Reading Deeper

Reading Deeper

The purpose of this page is to help members of body navigate deeper works relevant to the Christian life — without getting lost in the endless rabbit trails of academia. As such, this is meant to be only a starting point. These are all books I’ve read and recommend. Of course, no one should agree with everything in any of them (that would be tantamount to idolatry). And some are overtly antagonistic toward Christianity.

Definitions

PHILOSOPHY: This is an unfortunately misunderstood term. (Gk. φίλος, loving or friend, and σοφία, wisdom), and so a philosopher is a lover/friend of wisdom. However, it is not uncommon to see philosophy as a stuffy discipline far removed from all relevant life. In my opinion, much of this reputation comes from continental philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth century who sought new ways to synthesize the world. Today, analytic philosophy is more prominent. Using logic, it assesses arguments and component pieces in order to show weaknesses or fill gaps. As such, we’re seeing a growing pairing of analytic philosophy and theology (called analytic theology).

Here are a few related terms that are helpful to know: Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know, that is, it is about access. Ontology is the study of what exists, while metaphysics is the study of all that is. (These last two terms are defined differently depending on how you ask, and some consider them synonyms. Critically though, metaphysics would includes things like possible worlds, where ontology would not.)

HERMENEUTICS: This is a framework for interpretation. As a result, our hermeneutic drives our exegesis. Exegesis is our interpretation of specific texts, such as the Bible. These words are often used synonymously, but they are different. For instance, hermeneutics is more conceptual in nature, dealing with worldviews and includes non-written communication; while exegesis is technical, focused on processes of interpreting specific written texts. Hermeneutics is often considered a sub-branch of philosophy.

APOLOGETICS: For many, this word evokes a specific practice. Apologetics itself is simply the defense of right theology. Polemics (lit. “to make war”) on the other hand is to attack. Apologetics builds up (your faith is stronger than you think), while polemics tears down (correcting aberrant beliefs, such as those of new world religions, or cults). Best understood (and used), apologetics is the work of clearing the path to right understanding. With this in mind, there is no one right apologetic method. Apologetics is a tool to build up one’s faith or get into gospel conversations.

 

THEOLOGY

Analyzing Doctrine by Oliver D. Crisp
There are an extraordinary number of systematic theologies available. Here, Crisp provides an analytic framework for stepping into these waters, not as one following someone else’s system, but as a thinking, critical contributor. 

Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism by Timothy Stratton
This is one of the most accessible introductions to Molinism. Additionally, he provides the historical context which prompted this system of thought. For further reading on Molinism, look at Divine Providence by Thomas Flint. And for a critical dialog, see Calvinism and Middle Knowledge edited by Laing, MacGregor, and Welty.

Divine Foreknowledge (Four Views) edited by James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy
Like all multiple-views book, this allows competing views to dialogue with one another. Here the views of simple foreknowledge, middle knowledge, and a more traditional (Augustinian) approach are contrasted. (An open theism position is included, too.)

Original Sin and the Fall (Five Views) edited by J. B. Stump and Chad Meister
Most orthodox Christians agree that original sin has affected us all, but what exactly does that entail? For example, should imputed guilt be included? Does that hold up scripturally (or even logically)? 

An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology by Thomas H. McCall
McCall introduces the newer discipline of analytic theology in a short but full book. It may be helpful to read Schwartz’ book below (or, at the very least, have a descent idea about what analytic philosophy is before starting this book).

PHILOSOPHY

A Brief History of Analytic Philosophy by Stephen P. Schwartz
Philosophy is a field of continual development. Schwartz does a good job of capturing the important developments of the twentieth century (which is when analytic philosophy has made its greatest strides).

How Do We Know? by James K. Dew
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Is There a Meaning in This Text? by Kevin J. Vanhoozer
Most seminary-level hermeneutic texts stay within a pretty tight interpretive range. Most often their purpose is to teach how or what, rather than why. Vanhoozer (a theological conservative) steps into the larger conversation to argue the intellectual strength of a more traditional view.

APOLOGETICS

*Many of the resources in this section in particular are cross-disciplinary, pulling from philosophy, theology, textual criticism, and history.

The Risen Jesus and the Future Hope by Gary R. Habermas
Habermas provides a ground-up apologetic for the resurrection, using a minimal facts approach (arguing from only what secular scholars will grant) to show that the resurrection as presented in Scripture is the most reasonable explanation. 

The Resurrection of Jesus by Michael R. Licona
Licona’s historiography picks up where Habermas’ minimal facts leave off, positing a neutral-position assessment tool  for the biblical version of the resurrection.

The Resurrection and the Son of God by N. T. Wright
Wright takes a very different approach from the two above. In fact, it’s hard for me to pinpoint a single value here because Wright covers such broad ground. So much is gleaned from reading N. T. Wright. The New Testament and the People of God (Book 1 of this series) is equally important.

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham
Almost everything we know about Jesus comes from the four eyewitness accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But are they reliable? Doesn’t memory change over time? These are some of the key questions Bauckham addresses.

Can Only One Religion Be True? edited by Robert B. Stewart
Stewart introduces Paul Knitter and Harold Netland’s Greer-Heard dialogue about pluralism. The introduction is worth the price of book. Here are three pieces I wrote on this topic: What of Those Who Never Hear?, A Postmortem Opportunity?, and my review of John Hick’s Interpretation of Religion.

The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil edited by Justin P. McBrayer and Daniel Howard-Snyder
This is not a cheap book, but it’s one of the best like it. It covers both defenses and theodicies, as well as the both the logical and evidential problems from evil. For a more focused treatment of the evidential problem of evil (which is more applicable today), see The Evidential Argument from Evil edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder.

CHURCH HISTORY & MISSIONS

The Churching of America by Roger Finke and Rodney Starke
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Baptism in the Early Church by Everett Ferguson
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Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael Green
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Contextualization in the New Testament by Dean Flemming
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Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts by Paul A. Hartog
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CLASSICS: ANTIQUITY TO MEDIEVAL

Republic by Plato
Plato did a great deal to shape the western mind, especially the early church. Some his views are helpful. Some are bizarre. See also Plato: Five Dialogues, which explore some of Socrates’ most famous dialogues.

Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
What Plato didn’t shape, Aristotle did. These two form the foundation of  western thinking. Aristotle was much more revered in medieval theology (e.g. Aquinas, et al) and forward.

Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius 
Perhaps the easiest and clearest introduction to classical philosophy, Boethius has strong influences of both Christianity (which he claimed) and Plotinus, the father of neoplatonism.

CRITICS OF CHRISTIANITY

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Dawkins is a well-respected zoologist, but a poor philosopher. The arguments he presents — while persuasive to many on a popular level — are intellectually thin.

Did Jesus Exist? by Bart D. Ehrman
Ehrman is a first-class New Testament scholar and textual critic who is also an agnostic. There is a marked difference between the claims of his popular level books (such as this one) and his scholarly books, like The Text of the New Testament, which he co-wrote with Bruce Metzger.

Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell
Russell was one of the most brilliant thinkers of the twentieth century.  Many non-Christian intellectuals who are confident in their beliefs are not interested in college-campus style debates. This is a valuable look at what kinds of questions Christian intellectuals must be prepared to address.

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume
In many ways, this belongs with the classics (it was first published in 1779). However, its sole purpose is to debunk Christianity. Hume is an Enlightenment thinker who challenges God’s design, super-natural activity (miracles) and existence (problem of evil).