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Best Theology Books: Top 10 of All Time

Best theology books lead to the written word of God and then to the Living Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

My last blog article was a menu of 29 books on theology that have blessed me for over 75 years.

Theology can often become very intellectual, an output of the mind, but first, God’s truth must reside in the heart, truth in both principle and in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ*.

That criterion has been important in choosing these “best theology books.”

*means there is a biography of this person in my book SPIRITUAL LIVES.

Each of the theologians/authors here had a personal saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and He has touched each one with His love and grace. He will touch you too as you seek Him.

Confessions of Augustine:* (397-400)

The great Roman teacher and philosopher lays out some of the BASIC DOCTRINES OF OUR FAITH, that God is all-powerful, that we have sinned against Him, and that we are saved by grace through faith. It is the first literary effort to present the necessity of salvation, of conversion, of being cleansed of our sins by the blood of Jesus Christ,* and becoming members of His church.

It is the first masterpiece of philosophy, theology, and literature with a good narrative and interesting characters that is easy to read. I first read it in my high school English class. -352 pages

Why the top 10?

Confessions was the first important book on theology, and that carries weight. So does its longevity. It has been central to all Christian theology for 1600 years. It also introduced a philosophical and theological culture to the Roman Catholic Church which was not seen before. It was this theological distinctiveness that eventually caused “the great schism” between Catholicism and Orthodoxy (1054), but both churches honor the doctrines Confessions set forth and hold to them today.

Augustine powerfully influenced Martin Luther,* John Calvin,*and the Reformed Protestant Churches. Like Augustine, Luther was converted by reading the Book of Romans but took faith as his guiding point and used it to defy the Pope.

Calvin took Augustine’s doctrines of original sin and the omnipotence of God to develop 5 points of doctrine that became known as TULIP, the backbone of Calvinism and the Reformed Protestant Churches.

The Consolation of Philosophy (523) by Boethius*

It has been described as the single MOST IMPORTANT AND INFLUENTIAL work in the West on Medieval and early Renaissance Christianity and the last great Western work of the Classical Period. It introduced the Great Chain of Being into Christianity, which became the center of theological thought for a thousand years. -155 pages

Why Top 10?

Boethius* was the wisest man of his time. He translated Aristotle and Plato into Latin and commented on both. He introduced the terminology of philosophy to the Church and changed the direction of its focus and authority from local to central.

By far the most influential philosopher of the Middle Ages, Boethius introduced God and Jesus to the Great Chain of Being. In it, everything and everyone had a place in the divine order. The Chain was accepted by everyone even more than the 20th century accepted the structure of evolution.

Evolution may have been the single most seismic shift of the Enlightenment, ousting God, kings, and order from the old paradigm and substituting chance for faith. Boethius drafted this book while awaiting execution for standing up for Jesus.

Summa Theologica (1274) by Thomas Aquinas*.

This work is a summary of the theological knowledge available to this brilliant scholar. It contains 3125 articles on theological subjects and constitutes the foundational doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. – 5 volumes – 3,020 pages

Why top 10?

It was prepared to be a textbook for his students but grew into the biggest and best systematic theology ever written and has become the basis for all theological discussion since. His goal was to explain the Bible and its doctrine, to build confidence and understanding for believers.

Its scope and thoroughness are wide and deep. The Roman Catholic Church named Aquinas a Doctor of the Church and adopted the Summa as its primary doctrine. Brilliant as he and his work are, they are too much for the ordinary reader.

The doctrines and arguments are stately and formidable and clothe the Church with an aura of stability, dignity, and solemnity. While this gave stability and authority to the Church it also put distance between the Bible and ordinary Believers. Nevertheless, it remains the greatest and best book on theology to the present time.

Thomas himself was a deeply spiritual man. Jesus appeared to him more than once, and he wrote one of the oldest and certainly most beautiful hymns ever written, Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels). If you have never heard it, please listen here .

Book of Common Prayer(1549) by Thomas Cranmer*

The most important book ever published next to the Bible, this was the first prayer book in English. Beautifully written and designed around the scriptures, with texts and prayers for every day of the year. Designed for worship and personal devotions.

The 39 articles are the best statement of Protestant theology. 1100 pages, 39 ARTICLES – 6 pages

Why top 10?

Next to the Bible, it is the most important and influential book ever published. Used, loved, and experienced by hundreds of millions since its publication in 1549, still in use by 85 million Anglicans today.

Cranmer lived through the Reformation, starting as a Roman Catholic priest and serving as both Catholic and Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury. It was he who created the Protestant Church of England in beautiful thought and language. He gave his life to Jesus during his life and at his death when he was burned at the stake.

Institutes of the Christian Religion (1560), John Calvin*.

The greatest theological treatise of all time. The Institutes is the definitive theology of reformed Christianity. Wikipedia calls it the “seminal work of systematic theology.” By far the most influential work of Protestant theology. I was introduced to it in a French Literature course in my college days. - 920 pages

Why top 10?

From this book, the famous TULIP understanding of salvation came. It is not only the most famous but the most often seen framework in discussions of theology and has been for more than 500 years. Abstracted from the Institutes, this framework seems not only formidable but hard and unyielding. It has given millions the idea that Calvin and His God are hard and inhuman.

Jonathan Edwards turned against this hard, implacable God, and John Wesley said of the Calvinist God, “Your God is my devil!” Both they and we miss Calvin’s understanding of a glorious, loving, and caring Father. We see Calvin the lawyer, the theologian, the disciplining churchman, not as the loving pastor, husband, and father.

Edwards came to see God as Calvin did and was gloriously saved and transformed. John Piper has read the Institutes with that benevolent, loving, and joyful understanding of God that Calvin has and shares it with us in “Was Calvin a Christian Hedonist?”

Reticent in nature and scholarly in habit, Calvin’s cold façade gets between us and his pastoral heart and love for Jesus and the lost. He sent one hundred missionaries into France after he was driven out and labored ceaselessly to build our faith and church.

History of the Work of Redemption (1739) by Jonathan Edwards*

Edwards explains that man, the world, and everything that exists was created for one purpose:

the work of Jesus Christ to bring salvation to the world.

The scope covers God’s work from before the foundation of the world to its completion when Jesus comes again. It is a breathtaking book, inspiring and encouraging as it shows us the magnificence of the Lord Jesus and the priceless value of our souls. Not an easy read, but worth the effort. -286 pages

Why top 10 ?

The scope of this work and the depth of its understanding is greater than any book of theology I know. The core idea is one first stated by Irenaeus* (130-202):

For inasmuch as He had a pre-existence as a saving Being, it was necessary that what might be saved should also be called into existence, in order that the Being who saves should not exist in vain. ---Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.22.3.

The point is that Jesus existed before we did, in fact before matter did. Everything and everyone that exists or existed was created (called into existence) for Jesus, so that He could save us. Edwards understood this and presented Biblical and World history and prophecy in an inspiring narrative from the Fall to Christ’s eternal kingdom.

It qualifies as top 10 on scope alone, buttressed by Edwards’ testimony:

A true and faithful Christian does not make holy living an accidental thing. It is his great concern. As the business of the soldier is to fight, so the business of the Christian is to be like Christ. —Jonathan Edwards

The Sacrament of the Present Moment, (1861) by Jean Pierre de Chausade, (1675-1751) t

Practical theology is what we find here --the importance of living every moment for God and trusting Him for all. The most powerful teaching in my adult life. -128 pages

Why top 10?

This book came into my life when I was 50 (1996), when I was anxious about a lot of things, and disappointed in many aspects of life. My problem was giving myself too important a place in my life. Much of my time was spent regretting the past and worrying about the future, and I was not even conscious of the present moment.

The subtitle of Sacrament of the Present Moment is Abandonment to Divine Providence, and that is the message, concisely. Jesus loves me, and He oversees all things. Nothing surprises Him, and He is working all things together for our good. My biggest takeaway from this theology book was this quote about the forces working against me, especially those I regard as enemies:

They are the galley slaves who bring the ship into port with hard rowing.

He goes on to explain:

All obstacles turn to the good of this soul, and by allowing its enemies a free hand, it obtains a continual service, so sufficing that all it has to fear is lest it should itself take part in a work of which God would be principal, and His enemies the agents, and in which it has nothing to do but to peacefully observe the work of God, and to follow with simplicity the attractions He gives it.

Christianity and Liberalism, (1923) by J. Gresham Machen*.

This classic defense of orthodox Christianity was written to counter the liberalism that arose in the early 1900s. Machen establishes the importance of scriptural doctrine and contrasts the teachings of liberalism and orthodoxy on God and man, the Bible, Christ, salvation, and the church – 176 pages

Why top 10?

This book came out at a critical time in the early 20th century when Protestant churches were stepping back from teaching the Gospel and from preaching Jesus’ atonement for our sins.

Whole denominations were appointing ministers whose desire was to make accommodations for Darwinism by surplanting the teaching of the Bible with a social gospel focused on the ideas of man, not turning away from God. but erasing Him from the picture.

Machen stood alone against this. Having to withdraw from institutions he had given his life to, the Presbyterian Church and Princeton Seminary, he refused to compromise and started the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Theological Seminary.

He was a hero and warrior, a true Christian soldier, responsible for stemming the tide of modernism and reclaiming the central doctrines of the Gospel and the Bible.

Christ the Healer, (1924) F.F. Bosworth

This is the best book other than the Bible on healing and divine health. Bosworth really explains God’s heart and intentions for His people to be well and free of sickness and disease in a quite simple but also profound way. My family grew up with this book which has helped me trust Jesus for many healings, including asthma and throat cancer, and for healing of my children too. Jesus is our Healer! -247 pages

Why top 10?

Divine healing seized centerstage in the 19th century with the ministry of John Alexander Dowie. Although thousands were healed, the press and medical profession constantly attacked and mocked it.

Nevertheless, the healing ministry continued and thousands more were healed via the ministries of A.B. Simpson, Aimee Semple McPherson*, and John G. Lake. Bosworth continued in their train and conducted big tent revivals and healing radio broadcasts but is best known for publishing his book, Christ the Healer. It included five of his sermons but also a full review of the Bible’s teaching that healing is a part of the Gospel and what God wants for His people.

Divine healing is as important a part of the Pentecostal movement as speaking in tongues, and millions have been healed and millions more come to Jesus because of it. Although Pentecostal people are by far the largest segment of the Christian church, they are very underrepresented in books on theology. Bosworth provided such representation.

Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (1979) by Francis Schaeffer*.

The last modern theologian, Schaeffer cried out against abortion, euthanasia, and humanism in this call to action that set my heart on fire. Must-read. -256 pages

Why top 10 ?

When the modernists abandoned the Bible, so were Biblical standards. While Protestant pulpits were silent, Schaeffer boldly pointed out that “The wide-open door of abortion-on-demand leads naturally to infanticide which leads naturally to euthanasia.”

Schaeffer points out the absolute necessity for Christians to uphold the standards of the Bible, to live by the compassion of Jesus, and to value all human lives as He does. He underscores the importance of God as Creator:

“If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity.”

Thank God we have just seen Roe v Wade overturned. Schaeffer would have rejoiced. He played a laudable role in speaking out and calling us all to reject secular humanism and live for Jesus with all our hearts.

The last word on the top 10 Best Theology Books

“Top 10” lists are short-lived. Many are weekly, others yearly, and a few over longer periods. These Top 10 cover 1700 years, and I believe they will hold because they are all based on the Word of God.

Get what you can from these books. They all point you to Jesus and all are built upon the Bible, the Word of God. Spend more time there than on these. Spend more time still with Jesus who loves you and wants to come into your heart and life and fill you with His Holy Spirit You can start right now! Just ask Him to come.

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