I did it — I’m officially a Master of Divinity graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary. I walked across that stage Friday of last week, and I feel honored to have been able to formally study theology at a great institution. Don’t get me wrong — I’m exhausted. These past three years have been grueling. But deep down I feel a sense of gratitude and thankfulness to be a seminary graduate; it is a privilege denied to many.
Now that I’m done, I figured I’d share some of the books that were most helpful to me during seminary. These books may not have been the most inspiring or best written, but they made the list because they particularly impacted me. And maybe I didn’t read every word of the book, but I read enough to include it on this list.
[callout]Note: If you’d like to view the complete list of books I was required to read for my MDiv, see my post entitled: Seminary Books: A Complete List of Required Reading for My MDiv Studies.[/callout]
Top 20 Best Books I Read in Seminary
20. An Introduction to the New Testament by D.A. Carson and Douglass Moo
Carson and Moo are the top two New Testament scholars around, so it’s a special occasion when they tag team a book. I find it amusing that the word “introduction” made the subtitle as this book is over 700 pages long. Nevertheless, this is a helpful resource for a big overview of the NT, especially helpful for pastors and serious theological students.
19. The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame
A book on Christian ethics. Did not read nearly as much of it as I should have (or would have like to), but I want to keep diving into this book. Indeed, this is my first Frame book and won’t be my last. I see now why he is a trusted source for many. This book would be of particular interest to you if you want to see how the ten commandments apply to your life.
18. Our Reasonable Faith by Herman Bavinck
Which systematic did we use at Covenant? The answer: Bavinck. This book is the abridged version of his classic, Reformed Dogmatics. Bavinck is a sophisticated theologian worth reading. On the negative side, the book is a little hard to interact with because the font is in bold (or just really dark; either way it’s cumbersome), and there is sometimes missing words on pages. But this is worth the read if you can fight through some of these annoyances.
17. When Life Goes Dark: Finding Hope in the Midst of Depression by Richard Winter
A book that engages the mind and the heart. Winter’s vulnerability in this book makes him more relatable, and he covers an array of emotions that affect the human experience. I was surprised as to how much I loved the counseling classes while at Covenant, and no doubt Winter played a huge role in my experience.
16. From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch by T. Desmond Alexander.
The first five books of the Bible are important for understanding the rest of the Bible well. One of the benefits of my theological training was a deeper understanding and love for the Old Testament. Books like this made it possible.
15. Church History, Volume Two by John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James III
Reads like a textbook, but is very clear and concise, and does not regularly belabor insignificant details. This book covers — as the subtitle suggests — around the 16th century until the present. You probably won’t catch me reading general history books (no offense), but I love reading about my brothers and sisters from the past.
14. The Westminster Confession of Faith
A rich and wonderful document. While I don’t agree with everything in it, it is a masterpiece. When it comes to building your theological library, it’s important to read books that have stood the test of time; you must resist the temptation to exclusively buy modern pop theology books. If you haven’t dug too much into the past, the confession is a good place to start (I have the version with the larger and shorter catechisms and Scripture proofs).
13. Acts by I. Howard Marshall
Besides reading the Bible, biblical commentaries are my favorite thing to read (If interested, see my guide on how to find the best commentaries). I prefer the technical ones with serious exegesis in the original language, but this devotional commentary by Marshall — if I can put it that way — was a blessing to my soul. It helped clarify some confusing questions I’ve had on the Holy Spirit for a long time.
12. Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles by Karen Jobes
Before seminary, I had considered myself to be in the know on who to read with respect to Christian authors. After three years of seminary, I realize that I was in the know exclusively in the pop Reformed world. Not a bad thing, per se. But there’s much more to Christian publishing than your favorite conference speaker. Jobes is one of those authors I discovered in seminary, and I have loved everything written by her (including her commentary on 1 Peter).
11. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher J.H. Wright
In a day where the Old Tetsmanet’s validity and authority is being questioned, this book helped me understand how we can understand Jesus through the Old Testament. After all, the OT is what Jesus read, memorized, and obeyed.
10. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan
Didn’t read the whole thing but loved what I read. I don’t know a single honest Christian who doesn’t struggle with all the killings in the OT. This book will help you understand that part of Scripture. A great apologetic tool, especially for new Christians or skeptics.
9. Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message by Michael Bird
I read much of this book by the pool in Mexico two summers ago. It inspired me, so much so that I believe I read Paul’s 13 letters after reading this volume. Few praises for a book are higher than, “Your book made me want to read the Bible more when I finished it.”
8. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by Daniel B. Wallace
Pure gold. Definitely don’t understand everything in this book, but will certainly be a helpful resource in my future ministry context. I try to use it every time I preach from a NT text and every time I do, I’m reminded why this book is simply magnificent.
7. Why I Am Not an Arminian by Michael D. Williams and Robert A. Peterson
Polemical, yet responsible. There have been a few new books on Calvinism released in 2019 worth checking out. This book, back from 2004, is worth checking out as well.
6. Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy Sherman
A great book on work and calling. Will help you to see that your work matters.
5. Far as the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael Williams
A helpful book on the covenants that shows how the covenants build on one another. I found Williams’ writing to be engaging and instructive. He unlocks parts of the Bible that you probably previously had never considered or known.
4. Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer: Spiritual Reality in the Personal Christian Life by Francis Schaeffer
Taught me how to pastor people. Of course, that’s something that you can only truly learn in real life. But if there is ever a book that gives you a close look at how to love struggling people, it’s this one. Schaeffer is kind, gracious, and does a great job of making people feel okay for not being okay.
3. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission by Christopher J.H. Wright
I used to think that my mission in life was mostly found in the Great Commission. Without downplaying the Great Commission in any way, there are other aspects of our corporate calling as the church that we should seek to fulfill. Indeed, you are blessed to be a blessing (Gen. 12:2), which includes more than evangelism and discipleship. Wright is another one of those writers I discovered in seminary, and I find his work on the Old Testament in general and in this book in particular to be quite useful.
2.Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving by Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie
I wrote a little about this book in a post entitled, The Five Key Factors to a Long and Fruitful Ministry. You have likely read the statistics on how frequently pastors burn out. A lot fewer pastors would burn out if they read and applied the concepts in this book.
1. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon by Bryan Chapell
Now in its third edition (which I ordered the other day), Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching has been a staple for expositors for a long time. While technical and at times dense, this book introduced me to a whole new world of expositional preaching that I had not previously known. Prior to seminary, I preached several times on Sunday morning and in other contexts as well, but here’s the thing: no one ever taught me how to preach. People assumed I can preach because I am a capable orator, but deep down I always wanted someone to walk me through step-by-step on how to be a faithful Bible preacher. Preachers need technical skills and cannot merely rely on talent alone. This book gave me the skills I was looking for. It was the best book I read in seminary.