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I got an unusual number of personal responses from last week’s post about reading over your head. One pastor in particular asked a terrific question: what books do you recommend? I love to talk books so I thought I’d answer his question with another blog post. I’ll limit myself to contemporary authors and roughly contemporary books that feel a notch or two (or three) above the popular level.

Read whatever you can in the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series (edited by D.A. Carson). I’ve read Alan Thompson on Acts, Tim Laniak on pastoral ministry, Kostenberger and O’Brien on mission, Craig Blomberg on money and possessions, Mark Seifrid on the righteousness of God, David Peterson on holiness, and Mark Thompson on the clarity of Scripture.

In the same genre, but more all encompassing, try Greg Beale’s magnum opus, A New Testament Biblical Theology.

Also, read everything in the IVP Contours of Theology Series. Pure gold. I have Bray on the doctrine of God, Letham on the work of Christ, Helm on providence, Ferguson on the Holy Spirit, MacLeod on the person of Christ, and Clowney on the Church.

For big books on mission, you’ll learn a lot from Eckhard Schnabel (both Early Christian Mission and Paul the Missionary). And speaking of mission, the best full length treatment I know of on the Insider Movement is Doug Coleman’s dissertation A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm.

I have all seven volumes of Hughes Oliphant Old’s magisterial work The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. I’ve read one or two volumes most of the way through and have enjoyed dipping into the others. A great reference work and not hard to read.

Every pastor should read David Wells. Start with either the first or the last of his five theological-sociological works: No Place for Truth, God in the Wasteland, Losing our Virtue, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, The Courage to be Protestant.

The next time you get an itch to read a biography, try one of the more scholarly ones (even if you don’t agree with every thing). Maybe Marsden on Jonathan Edwards or Oberman on Luther or Bruce Gordon on Calvin.

Gary Dorrien’s three volume work on The Making of American Liberal Theology is invaluable.

The “Cambridge Companion” volumes are helpful, like the Cambridge Companion to the Scottish Enlightenment and the one on The Puritans.

Mike Horton has a heady four volume theology series which is much less well known than his popular works. The volumes are Covenant and Eschatology, Lord and Servant, Covenant and Salvation, and People and Place.

Robert George and Jean Bethke Elshtain have edited an important book on The Meaning of Marriage. You may also want to read the new book What Is Marriage by Gergis, Anderson, and George. And for the world’s expert on homosexuality in the Bible, pick up Robert Gagnon’s masterpiece The Bible and Homosexual Practice.

Okay, it’s getting too difficult for me to categorize everything, so here we go with a haphazard list of some deep-end books. I trust the title will give you an idea as to the content of each:

Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, 1689-1765
Robert Letham, The Wesminster Assembly
Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity
Lyle Bierma, An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism
Nicolaas Grootjes, The Belgic Confession
Oliver Crip and Doug Sweeney (eds.), After Jonathan Edwards
Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards
Paul Helseth, Right Reason and the Princeton Mind
Seyoon Kim, Christ and Caesar
Carl Trueman and R. Scott Clark (eds.), Protestant Scholasticism
Paul Helm and Carl Trueman (eds.), The Trustworthiness of God
David Van Drunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
Fred Zaspel, The Theology of B.B. Warfield
William Van Doodewaard, The Marrow Controversy and Seceder Tradition
Thomas Weinandy, Does God Suffer?
Rob Lister, God Is Impassible and Impassioned

And of course, don’t forget about the two books I mentioned last week, Scott Manetsch on Calvin’s Company of Pastors and Richard Muller on Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics.

This isn’t everything I would recommend, let alone the tiniest fraction of all the good stuff out there. This is just what I came up with glancing around the bookshelves in my study. If you have a great scholarly book to recommend, feel free to mention it in the comments.

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26 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Over Your Head”

  1. John Bishop says:

    Last week’s post on this topic left me inspired but wondering which way to go. Thanks for taking this a step further. I’m only sorry that I didn’t have these suggestions before spending my birthday book budget last week! Always enjoy your blog–

  2. Sandy Grant says:

    If you’re interested in historical studies re. the NT, something like
    Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and
    Mike Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: a new historiographical approach.

  3. I’ve grown from reading straight through a commentary that’s a bit beyond me. Earlier in my ministry, it was Carson on John; now might be Beale on Revelation or Harris on 2 Corinthians.

  4. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Ah yes, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is a good recommendation. I come back to that book frequently.

  5. Ivan M says:

    Thanks for posting, Kevin.

    I was chatting it up with a fellow seminarian here at Southern the other day, talking about your exhortation to read over our heads. We both enjoyed the post. But he mentioned one other element that dovetails with your point: “Read Over Your Head … and then Talk About It with Others.”

    I have known the value of reading good books in my short life, but I have also known the rich value of it serving as a springboard for further conversation and mutual sharpening. For pastors, this can be done with fellow pastors on staff, pastors in the area, or simply men — esp. younger men — within the church who are hungry to learn and grow in their theological understanding.

    Ivan Mesa
    Louisville, Ky.

  6. Brian says:

    I would recommend Canon Revisited by Michael J Kruger.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Mr. De Young, your article last week was straight from the Lord to my heart. That very morning I had wondered if I was wasting my time by “reading over my head” and then there was your article. (I’m inching through the works of Augustine.) I’m not a pastor; just the secretary that loves to read. And now you have even provided a list of suggestions. Thank you so much! I’m excited to dig in to the ones I haven’t read yet!

  8. Brian Watson says:

    Anything by John Frame. I recently read his Doctrine on the Knowledge of God. I hope to read his other works in his Theology of Lordship series. Vern Poythress’s Redeeming Science is also a very good theology of science. Both stretched me a bit. I have Poythress’s new book on logic sitting on my shelf, to read at a later time.

    Beale’s book on the temple and the church (part of the NSBT series) is very important. I would also recommend Jim Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.

  9. *pauses to savor the full Dutch awesomeness of the name Van Doodewaard*

  10. Brian Hedges says:

    Great post! I’d add N. T. Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God series, especially the second two volumes on Jesus and the Resurrection. On the New Perspective debate, Stephen Westerholm’s Perspectives Old and New: The Lutheran Paul and his Critics, Tom Schreiner’s books on Paul and the Law; anything by Richard Gaffin; Herman Ridderbos on The Coming of the Kingdom and his book on Paul; Schreiner and Caneday’s The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance; and John Murray’s Redemption: Accomplished and Applied.

  11. Ian Lowe says:

    Thanks for sharing the helpful book list. I have been reading a work on John Wesley recently and was interested that he required his itinerant preachers to have a store of books to sell and give out to strengthen the work of the revival. In some ways it isn’t hard for me to find academic works to read but I am often challenged when it comes to thinking of more popular works that I can give or recommend to others. I am interested to hear of quality popular works that are suitable for reading and giving to the saints who are never going to be theologians, pastors etc. Works for teenagers, busy businessmen, new converts etc. It would be interesting to have a list that includes commentaries, doctrine, church history etc. The kind of reading that the saints are going to read and say, “wow!”, give me more.

  12. Daniel says:

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on works that will help keep pastors engaged in biblical languages. Do you read Hebrew and Greek reference grammars, works on textual criticism, etc?

  13. JT Caldwell says:

    In the mission category, I’d add:

    The Mission of God – Christopher J. H. Wright
    Transforming Mission – David Bosch

  14. I see that “Why We’re not Emergent” didn’t make the list. :)

  15. Adam C says:

    I’d add Jaroslav Pelikan’s 5 volume church history (“The Christian Tradition”).

  16. Dan says:

    How about Beale’s We Become What We Worship? Another is The Goldsworthy Trilogy. I appreciated Piper’s The Justification of God and Thiselton’s commentary on 1 Corinthians.

  17. Caleb Scott Roberts says:

    I definitely concur with the spirit of DeYoung’s call for us to read above our heads and this list certainly sounds like it would keep one challenged. However, I think this list also weakens the force of his original exhortation because it is so exclusively comprised of conservative Reformed theologians. Obviously, as a Reformed pastor, I’d expect the majority of his focus to be on his own tradition, but there is a lot of exciting stuff happening outside the conservative Reformed corner of the woods (which, let’s face it, is quite off the beaten path). Whether its the political theology of William Cavanaugh, the metaphysics of Radical Orthodoxy, the aesthetics of David Bentley Hart, etc, there’s a lot of challenging stuff out there outside of the contemporary Reformed world and to only call us to read the high end of our own block doesn’t go far enough.

  18. Scott C says:

    I would add John Frame’s volumes called “A Theology of Lordship.” Weighty material but a pleasure to read.

  19. Ryan Fishel says:

    I’m not sure if this recommendation is in the same class of works as those listed above, but I would recommend—

    Charity & Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards

    It’s a book I had to read and reread—during a single sitting, chipping away over a week’s time, and even picking up again after a year or two. Each time I gained a bit more insight than the last, insights into Edwards’ broad teachings on the various aspects of Christian love (1 Corinthians 13). I haven’t read anything else on love which has come close to the amount of information Edwards could pack in a single paragraph (though, his paragraphs can last a few pages ;0).

    What’s more, you’re not only challenged to better grasp Edward’s thoughts on love, time and time again you are challenged to grasp your own whirling thoughts as each truth unlocked comes back and reveals something else about your own life.

  20. David Palmer says:

    Lots of good recommendations, looking forward to reading Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors – though expensive to purchase.

    I didn’t notice Todd Billings, “Union with Christ” in the list to which can be added Billings’ earlier volume, “Calvin, Participation and the Gift”, both wonderful reads.

  21. m says:

    God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment by Jim Hamilton

  22. Dan Glover says:

    I have read some of these and agree that this is a good list. I would also want to advocate that it is just as important or perhaps more so that a pastor read before his time at least as much as he reads over his head (I’m guessing you would agree). Actually, it is very likely that a pastor who reads before his time will also find that he is often reading over his head at the same time. I’ve blogged a bit about it:
    Thanks again, Kevin

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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