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Pre-Seminary Reading List

Recently I was asked by a friend who is going to seminary in the next year or so to give him a list of theological books that I would recommend for reading prior to seminary.  Here’s what I gave him.  I can’t help but wonder how much better off I would have been if I had read these books before I started seminary.

  • Rowan Williams, Resurrection; The Wound of Knowledge
  • Alan Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection
  • David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite
  • Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology I & II; The Triune Identity; Story and Promise
  • Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom; A Community of Character
  • John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus; The Priestly Kingdom
  • Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society; The Household of God
  • Colin Gunton, The One, The Three, and the Many
  • William Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist; Theopolitical Imagination
  • James Torrance, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible; Mysterium Paschale
  • Chris Huebner, A Precarious Peace
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory
  • Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio; Discipleship; Ethics
  • Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology; Dogmatics in Outline

Of course, these books are really just some of the ones that I have found particularly formative and which have shaped my vision in a significant way.  They are not necessarily the most important theological books ever written, though I think they are some of the most helpful in terms of shaping the kind of theological vision I think the New Testament calls for.


  1. JBH wrote:

    While do not disagree with the substance of the books, for those who have not had significant theological (and philosophical) training “Theology and Social Theory”,
    “The Beauty of the Infinite”, and “The One the Three and the Many” will be pretty much unintelligible. When I asked Bruce Benson what he thought about “The Beauty of the Infinite” he said he didn’t finish it and thought it was virtually unintellible.

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Permalink
  2. Andy Rowell wrote:

    Delightful. Thanks.
    This isn’t a pre-seminary reading list. It is a seminary reading list! :-)

    A number of these are central here at Duke Divinity School from my brief one year here: Rowan Williams, Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, Lesslie Newbigin, William Cavanaugh, John Milbank, Richard Hays, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Karl Barth are all favorites here. Alasdair MacIntyre is the only one you are missing! Though at Regent College, where I did my MDiv, we would probably only have read Newbigin, Hays and Bonhoeffer of this group.

    Andy Rowell
    Th.D. Student
    Duke Divinity School
    Durham, North Carolina

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 5:18 pm | Permalink
  3. Hill wrote:

    I just don’t buy the “XYZ is unintelligible” line. Sure, some of these guys are hard to understand or have idiosyncratic prose. I managed to make my way through Theology and Social Theory at the tender age of 21 more or less on my own (actually with two other good friends). If a college-educated individual is incapable of gaining anything from reading Milbank or Hart, they are either allergic to dictionaries, sophisticated thought or both. Neither of which are desirable traits for a budding seminarian. Hart is actually quite readable, in my opinion. His vocabulary is just insane and he enjoys making full use of it. Conceptually, he is quite lucid.

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 5:34 pm | Permalink
  4. Hill wrote:

    Quick qualifier to my comments: some of these theologians (especially Milbank and Hart) spend a good bit of time addressing various strains of “postmodern” philosophy, which, to the uninitiated, can be somewhat impenetrable. My approach with this has always been to keep in mind that some of this philosophy may either not make sense or at least be deliberately obscurantist, and to a certain extent, you have to plow through it and allow it to soak it in through repeated exposure. They are almost always engaging it negatively, however, and Hart in particular does a great job with exposing what is coherent and what is not in a thinker like Heidegger for instance.

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 5:52 pm | Permalink
  5. Andy Rowell wrote:

    Wess Daniels, a Ph.D. student at Fuller gave his list of Summer Pre-Seminary reading for a friend entering Gordon-Conwell.

    Kyle David Bennett, a first year student at Fuller added some:

    I did as well:

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
  6. I can’t help but wonder how much better off I would have been if I had read these books before I started seminary.

    You’d be better off… and a few years older by the time you finished that list!

    Not that Andy was denigrating it, but I’ll stick up for Regent (where I just worked through an MCS) and say that I read MacIntyre, Milbank, Balthasar, Gunton, Hart, and Hauerwas during my time in Vancouver.

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  7. Connie wrote:

    Is there a reading group anywhere online, or a blog, for people reading any or all of these books? Would anyone be interested in starting one? Cheers.

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 11:32 pm | Permalink
  8. Hill wrote:

    That’s an interesting idea. I could be talked in to participating in something like that.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 12:10 am | Permalink
  9. Tony wrote:

    It does a lot of good to have Lonergan in the list, at least his “Method in Theology”. And as a further development of Lonergan’s account of the various “conversions” needed for the task of theology, Robert Doran adds “psychic conversion” and sees Lonergan’s methodological proclivities deepened by Balthasarian theological aesthetics.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 2:13 am | Permalink
  10. WTM wrote:


    You need some T.F. Torrance on this list: “Mediation of Christ,” “Trinitarian Faith,” “The Christian Doctrine of God.”

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 4:49 am | Permalink
  11. Andy wrote:

    It’s a great list to be sure! But I want to echo the caution JBH raised. Not that any of these are unintelligible. In fact, the harder ones are probably more rewarding. But, some of them are deeper into scholarly conversations, and a newbie will not pick up on the radical implications of say, Milbank or Hart. Pedagogically, best to start simpler and work your way in.

    Naturally, that depends on the intelligence and background of the entering student.

    I would suggest you keep Barth, add Augustine’s Confessions, maybe Ratzinger’s Intro to Christianity, keep Williams, Hauerwas, Yoder, Newbigin, and Balthasar. Bonhoeffer’s Life Together is also important.

    Just some thoughts.


    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 7:49 am | Permalink
  12. Halden wrote:

    Andy, obviously the intelligence of the entering student was a factor in my putting together of this list, as I did it for a specific person. I imagine I may have made a somewhat different list for someone else.

    Travis, you’re right I really should have at least put the Mediation of Christ on there. I almost did in fact and then I think I forgot.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 8:07 am | Permalink
  13. mike d wrote:

    It may not be a huge topic of interest here but a new seminary student would probably do well to become conversant with recent work by Christians in philosophy of religion. Most notably Alvin Plantinga but also Swinburne, Wolterstorff, and Alston.

    It seems sometimes theologians need reminding there are philosophers not named MacIntyre, Hegel, or Zizek :)

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  14. Nathan Smith wrote:

    Connie and Hill: I have some new forums (including a “book discussion” section) which could serve the purpose of an online bookclub:

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  15. Alex wrote:

    Mike D,

    You comment interested me because of the implication that Hegel exerts a heavy influence on modern theology. I am writing on a related topic and was wondering if you or anyone else reading can point me to some examples of this? Examples of theologians directly interacting with Hegel, who seemed to be in line with Hegel on major issues, etc. would be helpful.


    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    Alex you should check out the work of William Desmond on Hegel. It’s more philosophically and theologically rigorous than most other stuff out there. In too much theological discourse, “Hegelian” has simply become a label to be used when dismissing one’s interlocutor.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  17. Alex wrote:

    Haha, I figured it was probably tossed around as a label too often. And I’m curious as to why Hegel became the favoritie whipping boy or even a positive influence as opposed to a range of other philosophers out there. Thanks for the resource. I’ll look into Desmond.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  18. This is a good list, and full of important books with important arguments. However, I find a return to Helmut Thielicke’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians every so often helpful when it comes to perspective as a theologian and a human being: Don’t get to big for your own britches.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 12:45 pm | Permalink
  19. Halden wrote:

    Well, Alex the main reason I see is that Hegel’s work is just so utterly huge that everyone has to deal with it whether they love him or hate him. There’s really two periods in modern philosophy: pre-Hegel and post-Hegel.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  20. mike d wrote:

    In the English speaking world analytic philosophy has dominated for about 100 years and analytic philosophy isn’t really all that conversant with Hegel. So pre and post Hegel might be a suitable characterization for continental philosophy but certainly not for the analytic tradition. A good chunk of the history of analytic philosophy is explicitly anti-religious and I think (I’m guessing here) that this has meant that theology has steered away and primarily dealt with continental philosophers. Analytic philosophy has changed (in some part due to the work of Christian philosophers) and I think you’re seeing more interaction between it and theology (I’m thinking of someone like Oliver Crisp). Thats all to the good in my opinion. Analytic philosophy isn’t synonymous with rationalism or positivism – just read Wolterstorff – and can be brought into good conversation with theology.

    I think Hegel’s influence in theology must at least in some part have to do with geography. Lots of theology is German and well so is Hegel.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 4:09 pm | Permalink
  21. Apolonio wrote:

    Yeah, to say there are two periods in modern philosophy, pre-Hegel and post-Hegel seems continental-based to me. Do we characterize Frege pre or post?

    I find it a bit weird that a lot of Christian theologians simply have a misconception on analytic philosophy.

    Anyway, to add to the analytic philosophers group Mike gave, I would recommend Peter Geach, Elizabeth Anscombe, Robert Merrihew Adams, and Alex Pruss from Baylor. Alex Pruss, the way he is going, is probably going to be the best Catholic philosopher out there.

    Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  22. mike d wrote:

    Apolonio is right Pruss is a very clear thinker and a really good philosopher (makes me wish Right Reason was still running). If we could just add one more philosopher to the lot it would have to Peter Van Inwagen.

    Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 12:22 pm | Permalink
  23. Eddy wrote:

    Wwell, as another Regent alum, I take umbrage with Andy’s “we only read Hays, Newbigin and Bonhoeffer.” If memory serves, Hauerwas and Gunton were two mainstays.

    In any case, I’d like to suggest an “unseminary” reading list for Regent, the so-called “unseminary” [just authors]:

    Robert Capon
    Wendell Berry
    Annie Dillard
    Anne Lamott
    Marilynne Robinson
    Jeremy Begbie
    Scott Cairns
    Nicholas Wolterstorff
    Aldo Leopold
    and even though he’s on the other list, nevertheless, John Howard Yoder

    …that should do it.

    Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  24. Apolonio wrote:


    Alex blogs at:

    Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  25. Marvin wrote:

    I suppose I agree with JBH and Andy, notwithstanding Halden’s qualification that the person in question is rather smart. It seems like these books would be most profitably read in seminary, not before, where one can benefit from reading them in conversation with the professor, other students and other authors, rather than in isolation.

    I think the best pre-seminary reading list is simply: “A liberal arts education.” A history major is good preparation, for it teaches one how to contextualize people and ideas, and like it or not, contextualization is the big story in our post-modern, global Christian world. An English major is also good preparation, because it’s training in interpreting texts long before one takes an exegesis course.

    Not to be too cheeky, but for a pre-seminary student, I’d recommend any reputable Presidential biography or any Flannery O’Conner short story over any other author mentioned in this post or the comment thread.

    Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 3:44 pm | Permalink
  26. Apolonio wrote:


    Ah, yes..van Inwagen is very good. He was kind to me and helped me in my epistemological papers.

    Dean Zimmerman and I were joking that Peter van Inwagen’s approach is pretty much: “here are some good arguments for X, good arguments against X, I don’t know. I lean towards X because I have incommunicable evidence.”

    Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 3:51 pm | Permalink
  27. kim fabricius wrote:

    What, no fiction and poetry (thanks, Eddy, for the few you mention)? Among the novelists, just a few for-examples: Melville and Dostoevsky (19th century) – absolutely essential – Kafka and Camus (20th century), Updike and Marilynne Robinson (contemporary). As for just five poets (Shakespeare and Milton I take as read): Herbert, Dickinson, Hopkins, Auden, and R .S. Thomas. I’d never trust an Anglo-American theologian who hasn’t gone exploring with such spelunkers of the souls.

    Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 2:21 am | Permalink
  28. Carl wrote:

    Yikes! Seeing those books makes me glad God hasn’t called me to attend seminary. I mean, I barely made with to a Batchelor’s degree in math. I guess I will stick to the layperson’s level of Christian theological publications.

    Saturday, August 2, 2008 at 12:41 am | Permalink
  29. Bill the Scholar wrote:

    What would you recommend for a scholarly/agnostic approach to the study of religion?

    And in the name of honesty … shouldn’t potential seminary students be forwarned that’s where serious, scholarly study goes?

    Friday, October 24, 2008 at 8:43 am | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Be Also Ready… For Seminary That is « I Am a Son of God on Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 11:59 am

    [...] posted a list of superb theology books for students preparing to enter seminary. Check it out: Pre-Seminary Reading List. Thanks [...]

  2. End of Week Round Up | Byrnesys Blabberings on Friday, June 27, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    [...] Halden lists texts to read before you go to seminary, interesting, and vast selection, No time for a summer job with this reading list! Some Commentators weighed in with some others too, firstly Wess Daniels, then in response to that Kyle Bernett adds some more (Kyle’s list is better In my opinion) and finally Andy Rowell. My Advice would be, try and get hold of the course details for the first courses and read the primary and secondary texts. [...]

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