Friday 16 December 2005

Essential books for theological studies

Jim and Sean have posted their lists of “twenty essential books” for biblical studies. So I tried to come up with a parallel list of 20 essential books for theological studies. When I saw that there were already about 50 books on my list, I cut out as many as I could. But, as you can see, I still ended up with 25 instead of 20. Here they are (ordered roughly by chronology, not by importance!):

1. A good collection of creeds and confessions (e.g. Schaff)
2. A good history of dogma (e.g. Harnack or Seeberg)
3. Athanasius, On the Incarnation
4. Augustine, Confessions
5. Anselm, Cur deus homo
6. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae
7. Luther, Bondage of the Will
8. Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion
9. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
10. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion
11. Schleiermacher, Brief Outline on the Study of Theology
12. Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith
13. Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript
14. Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy
15. Karl Barth, Romans
16. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics
17. Rudolf Bultmann, essays (collected in Glauben und Verstehen, and translated in various English volumes)
18. Karl Rahner, The Trinity
19. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord
20. Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics
21. Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope
22. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man
23. Hans Küng, The Church
24. T. F. Torrance, Theological Science
25. Eberhard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World


Anonymous said...

Good list. I would have added Gunton's 'The One, the Three, and the Many' perhaps, and is #16 cheating? That's a lot of volumes!

I would love to see the rest of your list.

Anonymous said...

Good 20 - but to continue tim's cheating . . .

What, no Hegel?
(Grudgingly)Tillich's "Systematic Theology"
Something from Bonhoeffer for his sheer influence.
And as a contemporary block-buster and trend-setter, Milbank's "Theology and Social Theory"

Anonymous said...

Oops - sorry I missed the Hegel! Slot in, then, Wittgenstein's "Philosophical Investigations" - the "linguistic turn" and all that - Yale School, Hauerwas, Cambridge theologians (and not just RO, but, e.g. Rowan Williams), RCs like Lash and Kerr, et. al.

T.B. Vick said...

wow, awesome list . . . the only thing off the top of my head that I would add is Pascal's Pensees

Anonymous said...

Ben, that's a pretty good list, but rather than Harnack, a much better history of dogma is Jaroslav Pelikan's.

Anonymous said...

I was unimpressed with Otto's THE IDEA OF THE HOLY when I read it a few years ago in college. Surely you could think of something better. The same goes for Luther's BONDAGE OF THE WILL. I like the rest of the list -- although my list, of course, would be quite different and would include Pascal and Newman.

Anonymous said...

From Calvin to Barth, there is an almost 400-year gap of true theologians on this list...

Bellarmine? Alphonsus Liguori? Canisius?

Liguori is so despised by the "Theological elites" today... Poor Liguori... At least, he's in Heaven...

Fred said...

#19 - is this cheating? Do you mean to include the whole trilogy, Theological Aesthetics, Theologics, and Theo-Dramatics? If so, have you read all these volumes?

Ben Myers said...

Thanks to all of you for your wise and thoughtful comments. Several of the books you suggested were nearly on this list, but were deleted at the last moment to shorten the list (and yes, it was especially painful to delete Pascal).

As one comment says, Pelikan's history of dogma is superb, lucid and scholarly -- this is in fact my own favourite history of dogma, but I forgot to mention it!

Kevin, I don't blame you for being unimpressed by R. Otto's book -- but I was compiling a list of important books, not necessarily a list of my personal favourites.

Tim and Fred: yes, I suppose it's cheating to include so many volumes by Barth and so many by Balthasar (and I really wanted to include Rahner's collected essays -- but I thought this would be too much cheating!). I don't think someone has to read all of this in order to study theology: but I still think they are "essential works", so that the aim should be at least to read some of the volumes (e.g. Barth's I/1 and Balthasar's Seeing the Form).

Anyway, I hope I will be forgiven for omitting anyone's favourite authors! If you want to see a whole bunch of the books that very nearly made it on to my list, check out the Pontificator's alternative list at My only grievance against the Pontificator is that he omitted Rahner from his list (which is like omitting the elephant from the zoo).

New Catholic said...

I finally completed my list of essentials here:

I stopped in the 1920s because I do not feel confident enough about works beyond that date (and have not read enough of them...)

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