The Four Most Influential Theological Books I’ve Read (Timothy Raymond)
I often debate in my mind which books are the best books I’ve ever read. By the grace of God I’ve been able to read hundreds of great books throughout my life. So, trying to identify the “best” is really impossible. It’s sort of like trying to identify which is the best ice cream cone I’ve ever eaten.
Below, however, are what I consider the most influential theological books I’ve read. By influential I mean they significantly altered my thinking or took me to new depths in theology that I didn’t even know existed. I offer them here, in ascending order of impact, as an encouragement for you to consider reading them yourself:
4. The Messiah in the Old Testament by Walter C. Kaiser Jr. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995). I hate to confess this, but I used to think that there were only about a dozen clear prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament and that Old Testament saints were saved by some vague faith in Jehovah. Nobody ever told me this but I just imbibed this impression growing up in church with flannel-graph Sunday school lessons and hearing very little preaching from the first 77.2% of the Bible. By carefully exegeting 65 clear Messianic texts, Kaiser’s book rocked my world and convinced me that the Old Testament is a Messianic book with a clear Messianic center. I’ve never looked at the Old Testament the same way since. For my more substantial review, go here.
3. The Doctrine of God by John Frame (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002). I read this book at a very crucial time in my life. Having grown up in an Arminian/Revivalistic context, I got reading stuff by hard-core, somewhat combative, non-scholarly Calvinists and began going too far in the other extreme toward hyper-Calvinism. Frame’s book saved me from a lot of destructive nonsense by showing how God’s sovereignty is fully compatible human means. In the sovereignty of God, this book was the human means the Lord used to bring me back to healthy biblical teaching. While covering dozens of technical issues with great exegetical, theological, and practical precision, somehow Frame is able to be as easy to read as the Sunday comics.
2. Communion with the Triune God by John Owen (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007). I read this book almost exclusively on the unusually enthusiastic recommendation of Carl Trueman and I’m so glad I did. Owen must have had a brain the size of a tractor-trailer and a heart the size of the Pacific. In this book he took me to new depths and heights in the contemplation of the character of the Three Persons who are God that I hadn’t a clue even existed. It must have been sort of like Columbus discovering the Western Hemisphere; just beauties and glories that have always been there but you’ve been too sheltered or lazy to ever discover them. It’s really too rich and profound to put into words here. I get excited just thinking about it and want to go read it again now. This edition with editorial comments and helps by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor really assisted me in understanding Owen’s sometimes indecipherable prose.
1. The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, edited by John T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols, The Library of Christian Classics 20–21 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960). Back in 2009 The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals led this unique initiative to read all of The Institutes in one year to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth. By reading about 4 pages a day, the reader could make it through both volumes of the McNeill/Battles translation while esteemed bloggers wrote daily reflections on the readings. (By the way, I wish somebody else would do this same thing with other classic theological tomes, e.g., Bullinger, Bavinck, Fuller’s Works, etc. It’s a great way to encourage reading huge books.) I had never read The Institutes before and thought this was a pretty cool idea, so I gave it a try. Somehow I stuck with it and finished The Institutes right on time. All I can say is, My goodness; there’s good reason Calvin is still read 500 years later; he just might be the best theologian since the Apostle Paul. Reading Calvin also helped me understand how some of the backwoods, self-taught, combative Calvinists I had read earlier in life weren’t true to either the Bible or Calvin. You really need to go to the primary sources.
Well, that’s just my two cents, for whatever they might be worth. Now let me know, what are some of the most influential theological books you’ve read and why? Leave them in the comments below and we’ll discuss.
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.