The best theology books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about theology and why they recommend each book.

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Under the Pendulum Sun

By Jeannette Ng,

Book cover of Under the Pendulum Sun

Mysterious victorian missionaries with dark secrets in the land of the fae. I truly do not know how to sell this book any better. I tend to recommend gothic literature for historical fiction newbies, since the emotional stakes are always so high and the plots often bend close to horror or fantasy, and this one is no different. The worldbuilding is spectacular, and it plays on the tropes of classic gothic novels in a way that’s knowing, clever, and never dry or stilted. No wonder Ng won the Hugo for best new author when she released this book—it deserves it.

Who am I?

I love historical fiction in all its forms, from the multi-volume family epics to the Dear America middle-grade books I grew up with. And I really, truly don’t understand why historical fiction has a reputation for being dry, dull, or worst of all, like homework. Sure, there are some novels written for history buffs only, but the vast majority aren’t, and neither is mine. When I wrote A Tip for the Hangman, my goal was to write historical fiction that reads like a page-turner, not a textbook. The books on this list all pull off that trick beautifully, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

I wrote...

A Tip for the Hangman

By Allison Epstein,

Book cover of A Tip for the Hangman

What is my book about?

England, 1585. In Kit Marlowe’s last year at Cambridge, he receives an unexpected visitor: Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, who informs him that Her Majesty’s spies are in need of new recruits. Kit, a scholarship student without money or prospects, accepts the offer, and after his training, the game is on. Kit is dispatched to the chilly manor where Mary, Queen of Scots is under house arrest, to keep his ear to the ground for Catholic plots. But the ripple effects of Kit’s service are more than he bargained for, and much as he tries to extricate himself and build a new life in London’s raucous theater scene, the uncertain world of espionage, conspiracy, and high treason threaten to destroy everything he holds dear. 


By Beth Felker Jones,

Book cover of Faithful: A Theology of Sex

Faithful: A Theology of Sex is an incredibly important read in a culture that tends to disregard any connection between faith and sexuality. Felker-Jones goes deep and wide. I appreciated her insights on the importance of how we steward our bodies and our sexuality and how this affects both our faith and our marriage covenant. The author makes a compelling case for how “a theology of sexuality demonstrates sex is not about legalistic morals with no basis in reality but rather about the God who is faithful to us.” 

Who am I?

For most of my 31 years of marriage, my husband and I have walked alongside couples who are preparing for marriage, in the throes of marriage, or trying to salvage their marriage. We get why it’s challenging and absolutely believe that there is hope and healing in the context of marriage for everyone. I’ve written two books on the topic and am passionate about helping couples find the resources they need to grow and strengthen their marriage covenants. Marriage books tend to be a bit shallow and offer quick fixes. We need honest, practical, wise resources if we want to grow. 

I wrote...

Making Marriage Beautiful: Lifelong Love, Joy, and Intimacy Start with You

By Dorothy Littell Greco, Christopher Greco,

Book cover of Making Marriage Beautiful: Lifelong Love, Joy, and Intimacy Start with You

What is my book about?

If you have been married longer than forty-eight hours, you know that you have bound yourself to an imperfect person who will have his or her own preferences, will disagree with your impeccable logic, and will confront your limitations on a regular basis. How you respond to this predicament shapes you and your marriage. 

Through grounded faith, fierce honesty, and the real-life stories of diverse couples, readers will find encouragement and hope on the pages of Making Marriage Beautiful. In the forward, Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages, wrote, “Whether you are newly married, feeling the growing pains of middle age, or looking back over many decades together, you will find this book both inspiring and insightful."

Nicomachean Ethics

By Aristotle, David Mills Daniel,

Book cover of Nicomachean Ethics

This may not be the best place to start, but sooner or later you’ll want to land here. Aristotle’s view of a good life, one that involves developing virtuous ways of being, is surprisingly contemporary. And unlike a lot of contemporary philosophy, he has deep reflections on the role of friendship in creating a worthwhile life.

Who am I?

Todd May has been teaching philosophy for over thirty years. He is the author of sixteen books of philosophy, many of which have been praised for their clarity and relevance to people reflecting on their lives. He was also a philosophical advisor to the hit television sit-com The Good Place.

I wrote...

A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe

By Todd May,

Book cover of A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe

What is my book about?

What makes for a good life, or a beautiful one, or, perhaps most important, a meaningful one? Throughout history, most of us have looked to our faith, our relationships, or our deeds for the answer. But in A Significant Life, philosopher Todd May offers an exhilarating new way of thinking about these questions, one deeply attuned to life as it actually is: a work in progress, a journey—and often a narrative. Offering moving accounts of his own life and memories alongside rich engagements with philosophers from Aristotle to Wittgenstein and Bernard Williams, he shows us where to find the significance of our lives: in the way we live them.

Theological-Political Treatise

By Robert Harvey Munroe Elwes, Benedictus de Spinoza,

Book cover of Theological-Political Treatise: Tractatus Theologico-Politicus

Ostensibly an implacable intellectual foe of Maimonides’ “Guide,” this twice-excommunicated Jewish philosopher makes his own compelling arguments for the basis of spiritual experience/prophecy. At the same time, one senses a powerful compatibility with his philosophical opponent’s viewpoints.

Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in the interface of biology and the mind, and between the mind and usually invisible worlds. Both Philip K Dick and the medieval Jewish philosophers labor mightily to unpack and communicate realms of the imagination residing in science fiction as well as Hebrew Bible prophecy. Likewise, the influx of Eastern religious practices and beliefs have pointed to areas of consciousness previously unknown to the West.

I wrote...

DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible

By Rick Strassman,

Book cover of DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible

What is my book about?

After completing his groundbreaking research chronicled in DMT: The Spirit Molecule, Rick Strassman was left with one fundamental question: What does it mean that DMT, a simple chemical naturally found in all of our bodies, instantaneously opens us to an interactive spirit world that feels more real than our own world?

When his decades of clinical psychiatric research and Buddhist practice were unable to provide answers to this question, Strassman began searching for a more resonant spiritual model. He found that the visions of the Hebrew prophets--such as Ezekiel, Moses, Adam, and Daniel--were strikingly similar to those of the volunteers in his DMT studies. Carefully examining the concept of prophecy in the Hebrew Bible, he characterizes a "prophetic state of consciousness" and explains how it may share biological and metaphysical mechanisms with the DMT effect.

Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen

By Matthew Fox,

Book cover of Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen

This introduces readings to the life, teachings, and art of one of the world’s greatest female artists and intellectuals of the western mystical traditions. A 12th-century abbess of a large and influential Benedictine abbey, she defied convention for women in the Middle Ages and became a prominent preacher, healer, scientist, artist, composer, and theologian. Virtually unknown for almost 800 years, it is a credit to the women’s movement in restoring her lost legacy. 

Publications of her writings, performances of her musical compositions, her ecological insights, and sense of earth “as a region of delight” are no longer silenced and contribute to vibrant understanding and discussions in the contemporary world. The art in Illuminations emerges from her mystical visions.

Who am I?

While a history student at the University of Washington I became aware that courses never included more than a paragraph on the important contributions of women, such as Eleanor Roosevelt or Jane Addams. I longed to know more. What gave some women motivation to defy conventions and use their talents?  When I first learned that Helga Estby’s audacious achievement was silenced for over 100 years, it launched me into over 15 years of research trying to recover this forgotten woman’s story.  As a writing professor for twenty years, I saw how assigning papers that led to exploring and understanding the women in one’s family background deeply enriched college students' lives.

I wrote...

Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America

By Linda Lawrence Hunt,

Book cover of Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America

What is my book about?

Defying all assumptions about women in 1896, a determined and desperate eight living children, Helga Estby and her daughter Clara dared to walk over 3500 miles on a $10,000 wager trying to save her family farm. Using their wits and a Smith and Wesson, they battled snowstorms, hunger, mountain lions, and the occasional thief walking from Spokane, Washington to New York City.

Accomplishing what was once deemed impossible, they arrived in New York heralded by the city’s newspapers for their astonishing achievement. But their triumph was quickly complicated by deep disappointment, betrayal, and heartbreaking news from home, all of which combined to silence their remarkable story among their family and friends for generations. A favorite with book clubs and winner of several literary awards.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

By Rhoda Janzen,

Book cover of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

A fun, insightful, humorous revelation about a celebrated poet who returns to her conservative home and examines the people and ideas that shaped her. I identify with this book because I, too, was raised Mennonite. In addition. The protagonist of my book is a Mennonite.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by women who are artists and activists, such as Ivy Bottini, Käthe Kollwitz and Peggy Guggenheim. (All subjects of plays I wrote). They are convicted, unique, champions of justice, diversity and inclusion.

I wrote...

Goods & Effects

By Alvin Schnupp,

Book cover of Goods & Effects

What is my book about?

Devastated by the death of her husband and sons, Hannah, a Mennonite, sells the family farm and creates a store and living quarters in a delivery truck. She travels several circuits, selling her wares.  Hannah becomes the heart of a network of interlinking lives that span many years. As Hannah’s relationships deepen, her faith diminishes but her vision of humanity expands. Hannah is a clever problem-solver, shrewd schemer, spinner of tender lies, advocate for justice, unwitting promoter of the arts, and dream weaver.   

Feminist Biblical Interpretation

By Luise Schottroff, Martin Rumscheidt (illustrator),

Book cover of Feminist Biblical Interpretation: A Compendium of Critical Commentary on the Books of the Bible and Related Literature

I'm recommending this book because just—wow. Almost a thousand pages of articles that are feminist in their biblical interpretation. Pity this didn't exist in the late 1980s when I wrote my own book. (It was published in 2012.) (Actually, better that it didn't exist back then—I might not have seen the need for my own modest contribution to the field!)

Who am I?

This collection started when I had to take a course on Milton as part of my Literature degree program. It didn't make any sense to me blame Eve for the downfall of Man. (I hadn't yet developed much of a feminist consciousness and so didn't realize that women are always blamed... perhaps especially by men, perhaps especially for their own—i.e., men's—behaviour...) "I am Eve" (the first piece in the collection) is actually based on my term paper. After I graduated, I decided to go through the Bible to see who else needed to protest... 

I wrote...

Thus Saith Eve

By Chris Wind,

Book cover of Thus Saith Eve

What is my book about?

Eve should be blamed for choosing the apple? For choosing knowledge over obedience? Knowledge of good and evil? She thinks not. And, well, you can imagine what Noah’s wife had to say about his grand idea... 

Thus Saith Eve presents several 'epistles', each 'written by' one of the women in The Bible, examining her role, her story, her supposed behavior…  Included are Lilith, Abel, Cain's wife, Noah's wife, Hagar, Zipporah, 'the certain woman', Delilah, Eshta, Ruth, the Queen of Sheba, Vashti, Judith, Mary, the mother of God, Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalen, Thecla, and Satan. (Also available in print as part of Satellites Out of Orbit which includes similar collections focusing on women from mythology, fairy tales, Shakespeare, and history).

The Mythmaker

By Hyam Maccoby,

Book cover of The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity

If we only had Paul to rely on for our knowledge of Jesus’ life, all we’d know is that he was born, was Jewish, had brothers and died. Written by a British academic, The Mythmaker is a break-through book that shows how Paul created Christianity by developing a mythology/theology about the significance of the death of Jesus as a Christ. Maccoby’s thought is further developed in my book, How Jesus Became Christian (2008) that demonstrates how different Paul’s religion was from that of Jesus.

Who am I?

Barrie is an historian specializing in early Christianity. Today we now know that there were many different movements within the first few centuries, each claiming to be Christian. James’ Jewish group differed from Paul’s Christ religion and both differed from Gnostic Christianity which saw Jesus as a teacher of insight. None was dominant. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic writings add an intriguing overlay. The books selected are those that open up new ways of understanding the historical development of Christianity. Each in its own way has created a paradigm shift.

I wrote...

Searching for the Messiah: Unlocking the "Psalms of Solomon" and Humanity's Quest for a Savior

By Barrie Wilson,

Book cover of Searching for the Messiah: Unlocking the "Psalms of Solomon" and Humanity's Quest for a Savior

What is my book about?

An award-winning historian of religion examines the role a “messiah” plays in Western culture, from its pre-Christian roots to modern interpretations of a savior. Over the centuries, people have longed for a messiah, whether a religious figure such as Jesus, a political leader, or even in popular culture. The messianic quest emerges most acutely during difficult times when people experience a sense of powerlessness and desperation. But the concept of a messiah—a savior—has its root in the writings of ancient Judaism and early Christianity, evolving from an anointed leader to universal savior. Wilson turns to a little understood pre-Christian text, “The Psalms of Solomon,” which set the stage for messianic expectation just prior to the birth of Jesus.

The Christian Imagination

By Willie James Jennings,

Book cover of The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race

You’ll be dazzled by the brilliance of this author, and the beauty of his writing.  The book is impossible to summarize, but if you want to understand how the spread of a specifically Christian imagination around the world produces a racial grid, racial thinking, and racism, this book is indispensable.  Whether you’re interested in modern race, or race in all the long centuries before, you’ll come away with a better understanding of how the spread of the Christian religion has produced race and racisms.

Who am I?

I’m that infamous medievalist who wrote the big book on medieval race. It took 20 years of thinking and research, and a whole lot of writing, but now people are convinced that there was, indeed, such a thing as race and racism between the 11th and 15th centuries in the West (aka Christendom/Europe). I'm Perceval Professor of English and Comparative Literature, with a joint appointment in Middle Eastern studies and Women’s studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

I wrote...

The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages

By Geraldine Heng,

Book cover of The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages

What is my book about?

I take readers on a journey from North America (where Greenlanders and Icelanders had a lot to say about Native Americans) to Europe (where Jews were racialized, and “Gypsy” became the name of a slave race), to the Middle East (where Muslims were the international enemy in the killing fields of holy war) to Africa (where blackness was seen as the color of sin and the devil, and Ethiopians were deemed a population of sinners) to the Eurasian steppes and China (where Mongols evolved, in the western mind, from subhuman beings to the representatives of the greatest empire on earth). Along the way, I show readers why all this still matters today.

Letters and Papers from Prison

By Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

Book cover of Letters and Papers from Prison

This is one of the few books available in English that records first-hand the feelings and thoughts of one of those few, courageous Germans who defied Hitler at the risk of their own lives. For that reason alone, it is worth reading. However, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not only an ardent member of the German Resistance, arrested for aiding Jews, he was also an outstanding protestant theologian. His thoughts from a Nazi prison cell are particularly thought-provoking — and poignant. He was executed just before the end of the war. This is a moving yet inspiring read.

Who am I?

I'm a retired diplomat and award-winning novelist with a PhD in history. I was drawn to the German Resistance because, unlike the other resistance movements across Europe, the German Resistance fought not a foreign invader but rather confronted the corruption and hijacking of their own state. Germans opposed to Hitler needed the moral fortitude to commit treason, and ultimately tyrannicide, not for the sake of the nation, but for humanity itself. I devoted ten years of my life to studying the German Resistance, first for my doctoral dissertation and then to write my novel. During that time, I was asked a thousand times why I was so fascinated and committed to the topic. The answer, tragically proven true over the last five years, is that the United States is not immune to fascism. The need to resist a racist and immoral demagogue has never been more relevant.

I wrote...

Traitors for the Sake of Humanity: A Novel of the German Resistance to Hitler

By Helena P. Schrader,

Book cover of Traitors for the Sake of Humanity: A Novel of the German Resistance to Hitler

What is my book about?

They opposed Hitler's diabolical regime on moral grounds. They sought to defend human dignity and restore the rule of law -- at the risk of their own lives. Traitors to Hitler, they were heroes to the oppressed. They remain an inspiration to anyone fighting against immoral and corrupt governments anywhere in the world.

Adolf Hitler seems to have captivated all of Germany, yet even as one Nazi victory follows another, individuals with integrity and compassion remain opposed to him, his regime, and all it stands for. People like Philip, Alexandra, and Marianne. They feel isolated and hopeless until they discover each other -- and learn that their concerns are shared by men in the highest echelons of the German High Command...

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