A List for Pre-Seminary Summer Reading

A friend of mine and regular reader and commenter on this blog is about to enter seminary at Gordon-Conwell this fall. I wanted to send her a list of books for some good pre-seminary summer reading. I tried to think of interesting books that will be somewhat challenging, offer new vocabulary that will help in seminary, shape ideas about theology and the church. Plus they’re books that I find just exciting to read. I also wanted big picture books, not with actual pictures (who ever heard of such a thing?!), but books that can help get a little bit of perspective over what’s going on in the culture and church. The first five, are the five picks I sent to my friend, the next few are really good and if you have the extra time they should be read.The references are just an added bonus, they may be helpful when you need to figure out a question about a word, person, or when you’re working on papers (I threw the Quaker book in there for good measure). There’s a glaring omission in this list, I wanted to find a good feminist book that would be entry level but I am sure which one would suffice. Are there any suggestions? There is one book that looks really good and I’m willing to recommend it now even though I haven’t finished reading it, it’s called, “Saving Women From the Church: How Jesus Mends a Divide,” by Susan McLeod-Harrison. So if you do want to get a book that deals with woman issues as it pertains to the church and ministry this is one I’d suggest for now.

The Reading List

Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? By James K. Smith
–>A really good big picture of some major philosophical questions that pertain to contemporary culture and the emerging church. I love this book.

Body Politics By John Howard Yoder
–>One of Yoder’s simple yet profound works. It looks at five practices the church needs to engage in to be a witness to the world, will also being faithful to the Gospel. This book is great for ministry, theological reflection and thinking about how all this connects with everyday life.

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll*
–>Mark Noll is one of my favorite Evangelical historians (George Marsden you’re in there too!) and this book is perfect for putting the pieces together on what Evangelicalism is, and some of the problems its run into in recent times. It’s a fun read and it helps to put seminary education into context.

The Younger Evangelicals by Robert Webber*
–>This book picks up on where the previous one leaves off. It’s aimed at the young people (think emerging-church-minded people) within Evangelicalism. It shows the shaping of this group’s practices, thoughts and what it means for the future of church.

An Introduction to Ecclesiology by Veli-Mati Karkkainen*
–>Karkkainen is a systematic theologian at Fuller and all his stuff is excellent. This is a great book that will introduce you to some of the main theological thinkers and their ideas about what the church is, and what it ought to be. He even gives space for ‘radical’ theologians like my favorite James McClendon. This will help you get familiar with some important names, ideas as well as give you a vision for what the broader church is doing in the global context.

Extra Reading

Jesus and Community by Gerhard Lohfink
–>A great book done by a Catholic NT scholar who looks to put Jesus in the context of his culture and show just how important Jesus message and his practices were to his original audience. It also has direct implications for the church today. This is one of my absolute favorite books I read in Seminary.

The Shape of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch
–>A superb introduction to missional church, culture and the practices behind this influential and important movement.

How to Think Theologically By Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke
–>A book that will help prepare you for what’s in store, some of the ideas behind theological thinking, etc.

A Few Good References For Seminary:

NRSV Pocket Bible by God (and Oxford Press)

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Pocket Dictionary) by Stanley Grenz

20th Century Theology by Stanley Grenz (a dictionary-like book on some key theologians in the past century)

Modern Theologians By David Ford

A Writers Manual by Kate Turabian

The Quakers: A Very Short Introduction by Pink Dandelion


How about the rest of you, what are your 5 or 6 books you’d recommend as good preparation for seminary?

19 responses to “A List for Pre-Seminary Summer Reading”

  1. She should try asking the professors for the textbooks they use in the classes she’s likely to take. Getting a copy of the syllabi would be even better.

    Thinking of picture books as you described, the Armchair Theologian series from the Westminster John Knox press makes for good and fast introductory reading so searching Amazon for “armchair theologians” and maybe ordering one or two is an idea. I picked up 5 from their booth at AAR this winter which were totally worth it.

    As for other resources, my Moleskine notebooks inspire me to take note taking more seriously. Something about the feel of the thing. And you’ve got to bring a mac. Definitely. Lists make for great posts and this one is stellar. Cheers!

  2. Good picks.

    I love all five of the top five book authors. All five are good respected scholars you could cite in a paper and all are evangelical. (Yoder is not officially evangelical but we claim him and he doesn’t mind being associated with people who respect Scripture. (Yoder: “For some, the adjective ‘evangelical’ belongs to those who read the Bible with a special kind of respect; some of them consider me as fitting in that realm.” For the Nations p. 6-7).

    I don’t remember thinking much of your secondary selection: How to Think Theologically when we read it my first year of seminary at Regent College in Supervised Ministry class but that should tell you that at least someone thought it was worthwhile. I remember it was short which is usually a good thing.

    I wonder if reading easy-to-read biographies of Augustine, Aquinas (by Chesterton), Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Pope John Paul II, and Billy Graham might not be the best way to get used to theology in a user-friendly way. It would help you to connect the “big ideas” with the situations and personalities that helped produce them. I read John Stott and J.I. Packer biographies and found them enlightening for understanding the theological landscape).

    I would also add a Bible book worth working through:
    Read How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour
    by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart

    Fee taught at Gordon-Conwell and Stuart still does so that is a bonus for understanding Gordon-Conwell.

    If we are placing the emphasis on the summer part of pre-seminary summer reading, I would recommend some beach books that will inspire you for seminary but may not be sufficiently academic to cite in academic writing.

    For thinking about pastoring, David Hansen’s The Art of Pastoring was helpful for me. Easy to read.

    One big book:
    Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov. Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator).
    I love all the parts at the beginning of the book about Father Zosima.

    Something current to remind you what all of this is about:
    – Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
    – unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
    – The New Christians by Tony Jones

    Read whatever you want! You will have to read what the professors want you to read after you arrive. Part of your vocation are the books that you pick off the shelf and read. Notice what you find yourself choosing. That may be part of where God is directing you.

    grace and peace,


    Andy Rowell
    Doctor of Theology Student
    Duke Divinity School
    Durham, NC
    Blog: http://www.andyrowell.net/

  3. Great list and great comments. For starters I would add the following,

    Helmut Thielicke – A Little Exercise for Young Theologians
    Anthony Giddens – Globalisation
    Sissela Bok – Lying
    Harvey Cox – The Secular City
    Fee and Stuart – How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (I’ve not read the newer one)
    Eugene Peterson – The Contemplative Pastor

  4. @Fernando: I loved the Helmut Thielicke book. It really made me chuckle after making most of the mistakes outlined in the book.

    @Andy: I was unaware that Stuart still taught at Gordon-Conwell. I’ll have to look into that.

  5. Good list, thanks for sharing. As for the feminist book, Saving Women from the Church is a good book, but it is very basic and not really feminist (in the strict theological sense, although it is a good intro into the basic “women are people too” form of feminism common in the church). For something more seminary level I would recommend reading Sallie McFague’s (Metaphorical Theology, or Models of God)

  6. For the feminist book, I would much more highly recommend Women In the Maze by Ruth Tucker. It’s much more thorough and has more depth. Ruth Tucker also writes from the perspective of having been in and taught at seminary for many years. There is also Good News for Women by Rebecca Merril Groothuis (but that is a distant second choice).

    I’ve read Saving Women From the Church, and agree with Julie’s assessment. It’s good, but fairly light. For a woman heading to seminary, I’d be more inclined to the above recommendations.

  7. Thanks all for the input and comments.

    @johnny, I’ve never used the armchair books, but I’ll check em out. And ‘word’ on the moleskine.

    @Andy – good idea on the biographies, and along that line I’d also suggest James Wm McClendon’s book “Biography as Theology,” but I recommend everything by that guy.

    And great thinking on the Fee and Stuart book, I read that one when I was still in undergrad and remember thinking it was really helpful. It’s a good resource even if you’re not planning on reading through it “book by book.”

    And on the current front, how about Anne Lamott! Love her stuff.

    @Fernando – Good idea on Giddens too. I haven’t read that one, is it pretty tough? I really like consequences, but it’s a little dense in its theory. I also am glad you posted Peterson, a great author, theologian and writes for pastors.

    @Julie – thanks for the suggestion on the “saving women from the church” book. I agree it does look lighter than what is needed for this goal. And awesome tip on the McFague book, I’ve never heard of it! I’ve added it to my to get book list.

    @Sonja – good idea on the Good News for Women by Rebecca Merril Groothuis, this is a text that gets used at Fuller a lot but I totally forgot about it. I should pick this up as well.

    Actually, Julie and Sonja, would you each be willing to give a one or two sentence summary of the books you suggested (in line with what I did above)? This might help other burgeoning theologians with their content.


  8. Lindbeck’s “The Nature of Doctrine”
    D&L’s “Knowing the Love of Christ: An Introduction to the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas”
    Webster’s “Barth”

  9. It’s an introduction to the debates (with solid references) rather than a fully fledged book with heap of argument and theory. It could be easily read by any pre-seminarian.

  10. Hi Wess! I would go with:

    The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin

    The Mission of God by Chris J.H. Wright

    A Community of Character by Stanley Hauerwas

    A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren

    Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism by Nancey Murphy

  11. Wess, since you like Yoder (as evidenced by your selecting Body Politics), are you going to weigh in about Tony Jones’s take on the

    The Hauerwasian Mafia?


    Sam, fun to see you here after seeing you at the Society for Pentecostal Studies and the Wesleyan Theological Society joint meeting. Good choices.

    Dan, also nice to see my fellow Dukie here.

    Wess (again), I am going to check out McClendon because of you (which I had already noticed earlier) and his endorsement of For the Nations by Yoder.

  12. @Wes … yes, I will be happy to do a couple of sentences on each book. But it will have to wait til later today. I read them years ago; I have to find them and refresh my memory 😉

  13. @Sam – Nice one, I was debating that Murphy book and the other ones are good choices.

    @Andy – thanks for the link to Tony’s site, I hadn’t seen this. I’ll check it out and leave a comment here or there. It looks like you’ve got it pretty well covered over there though! 😉 Have you read “For the Nations” yet? It’s definitely a must.

    @Sonja – Thank you!

  14. Dan, Glad you commented on that post. If I had to read “great thoughts, good read” one more time as a comment on that post I was going to hurl. I’m glad you took him to task on his points, I’m glad that chapter wasn’t published in his book.

  15. One of the top feminist scholars in my opinion is Dr. Pamela Cooper-White and her book The Cry of Tamar: Violence Against Women and the Church’s Response (Fortress, 1995) is great. I was able to take classes from her here at The Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

    This book won the 1995 Top Ten Books award from the Academy of Parish Clergy, and Schoenberg and the God Idea (UMI Research Press, 1985).