Top One Hundred Must-Read Theology Books (Titles 1–25)

100 Books Every Student

of Theology Should Read

I wish I would have had a list like this when I started out as a young Christian. It would have saved me a lot of time as it includes many of the most seminal works while excluding much of the fluff. I get asked pretty regularly for recommended books on theology, so I decided to put together a list of the top 100 to spare myself all the accumulated effort of repeating these titles every time a new inquirer comes. If you are serious about theology, you won’t want to ignore these. You might want to bookmark this page so you can consult it periodically. These titles will equip you with a basic understanding of the development and flow of Christian theology through the centuries.

Of course, with a list of only 100 titles, one has to be extremely selective. There are many other titles I’d like to include, but alas, if I squeeze another one in, it’ll bump one out. This is, therefore, only a representative list and is not intended to be comprehensive of every title worthy of your attention. If you teach or preach the Word of God regularly, you won’t regret it if you make it a goal to work all the way through this list. But as you do, please, though you start here, don’t end here! This is an introductory list and nothing more.

You will notice that most of the authors are from past centuries. That is for good reason. Before you enter the fray of contemporary theological discourse, you should get the timeless classics under your belt. Remember Ecclesiastes 1:9. These titles are full of the meat of divinity and working through them will give you a taste of some of the best writings from the church’s brightest luminaries, from the post-apostolic age to the present.

Included is many of the most insightful primary sources that shaped the flow and development of Christian thought. I suggest you do a little research about each title before you delve into it to get a handle of its background, historic context, key arguments, etc., so that when you read it, you can make the most sense of it. Other titles, especially during the latter part of the list, are not as historically impactful, but are included on the basis of how informative and insightful I deem them to be for the student of theology.

This list represents essential reading from a Reformed perspective. That being said, works by unbelievers and heretics have been excluded. So have heterodox titles (i.e., representing Arminianism, etc.). That is not because I think there is no value in reading them. To be well-versed in the world of ideas, it is important to read broadly from different perspectives, from varied Christian camps and from non-Christian worlds of discourse. I learn as much from those I disagree with as I do from those I agree with. And I would hope that other vocational teachers of the Word would be able to say the same. Though we abominate Arius, we can be thankful that Arianism brought the full-orbed doctrine of the Trinity into focus and led to the Nicene Creed. If nothing else, divergent thinkers will help to clarify and solidify your own convictions. But always be careful, and strive to read from an assortment.

It should go without saying that inclusion of a title in this list does not imply endorsement of its entire contents, but there, I said it. Read in the spirit of a Berean (Acts 17:11). Along these lines, if including Thomas Aquinas offends your good Protestant sentiments, you just need to come to grips with how influential his thought was and continues to be. There is tremendous value in studying him, regardless of the alarmism of some esteemed brethren. I am no fanatic for Thomas, but neither do I view him as an adversary. He has many good insights and reading him carefully will sharpen your thinking as much as it will help you understand some of the conceptual background leading up to the Reformation. It will also help dispel the Enlightenment-induced myth that the medieval era was “the Dark Ages.”

These works are listed more or less according to a chronological and topical scheme. The list is delimited to works of theology. Recommended books in the genre of biblical studies have been omitted, other than top recommendations in biblical theology and Pauline studies. Beyond this, to include the ‘biblical studies’ genre would’ve made the list far too broad in scope. Some commentaries and sermons are included because they are so theologically rich and demonstrate how to do theology with the biblical text and how some giants of the past handled it accordingly. Notwithstanding, I hope to compile a list of recommended works in biblical studies elsewhere. Once I do, I’ll link to them here.

(This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate I earn a small percentage from qualifying purchases through links on this page.)

Update 4/10/2024: The rest of the list (titles 26–100) will be published in the forthcoming weeks. They will be linked to here. Bookmark this page and stay tuned.

 

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Avatar Josef Urban

Josef Urban

Raised in Toledo, Ohio, Josef has served in ministry as an inner-city evangelist, foreign missionary, pastor, teacher, conference speaker, editor, and author. He has a Master of Divinity, a Master of Theological Studies, and is doing doctoral studies in Reformed preaching. He currently serves as pastor of Grace Fellowship Church.

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Titles 1–25

The Apostolic Fathers in English, 3rd edition

The Apostolic Fathers in English, 3rd ed.

Michael W. Holmes (ed.)

This compilation of the earliest extant writings within Christian orthodoxy outside the New Testament bridges the gap between the close of the apostolic era and the development of early Christian theology, providing a primary source look into the Church’s witness in the Roman empire and the development of Christology, Trinitarian monotheism, soteriology, sanctified living, and other seminal doctrines and practices.

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Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies

Against Heresies

Irenaeus of Lyons

Irenaeus emphasized the importance of Scripture as the rule of faith and demonstrated how heretical beliefs diverged from authentic Christianity grounded in apostolic tradition. By refuting Gnostic doctrines, Irenaeus helped to define and solidify the core tenets of Christian orthodoxy. Irenaeus thus emerges not only as a defender of the faith but as one of its most influential early architects.

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On the Incarnation: Saint Athanasius (Popular Patristics Series)

On the Incarnation

Athanasius of Alexandria

Athanasius courageously stood contra mundum (against the world) in defending the deity of Christ. This classic expounds the theological vision that came to be defended at the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople: that the Son of God became man to give men communion with God. Its influence on all Christian theology thereafter, East and West, ensures its place as one of the few “must read” theology books of all time.

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Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ- The Five Theological Orations

On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations

Gregory of Nazianzus

These late 4th century orations address key theological disputes concerning the nature of the Trinity and the deity of the Holy Spirit. Gregory’s arguments were instrumental in the development of Nicene orthodoxy, influencing the outcome of the Second Ecumenical Council, held in Constantinople in AD 381. His orations are imbued with a deep sense of the mystery of God, combining rigorous argumentation with poetic eloquence. 

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Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ- The Five Theological Orations

On the Holy Spirit

Basil the Great

In the aftermath of Nicaea, the Arian heresy refused to die and the Pneumatomachians contested the deity of the Holy Spirit. Basil rose up in defense of the Spirit’s personhood, demonstrating through biblical exegesis the Spirit’s consubstantiality with the Father and the Son. Basil famously argued that the Church’s liturgies, namely its doxologies and baptismal formulas, had long ascribed worship to the third Person of the Trinity, glorifying the Spirit alongside the Father and the Son.

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Eusebius The History of the Church- From Christ to Constantine

History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine

Eusebius of Caesarea

This fourth century work on early church history gives a chronological account of the development of Christianity from the age of the apostles until Eusebius’s own day. Eusebius had access to the Theological Library of Caesarea and made use of many ecclesiastical monuments and documents, acts of the martyrs, letters, extracts from earlier Christian writings, lists of bishops, and similar sources, often quoting the originals at length so that his work contains materials not elsewhere preserved.

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Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

Confessions

Augustine of Hippo

Historian Will Durant described this as “the first and most famous of all autobiographies,” it is “addressed directly to God” in prayer “as a 100,000 word act of contrition”(!). Devotion, eloquence, humility, theology, philosophy, introspection—it’s all here, on steroids. Augustine relates his experience with the nature of temptation and sin, the longing for spiritual fulfillment, the transformative power of grace, and the contemplation of the beauty of God.

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Augustine, On the Trinity

The Trinity

Augustine of Hippo

Augustine knows by faith that God is a Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is seeks as far as possible to understand what he believes. In the first seven books Augustine begins by searching the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments for clues to understanding and then argues in the language of philosophy and logic to articulate and defend the orthodox statement of the doctrine. In the last eight books Augustine seeks to understand the mystery of the divine Trinity by observing an analogous triunity in in the human mind as image of God. 

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Augustine, The City of God

The City of God

Augustine of Hippo

Along with his Confessions, The City of God is Augustine’s most influential work. Following his critique of the Roman religious, political, and intellectual tradition in Books 1–10, Books 11–22 set out his great vision of the origins, the histories, and the ultimate destinies of the two cities: the earthly city, rooted in love of self as expressed in the pride and lust for domination that shatter human society, and the heavenly city, rooted in love of God as expressed in the humility and yearning for the supreme good that unite humanity in a just social order.

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Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine

On Christian Doctrine

Augustine of Hippo

The four books of On Christian Doctrine guide the reader in the understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures, according to the analogy of faith. The first three books were written AD 397; the fourth was added 426. It is the first and best Patristic work on hermeneutics and sacred rhetoric, and continued to be a definitive guide for a thousand years. Although it is superseded as a scientific work by modern hermeneutics, it remains a classic for its originality, depth, and spiritual insight.

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Augustine of Hippo, Anti-Pelagian Writings

Anti-Pelagian Writings

Augustine of Hippo

These treatises include some of Augustine’s most significant statements on grace which became highly influential on many theologians in the centuries that followed, especially during the Protestant Reformation. They also afford insight into the fifth-century status of many theological questions that are alive today, such as the extent of the damage done to human nature by sin and the priority of God’s will and work in salvation.

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J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines

J. N. D. Kelly

Dr. Kelly organizes an ocean of material by outlining the development of each doctrine in its historical context. He lucidly summarizes the genesis of Chrisitian thought from the close of the apostolic age to the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century–a time teeming with fresh and competing ideas. The doctrines of the Trinity, the authority of the Bible and tradition, the nature of Christ, salvation, original sin and grace, and the sacraments are all extensively treated in these pages.

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Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy

Boethius

Composed in the sixth century while Boethius was awaiting execution on charges of treason, this treatise relates a mystical dialogue between “Lady Philosophy” and Boethius. In a synthesis of Platonic philosophy read through the Christian tradition, Philosophy teaches Boethius to escape human vanity and its trust in worldly fortune by embracing the everlasting benevolence of divine Providence. Touching on the nature of fortune and happiness, good and evil, fate and free will, this book was extremely popular throughout medieval Europe.

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Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works

Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm’s (c. 1033-1109 A.D.) writings on matters such as the nature of truth, the existence of God, and the nature of the atonement make him one of the premier theologians and philosophers in history. This volume, Anselm of Canterbury: Major Works features Anselm’s most influential writings. It includes the Monologion, the Proslogion, and his classic work on the atonement: Cur Deus Homo, a.k.a. Why God Became Man.

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Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

Thomas Aquinas

Every Protestant theologian either loves Thomas or hates him, but one thing is certain: he cannot ignore him. Thomas towers over the Middle Ages head and shoulders above the rest. His primary occupation at the University of Paris was as a theologian and a commentator on Sacred Scripture. The Summa remains one of the great seminal works of philosophy and theology. It is particularly insightful on the doctrine of God and the Trinity. The linked-to edition is a beautiful hardcover set that contains the Latin and English text in parallel.

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Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John

Thomas Aquinas

Thomas’s official title was “Master of the Sacred Page,” that is, a scholar and expostor of Scripture. Considered a landmark theological exposition of the Fourth Gospel, these lectures were delivered to Dominican friars when Aquinas was at the height of his theological powers, when he was also composing the Summa theologiae. Delves profoundly into the theology of the Godhead.

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Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Thomas à Kempis

Written in the 15th century by a German-Dutch monk, this classic breathes the spirit of simple and sincere devotion to Christ. Though penned prior to the Reformation, it has been treasured by Protestants from Luther’s day to the present. One of the most prized devotional classics of all time, it deals with purity of heart, humility, prayer, and the Eucharist in a spirit of worship. A must-read for its remarkable influence within Catholic and Protestant communions alike.

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Martin Luther, On the Bondage of the Will (1525)

Martin Luther

In this debate against Erasmus, Luther gives extensive treatment to what he saw as the main doctrine under dispute in the Reformation. Free will was no academic question to Luther; the whole gospel of the grace of God, he believed, was bound up with it and stood or fell according to the way one understood it. Luther affirms our total inability to save ourselves and the sovereignty of divine grace in our salvation. A masterpiece showing the revival of Augustinian soteriology in the theology of the father of the Reformation.

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Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians (1535)

Martin Luther

Galatians was Luther’s favorite book of the Bible; he called it, “My Katharine” (the name of his wife). This commentary was initially his lectures to his students. He unleashes lightning and thunder as he expounds his sharp law-gospel antithesis and proclaims his doctrine of justification by faith alone in all its force and power. A must-read to understand the cardinal doctrine of Luther’s theology and the free grace of the gospel according to Paul.

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Martin Luther, Table Talk

Martin Luther

Imagine pulling up a chair to the Luther family table after a fine dinner. You listen as Luther talks about his early life, his decision to become a monk, his rediscovery of the gospel, his attacks on scholasticism and the papacy, his journey to the Diet of Worms, his marriage to Katherine von Bora, and his thoughts on theological and practical topics. Because Luthers friends took notes of many private conversations around the Luther family table, you dont have to imagine what he would say.

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John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

John Calvin

The magnum opus masterminded by the Reformation era’s most insightful theologian, exegete, pastor, and preacher needs no commendation from third parties. It speaks for itself. Its impact on Western civilization is monumental in so many ways. John T. McNeil’s translation is the current standard. Beveridge’s is also worth reading, chiefly because he better captures some of Calvin’s eloquence, but McNeil’s is more accurate.

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John Calvin, Commentary on Romans

John Calvin

Calvin was known in his own generation as “The Theologian,” but the most laborious literary task he accomplished was authoring, singlehandedly, extensive commentaries on almost every book of the Bible. Published in 1539 at the beginning of his career, this commentary evinces Calvin’s skill for speaking with “lucid brevity” and his ability to wed theology with scientific exegesis. Calvin believed Romans was a key to opening up the whole of Scripture to one’s understanding, and this work shows why. A true classic worth consulting time and again.

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John Calvin, Sermons on Galatians

John Calvin

Calvin believed preaching the Word of God was the central task to which God had called him. He preached tirelessly, verse-by-verse, through entire books, and he did so extemporaneously straight from the Hebrew and Greek texts. These sermons were taken shorthand by a congregant, so they read just like Calvin preached them. I recommend reading this side by side with Luther’s lectures on Romans. Luther is explosive and imbalanced, but Calvin is collected, methodological, and theologically precise—and more balanced in explicating the topic of ‘law and gospel.’

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John Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians

John Calvin

Paul’s sovereign grace theology, especially in Ephesians 1 and 2, receives masterful exposition by the Genevan Reformer in these sermons. Here you will read of Calvin’s understanding of Pauline soteriology and ecclesiology preached at a popular level to his working class congregation gathered at Saint Peter’s. But Calvin devotes even more time and attention to chapters 4–6, which deal with practical matters, thus showing his pastoral heart and his desire to see biblical truth experientially impact everyday life.

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John Calvin, Reply to Sadoleto, Reformation Debate

John Calvin vs. Jacopo Sadoleto

Calvin’s letters herein comprise one of the most interesting Catholic-Protestant exchanges of the Reformation era. In 1539 Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto, Bishop of Carpentras, France, sent a letter to the magistrates and citizens of Geneva asking them to return to the Catholic faith. A few months later, Calvin replied to Sadoleto, defending the Protestant reforms. One of the most insightful works of the Reformation wherein Calvin champions the solas of the Reformation.

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William Perkins, A Golden Chain

William Perkins

This is not simply an exposition of Romans 8:28–30, but a systematic-theological exposition of Reformed soteriology. It is conscise, dense, meaty, 16 ounces to the pound. Perkins, the master of combining profound learning with plainness of speech, is known as the “father of Elizabethan Puritanism.” His supralapsarianism made for high Calvinism yet he never imbibed hyper-Calvinism. Here he lays bare his schema of the sovereign salvation provided by our Triune God. The original Reformed treatise on the ordo salutis.

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Titles 26–100 in this list coming in the weeks ahead!

Avatar Josef Urban

Josef Urban

Raised in Toledo, Ohio, Josef has served in ministry as an inner-city evangelist, foreign missionary, pastor, teacher, conference speaker, editor, and author. He has a Master of Divinity, a Master of Theological Studies, and is doing doctoral studies in Reformed preaching. He currently serves as pastor of Grace Fellowship Church.

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