brief History by John Barclay

If the above two books seem a little too heavy, try this one on for size. Barclay offers a readable and mercifully short introduction to Paul’s life that is full of incisive observations and careful conclusions.

Theology Books

God and Soul Care: The Therapeutic Resources of the Christian Faith by Eric Johnson

I can’t recommend this book enough. On the one hand, it elaborates the essentials of Christian faith in terms of their therapeutic worth—what it means to you and I in our daily life and self-understanding. It seems that theology doesn’t have to be boring. On the other hand, Johnson also provides a needed bridge between the world of modern psychology and Christian theology. That may sound bizarre, but trust me, it’s not.

The Necessary Distinction: A Continuing Conversation on Law and Gospel

Essential reading for anyone wanting to keep up to date with the current Lutheran debates about Law and Gospel. Spoiler alter: the third use of the law is still a touchy subject.

Between Wittenberg and Geneva: Lutheran and Reformed Theology in Conversation by Robert Kolb and Carl Trueman

The debates between Lutherans and Reformed types have long been polemical and unhelpful for understand either tradition. For example, consubstantiation isn’t what Lutherans believe about the eucharist, but a pejorative term used by the Reformed. This book offers a much-needed charitable dialogue that sympathetically clarifies the similarities and differences between the two traditions and their indebtedness to scripture.

Honorable Mention: The Epistle to the Ephesians by Karl Barth. There’s new Barth out there?!? For the insatiable fan of him, I present to you these recently translated lectures. The introductory essays by the Francis Watson and the late John Webster are also a huge bonus.

Books by Former Mockingbird Speakers

Reformation Anglicanism: A Vision for Today’s Global Communion

This edited volume features three essays by Ashley Null that are worth the price of the book itself, particularly the chapter “The Power of Unconditional Love in the Anglican Reformation.” Null is not only the world’s leading expert on the Anglican Reformation, his genuine love of the subject is infectious.

True Stories: And Other Essays by Francis Spufford

A cornucopia of personal stories and essays that derive from his previous books, ranging from Soviet Russia to theological essays that always offer a unique vantage point to familiar terrain. If you love Spufford’s writing, then getting this is a no-brainer.

Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty: A Reappraisal by Mark Mattes

More than a study of Luther’s appreciation of music or icons, Mattes studies the concept and motif of beauty in Luther’s thought. Approaching his theology from the perspective of beauty, Mattes provides fresh language to Luther’s familiar, if not worn out, themes of sin, grace, and redemption. If you’re feeling some 500th anniversary Luther-fatigue—but still love Luther—this is the book for you.

Mockingbird-Approved Miscellany

Monsters: Addiction, Hope, Ex-girlfriends, and Other Dangerous Things by Daniel van Voorhis

I found this to be a fun read. Not necessarily because of the fascinating plot or subject matter (alcoholism and addiction isn’t quite the laughing matter), but because other characters in the story get to footnote and critique the narrator’s retelling of events. The disconnect is a humorously harrowing judgment on self-delusion.

With My Own Eyes by Bo Giertz

A fresh re-telling of the life of Jesus from the perspective of a variety of characters in the story. The result is something that feels familiar and foreign at the same time. Click here for our full review.

Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul by Chad Bird

What happens when you know all the right answers, but your life (and faith) falls apart anyway? If that sounds like a fascinating read, then this is the book for you.

The Man Who Met God in a Bar by Robert Farrar Capon

Shameless self-promotion, I know. But Capon’s fiction deserves every bit of posthumous recognition it gets!

subscribe to the Mockingbird newsletter


2 responses to “The Top Theology Books of 2017”

  1. Reading your blurb on “Of God and Soul Care” I’m reminded of a book you may have missed this year, but absolutely essential reading and along the same lines “Of Good Comfort” by Stephen Pietsch. He takes a look at Luther’s soul care and how he dealt with depression or melancholy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *