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Best Theological Book of The Decade

The other day on Facebook, a discussion arose on the basis of a claim about what the best theological book of the last decade was. As I thought on the question I found it exceedingly difficult to answer, so I thought I’d pose the question here. What do you think the best theological book of the last decade was, and why?

UPDATE: By “theological” I’m thinking not of biblical studies, religious studies, or  philosophy, but books that are setting out to solve or differently frame central theological issues (God, Christ, church, world, salvation, mission, etc.) from a distinctively Christian perspective (so yeah, we’re just talking Christian theology here). Hopefully that narrows it down somewhat.

58 Comments

  1. “‘Best’ is not a theological category.” (You knew that was coming from somebody; let’s get it out of the way now.) That said, it will be fun to see the fireworks over this. But isn’t “theology” too broad of a category?

    I’m not sure how to measure, but certainly the book from the last decade that I keep wrangling with the most is Jeff Stout, Democracy and Tradition.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Good call, I’ve updated the post a bit to account for this.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  3. Scott Lenger wrote:

    My metric is the number of “a-ha” moments and the winner by a landslide is Peter Rollin’s The Orthodox Heretic.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  4. OK, so Stout’s out.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  5. Not sure if it counts, as its a collection of essays. But, ‘Orthodox and Modern’ is brilliant, despite whether one agrees with everything.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  6. Austin Eisele wrote:

    Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity, by Kathryn Tanner. Best in terms of systematic theology…

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Having thought about it myself, here’s my list of potential candidates (mind you, these are books first published in the 00s, not necessarily written then):

    John Howard Yoder, The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited
    J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account
    David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite
    Alan Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection
    Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology
    Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe
    Nate Kerr, Christ, History and Apocalyptic

    Obviously not all these are created equal, even in my mind. I include them as books I read in the last decade that made me do a lot of work, theologically speaking; game changers as it were. If I were to narrow down the list to books I think really might qualify for “best” I think I’d have to narrow it down to Yoder and Williams and then Carter and Kerr. The reason for the distinction between the two groups being that that latter rely to some degree on both the works in question by the former.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink
  8. Good choice.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  9. dbarber wrote:

    All of Halden’s “nominees” seem on target to me, with the notable qualification that he does not include my top choice: Keller, Face of the Deep. Though Yoder’s Jewish-Christian Schism is a close second.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    I have to confess that I haven’t gotten around to reading Keller’s book yet. Thanks for the reminder.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink
  11. Eric S. wrote:

    I know I don’t read enough to be useful in this conversation, but Claiborne’s Jesus For President impacted my theology personally more than any other book. His way of framing the gospel has been around for years, but I had never been exposed to it. It was also helpful for him to explain his theology in a modern context that I can relate to.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  12. “Orthodox and Modern” is a good suggestion as well as the “Beauty of The Infinite.” Another good suggestion might by Kevin Vanhoozer’s “The Drama of Doctrine.”

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    I almost included Vanhoozer as well.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  14. andrewbourne wrote:

    I think of a Trinity of theologians Timothy Radcliffe, Rowan Williams and John Zizioulas. All three have produced books which are what theology is all about `faith seeking understanding`. I would concede Tanner is a close runner behind in which case I believe I counted all forms of Christianity

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  15. Gene McCarraher wrote:

    Depending on how you define “the decade,” I’d add to the list of possible candidates Graham Ward’s Cities of God (2000), which IMHO is one of the landmarks of theological cultural criticism. Also, while he never wrote a blockbuster of the sort we seem to be discussing, what about our friend Herbert McCabe? I see Timothy Radcliffe mentioned, so why not St. Herbert?

    And Kathryn Tanner? I’ve never been able to finish one of her books, so bored to tears by her prose.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  16. Chris Donato wrote:

    Vanhoozer’s Is There a Meaning in This Text?

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
  17. I’m pretty rusty, theologically speaking. I haven’t read much theology since I graduated from seminary 4 years ago. So these may not be ground breakers in the field, but they certainly broke ground in my own faith and practice:

    Dorothee Soellee’s The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance
    William Cavanaugh’s Theopolitical Imagination
    Vincent J. Miller’s Consuming Religion
    John Howard Yoder’s Body Politics

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  18. Halden wrote:

    If only McCabe had survived through this decade. There’d doubtless be some amazing stuff indeed to be reading right now.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink
  19. myles wrote:

    Keller’s not typically on my radar, but it’s time.

    Of Halden’s, my vote’s for Kerr or Williams. I found Carter more suggestive than constructive for the most part (and really tortuous to read at times), and Hauerwas, while great, didn’t win me over with his reading of Barth.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Permalink
  20. Halden wrote:

    Yeah Hauerwas didn’t win me over on that front either. Check back tomorrow for a post on that, actually.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  21. I think some Sarah Coakley might belong on this list.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  22. myles wrote:

    Coakley’s Powers was good, but didn’t have the same of coherence as the ones on Halden’s list above, I thought. There were chapters in Powers that were fantastic, and then ones that I could have read the original article and been fine.

    Just to stretch the bounds here, I’d put whatever of the Bonhoeffer critical editions that came out this decade on this list.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink
  23. Since the movie Avatar, do we really need any other theological resources? It’s impact will probably be greater than all the books y’all come up with combined. As for Marx and his minions (Adorno, Benjamin, Jameson, Obama, et al.) sorry, the world has been re-enchanted for around 300 million bucks (sounds cheap but WWI cost half that).

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 8:01 pm | Permalink
  24. tripp fuller wrote:

    good one Daniel

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Permalink
  25. Halden wrote:

    Huzzah!

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Permalink
  26. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I actually thought about the Bonhoeffer editions, but figured since the material had been published before I couldn’t really count it. It importance cannot be overestimated though. Or at least it would be really hard.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Permalink
  27. Nathan wrote:

    Certainly the book of this decade that most moved my theological imagination, if I can write something so pretentious with a straight face, was Alan Lewis’s Between Cross and Resurrection. It drew me back in Jungel and, maybe more importantly, MacKinnon. It forced me out into very particular ministries, and has in significant ways changed my practices as a Christian. It made me want to worship God differently, and more. Some of its passages still haunt me.

    I also found Rowan Williams quite helpful. And Jean-Luc Marion’s God Without Being, though Marion wouldn’t call himself a theologian, I’m sure.

    But this was the decade I came into theology, very early into it, and the most formative voices were those from liberation theologies. Most of those books were released in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, though.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 11:47 pm | Permalink
  28. Halden wrote:

    I identify with you in so many ways, Nathan. I only wish I had started reading liberation theology earlier into the decade.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 12:05 am | Permalink
  29. dan wrote:

    Earlier into the decade? I started reading liberation theology a decade ago and I wish that I had started a decade before that!

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 12:48 am | Permalink
  30. dan wrote:

    In light of that, it’s worth mentioning the collection of Jon Sobrino essays published in 2008 with the title No Salvation Outside the Poor: Prophetic-Utopian Essays.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 12:53 am | Permalink
  31. Nathan wrote:

    It was actually my first exposure to theology–in general. Unless you wish to count the Concise Theology volume by Packer (is it?) that my youth group had us purchase. Even then, I only showed up for the summer and winter camps.

    I just got lucky. Really lucky–but I’ll spare you the spiritual autobiography that was never asked for.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 1:34 am | Permalink
  32. Ben Myers wrote:

    What, no one’s mentioned Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and Its Legacy?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 5:09 am | Permalink
  33. Zack Allen wrote:

    God at War; Satan and the Problem of Evil by Boyd

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 6:33 am | Permalink
  34. Zack Allen wrote:

    nvm on God at War. That was in the 90′s.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 6:36 am | Permalink
  35. Brad E. wrote:

    This is an enormously helpful thread — Halden, how about a solid top 5 or 10?

    Also, what about going backward in time, with the gift of hindsight and reflection: What was/were the best work(s) of theology in the 90s? And 80s? This sort of thing is both interesting and helpful; plus, I just like lists. So let’s keep it going!

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  36. Fair enough—if we’re talking about full-form, coherent books, Powers and Submissions isn’t it. But the overall project expressed there is arguably “better” (more pressing, more creative, more groundbreaking, at least as intellectually rigorous) as the Hauerwas, Vanhoozer, McCormack… Though the first several books on Halden’s list are great candidates for the same reasons

    I’d be willing to bet that Coakley’s next book, supposedly titled something like God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay on the Trinity, may be the book-form work you’re looking for. Maybe it’ll still make the decade (if we count right).

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  37. myles wrote:

    pass.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink
  38. myles wrote:

    I think so, Brian. You’re right: her project is exciting on a number of levels, and I’m looking forward to her systematics whenever they come out.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  39. Daniel wrote:

    Best theological work of the 00s? Battlestar Galactica

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  40. roger flyer wrote:

    What’s Avatar?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  41. roger flyer wrote:

    ok if i must…
    ;)

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  42. Derrick wrote:

    I second that. And I might as well add my vote to the dozen others who have also nominated Beauty of the Infinite.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
  43. dan wrote:

    eh?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  44. Can These Bones Live?: A Catholic-Baptist Engagement With Ecclesiology, Hermeneutics and Social Theory

    by Barry Harvey

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  45. Nathan wrote:

    Ouch.

    Jon Sobrino is a fantastic theologian.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink
  46. Halden wrote:

    Honestly I think Ayres’ book is quite overrated.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 7:28 pm | Permalink
  47. myles wrote:

    I feel like a douche saying that I don’t like liberation theology as a method. But, I don’t. But then again, that’s not what this thread is about.

    I will say that Sobrino is better than some in the camp, so I’ll give it a read.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Permalink
  48. Ben Myers wrote:

    Nope, I think it’s still underrated!

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Permalink
  49. Halden wrote:

    All the blogosphere take note! Ben and I disagree on something!

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:46 pm | Permalink
  50. dan wrote:

    The methodology of liberation theology has got to be one of the most disliked methodologies as well as one of the most untested. People don’t usually reject it because they try it and find it lacking — rather, they don’t like what it requires of them (you know, because solidarity with the poor and with the crucified Christ is such a pain in the ass) and so they reject it without trying it.

    However, I challenge anybody to point out another theological school of thought that has arisen in the last sixty years and produced such a large body of shockingly cruciform theologians (because, let’s be honest, a theologian living a cruciform life seems like an exceedingly rare thing these days).

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:06 am | Permalink
  51. Halden wrote:

    I gotta go with Dan on this one.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:14 am | Permalink
  52. David wrote:

    ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ by Pope Benedict XVI or Richard Bauckham’s ‘Jesus and the Eyewitnesses’… .

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 4:00 am | Permalink
  53. myles wrote:

    I think we’ll have to agree to disagree, Dan. I respect how you live the Gospel’s call.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 6:06 am | Permalink
  54. Josh Rowley wrote:

    Mere Discipleship (Lee Camp).

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
  55. Good one.

    Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink
  56. roger flyer wrote:

    Nothing a good microbrew can’t fix.

    Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink
  57. Tyler wrote:

    Vanhoozer’s “Drama of Doctrine,” because it sets forth a sophisticated starting point for postmodern theology that’s at once “catholic” and “evangelical.” I think it’s brilliant, but I’m biased because Vanhoozer really helped clean out the cobwebs of Derrida and his ilk that had set in during college with “Is there a Meaning in this Text?”

    I also really dig N. T. Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God”

    Monday, February 1, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  58. Purpose Driven Life

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

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