The Top Theology Books of 2022

The Best of Biblical Studies, Academic Theology, Pastoral Theology, and Everything In-Between.

Todd Brewer / 12.30.22

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing this annual best-of list for 12 years now, but here we are. For a full catalog of the previous years’ lists, click here.

Biblical Studies

The Word of the Cross: Reading Paul, by Jonathan A. Linebaugh

Probably my favorite book to come out this year. The Word of the Cross traces Paul’s thought from his letters, then in comparison with his contemporaries, to his reception by the 16th century reformers Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer. In Linebaugh’s hands, Paul is not simply a distant historical figure, but a vibrant, revolutionary genius. While many scholars today are (yet again) examining the social context of Paul’s letters, Linebaugh here convincingly demonstrates and defends the existential core of Paul’s gospel both in his day and today. Alongside quotations of Martin Luther, Linebaugh freely refers to the likes of T.S. Eliot, Walker Percy, Thornton Wilder and Bob Dylan. He even manages a footnote comparing Paul’s preaching to Michael J. Fox riding in the DeLorean.

If you want a preview of the book, we published an excerpt of it earlier this year.

Romans: Text, Readers, and the History of Interpretation, by Stephen Westerholm

The scope of this book is as ambitious as it is breathtaking. In Romans, Westerholm cavorts from Origen to Barth to seemingly everyone in between. This is far more than a study of the usual suspects (Augustine, Luther, Calvin, etc. — those figures covered in an earlier book of his). The examination of oft-overlooked 17th and 18th century interpreters of Paul can be said to be a remarkable achievement. In doing so, Westerholm offers a rebuttal of the so-called “Paul Within Judaism” approach to Paul, which sees very little theological significance to Paul’s letters. One wishes there were additional concluding remarks beyond the perfunctory summary, but perhaps that will be the subject of a forthcoming commentary.

What is a Gospel?, by Francis Watson

The fourfold gospel collection of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not fall from the sky, already bound together as a coherent whole. Instead, Watson argues in this collection of essays that the four gospels’ compositions took place within a burgeoning gospel genre and it was the early readers of these gospels who elected to place these texts alongside each other (and excludes other gospel texts). Watson examines many of these noncanonical gospels while also asking bigger questions about the canonical gospels, gospel literature in general, and the interpretive process of canonization. For readers, this deep dive sheds light on potentially unfamiliar topics while simultaneously revealing new insights on the canonical gospels themselves.

Very Honorable Mention: Reading Revelation in Context, edited by Ben Blackwell, John Goodrich, and Ben Maston.


Prodigal Christ: A Parabolic Theology, by Kendall Walser Cox

A fantastic work of academic theology that examines the parable of the prodigal son through the interpretations of the parable by Karl Barth and Julian of Norwich. An admittedly odd pairing of conversation partners, but fruitful and surprising nonetheless as this familiar parable comes alive with moving profundity. The prodigal Jesus is excessively and liberally giving of himself. God’s whole being is simply grace.

12 Things God Can’t Do … and How They Can Help You Sleep at Night, by Nick Tucker

An ingenious and accessible book. Rather than outlining who God is, Tucker takes the opposite approach and asks what God can’t do. That might sound like putting things the wrong way around — except that it’s wonderfully illustrative. Like a master sculptor, Tucker chisels away at misconceptions of God to reveal who God actually is.

The Finality of the Gospel: Karl Barth and the Tasks of Eschatology, edited by Kaitlyn Dugan and Philip G. Ziegler

With a variety of essays from top scholars in the field, this book brings together the systematic theologians and Pauline scholars to discuss the exegesis and theology of Karl Barth. The interdisciplinary nature of this book alone would be an achievement, but the essays themselves are exemplary.

Seeds of Faith and Harvest of Hope, by Mark A. McIntosh and Frank Griswold

I had a few other options for the “pastoral theology” bucket on this list, but these two companion books deserves the highest praise. Published after McIntosh’s recent death from ALS, Seeds of Faith and Harvest of Hope are the final words from a learned scholar that have all the warmth and insight of the man himself. Seeds of Faith takes a more wide angle, theological approach, whereas Harvest of Hope is comprised of readings of scripture that follow the church calendar. Together, they are exemplars of mystical theology in the best and orthodox sense of the term, one that seeks to understand the reality of a loving God and its gracious implications for humanity.

Very Honorable Mention: Martin Luther and the Rule of Faith, by Todd Hains.


No Cure for Being Human, by Kate Bowler

This one is more of a memoir of Bowler’s years after her cancer diagnosis than an exclusive theology book — and yet the many wide-angle analyses and passing observations deserve the theology label. Bowler here wrestles with what it means to not simply have a body, but be a body with all its inherent limitations and foibles. Like cancer. As much as we might strive for a cure for being a body, some false sense of agency or optimism, there is none to be found. We are all “unfinished cathedrals” — finite, incomplete, broken, and yet … wonderfully unnecessary.

Regret: A Theology, by Paul J. Griffiths

In this short, but weighty, book, Griffiths seeks to identify with painstaking (but necessary) specificity the various aspects of the feeling of regret. To wish something were otherwise than it is. By comparison, the usual contrast that many writers make between guilt and shame feels juvenile and ill-conceived. Some regrets are more what Griffiths deems remorse and they lead to an endless cycle of pain. But regret can lead to a process that reorients one toward the future: contrition, genuine sorrow, confession, and repentance. Regret, in other words, is not just good, but necessary. Salvific, even.

How to Find Yourself: Why Looking Inward Is Not the Answer, by Brian Rosner

Philosopher Charles Taylor has argued that modern culture reflects what he called the “ethics of authenticity” or “expressive individualism,” the idea that the uniqueness of who you are must inform how you live. Or as we might say “you do you.” But to live out this maxim, one must first look inside themselves to find themselves if they are to know what to do with their life. This is, Rosner argues, the exact opposite direction one should look, and ultimately leads to depression and loneliness. Identity is not self-generated, but social. We do not write our own stories, but only find ourselves within the story of God’s redemptive work.

Low Anthropology: The Unlikely Key to a Gracious View of Others (and Yourself), by David Zahl

Saving the best for last? I actually separated out the “Anthropology” books to lead up to Low Anthropology. Because as I’ve seen the reviews of Zahl’s book come in, I’ve been mildly annoyed by just how little some of them grasp its major accomplishment. Depending on the reviewer, the book is either too Protestant or it’s not Protestant enough. But labels like these are of little use when accessing Low Anthropology precisely because the book goes well out of its way to avoid tired language and well-worn debates.

Rather than three separate books about finitude, sin, and expressive individualism, Zahl combines all three into a single term — low anthropology! — comprised of three pillars: limitation, doubleness, and self-centeredness. Perhaps that makes the book a little difficult to categorize, but the benefits are manifold. By aiming for a more comprehensive account of what it means to be human, Zahl hits far closer to home and the struggles of everyday life.

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2 responses to “The Top Theology Books of 2022”

  1. Andrew of MO says:

    How you did not include David Bentley Hart is beyond me. “Tradition and Apocalypse” and “You Are Gods” are two of the most remarkable books in the last few years, and both came out this year.

  2. Joey Goodall says:

    Thanks for this list, Todd! I look forward to it every year. Dave’s book us the only one I’ve read. I have the Linebaugh and knew about Kate Bowler’s book, but the others are mostly new to me.

    One that I’d like to recommend to anyone who makes it to these comments is Andy Root’s Churches & the Crisis of Decline.

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