The Books for Life website includes book recommendations and Christian leaders talking about their 3 books. This inspired me to do the same, not least as books have always been important to me. On which note, I have clearly cheated and written about (more than) 6 books, and frankly it was hard getting it down to so few…
1. Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit by F F Bruce
A thoughtful, detailed account of Paul’s life and thought. It was one of the first ‘proper’ biblical studies book that I read after I became a Christian and it enriched my understanding of the Bible, of theology, and also opened a window on the world of taking the Bible seriously and the importance of reading it and reading round it.
In many ways it has probably now been replaced by J Dunn’s excellent The Theology of Paul the Apostle, which does the same sort of thing, although with somewhat more focus on his theology and less on integrating that with his life, than Bruce did. It also has, in the best traditions of academia, footnotes that occasionally take up more of the page than the main text! But, this is a great book to get you thinking in detail about Paul’s thinking (even if you just do it a chapter or a section at a time).
2. The Archaeology of the Bible by James K Hoffmeier
Hoffmeier is an archaeologist who takes both archaeology and the Bible seriously. In this well-illustrated book he explores how archaeology illuminates that Bible, and explores some of the controversies as well. It’s a great, fairly up-to-date exploration of something that is very important to me!
In many ways, it’s an updating of Alan Millard’s Treasures from Bible Times. This was another one of the books that I read as a teenager. I was interested in archaeology and exploring my faith and this book helped me bring the two together.
3. The Mosaic of Christian Belief by Roger Olson
I discovered this book at theological college, and I’ve found it helpful ever since. Olson works his way through the main doctrines of the Christian faith, spending a chapter on each. From an open evangelical perspective, he explores why that particular doctrine is important, outlines the main points of it, explores the areas of disagreement that there have been and alternative viewpoints. He then concludes by seeking the common ground between the different Christian perspectives. It is an informed, readable and generous account of theology, why it matters and how it can unify us. I’ve found it helpful, encouraging, inspiring, and challenging.
This book also takes the space that would have previously gone to J Polkinghorne’s Science and Christian Belief. In this book Polkinghorne explored different parts of the Apostle’s Creed from a scientist-theologian’s perspective. It’s not as readable as Olson, but takes seriously both science and faith, and helped me to integrate them, as well as giving me a much greater appreciation of the Creed.
What have I missed? Well, for a start, anything by Tow Wright, who has written a whole shelf-full of excellent books himself. In particular, When God became King and Mere Christianity are very helpful, as is his epic Christian Origins series (which I’ve written a bit about).
Nothing, either, by Rowan Williams, or C S Lewis – whose Mere Christianity, and The Screwtape Letters gave me a great basis for my Christian thinking. I still refer back to bits of those. (For example, in my sermon on Persevering)
So, those are my top
ten six three (!) books! What are yours?