The most important theology books of the last 25 years

In case you haven’t seen this yet, Christian Century recently asked a number of influential theologians to name 5 books that they thought were the most important theology books written in the last 25 years. You’ll have to read the post to see the comments that each person made regarding their choices, but I’ve listed their selections below.

I will say that it looks like some of them missed the point of the question. They were asked to list the most important theology books, not just the ones that they thought were really good. Some of these books shouldn’t even be in the conversation for most important theology books of the last 25 years. (Yong, Townes, and Coakley seemed particularly egregious in this area.)

I’d be intrigued to hear in the comments what you think about two things:

  1. Who do you think did the best job identifying the 5 most important books of the last 25 years?
  2. Are there any books that were excluded from all these lists, but that you think should be considered among the most important books of the last 25 years?

Stanley Hauerwas

  • George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age
  • John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel
  • Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology
  • James Wm. McClendon Jr., Systematic Theology
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason

Amos Yong

  • Nancy L. Eiseland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability
  • Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit.
  • Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation
  • J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account.
  • Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian

Emilie M. Townes

  • Katie Geneva Cannon, Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community
  • Charles H. Long, Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Inter­pretation of Religion
  • Peter J. Paris, The Spirituality of African Peoples: The Search for a Common Moral Discourse
  • Larry L. Rasmussen, Earth Community, Earth Ethics
  • Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology

Lawrence S. Cunningham

  • Bernard McGinn, The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism
  • Herbert McCabe, God Matters and God Still Matters
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason
  • David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth

Sarah Coakley

  • Andrew Louth, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys
  • Steven Payne, John of the Cross and the Cognitive Value of Mysticism: An Analysis of Sanjuanist Teaching and Its Philosophical Implications for Contemporary Discussions of Mystical Experience
  • Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God.
  • Linda Alcoff and Elizabeth Potter, editors. Feminist Epistemologies.
  • William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ

Kevin Vanhoozer

  • David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission
  • John Webster, Word and Church: Essays in Church Dogmatics
  • N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God.
  • Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim That God Speaks.
  • John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church.

George Hunsinger

  • Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church
  • Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist
  • Sarah Coakley, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender
  • J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account
  • Derek S. Jeffreys, Spirituality and the Ethics of Torture

Willie James Jennings

  • Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason
  • Eugene F. Rogers, Sexuality and the Christian Body: Their Way into the Triune God
  • Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation
  • Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on October 7, 2010, in Theology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. The link appears to be broken.

  2. Oops, thanks. It’s fixed now.

  3. I’m just amazed at how few of these people/books I’ve even heard of. I recognize Vanhoozer and most of his list, but that’s about it.

  4. I think TF Torrance’s:

    Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons

    Scottish Theology: from John Knox to John McLeod Campbell

    Ground And Grammar Of Theology: Consonance Between Theology and Science

    Should’ve all made the “list.” Hunsinger comes close with Torrance’s “Trinitarian Faith.”

  5. I think Vanhoozer did the best job and was the only one who listed even one book of major significance (Bosch, Wright, and Zizioulas).

    I’ll stand up for Yong and say the book on disability is cutting edge and I can see why he might put that up as a significant work in theology.

    Hauerwas was good to point out Yoder and Jenson.

    Hunsinger did good to point out Torrance.

    The rest seem to be more trendy books on theology more than weighty and significant works.

    I’ll have to think about most important works though I think Bloesh could have made the list.

  6. Hauerwas probably did the best job, and here is why: the books/authors he chose were by and large the “source” books for significant trends in theology over the last 25 years (Lindbeck, Milbank, Yoder, Jenson).

    • I’d have to agree that Hauerwas did a good job. I’m not happy that Milbank got so many votes because I still resist reading his stuff, but it’s hard to disagree that his work has been pretty influential. I also thought Vanhoozer had a good list. I probably wouldn’t have included Webster’s book, even though it’s very good, because I don’t think it has the same kind of seminal significance as the others.

  7. I’d also maybe include Richard Hays’ “Moral Vision of the New Testament,” and Hauerwas’ “Christian Existence Today,” or “Dispatches from the Front.” No one included one thing by Stan!

    • Isn’t that amazing? America’s top theologian (according to Time), and he doesn’t get one book on these lists? That seems odd.

  8. i’m still waiting for you to list one important work from the last 25 years- because none of those qualify as important and they will all be forgotten in a few years.

    • That raises the interesting question of how you determine what qualifies as an “important theology book.” I’ve been looking at it from the perspective of which books have had the biggest impact on contemporary theological discourse. And, from that perspective several (definitely not all) of these qualify. But, if you look it at from the perspective of which books will still be shaping theological discourse 25 years from now, that’s a very different (and much higher) bar to cross. The only ones of these that I think have any real chance are Jenson, Zizioulas, and Torrance. Some might have niche influence (e.g., Volf in theological anthropology, Wolterstorff in philosophical theology), but I think these are the only ones that could possibly maintain broader significance. (And, to be honest, I’m not at all sure about Jenson, and Torrance depends on whether the recent interest in his theology has any staying power.)

      Did you have any that you wanted to suggest, or are you going with the idea that no important theology book of any kind has been written in the last 25 years?

  9. I haven’t read any of them, nor indeed have I heard of most of them, with the exception of the Wright and Zizioulas ones, which I intend to read some day.

    I notice none of them mentions David Bosch’s Transforming mission nor Michael Oleksa’s Orthodox Alaska, but perhaps for sduch people missiology doesn’t count as theology.

    Perhaps there are missional theologians, and theologians’ theologians, and never the twain shall meet.

  1. Pingback: 2nd Volume of the Journal of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship released | Unsettled Christianity

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