“Which book should I read first if I want to read [name of theologian]?” Good question. I’ve noticed that it not infrequently gets asked on Twitter. So I thought I’d share my suggestions for some of my favorite theologians (no particular order).
1) Alexander Schmemann. This one is easy: For the Life of the World. A classic.
2) Thomas F. Torrance. Again, an easy choice: The Trinitarian Faith. The only problem is the ungodly price. I hate paying $50 for a paperback, but the book is worth every penny.
3) Robert W. Jenson. This is difficult, as there is a marked difference between the early Jenson (writing very much as a Lutheran theologian) and the later Jenson (writing as an ecumenical theologian). But given the fundamental continuity of the two Jensons, I’m going to recommend one of his early works, just recently reprinted: Story and Promise.
4) Sergius Bulgakov. Impossible choice but here it goes: The Burning Bush. This will either hook you (as it did me), or it will drive you away screaming “Idolater!” At least you will then know whether you will want to read more Bulgakov. You may also find that your love for the Theotokos has deepened immeasurably.
5) Hans Urs von Balthasar. I shouldn’t even have an opinion—his multi-volume Theo-Drama sitting unread in my bookshelf for years—but I will still offer a recommendation: Love Alone is Credible.
6) Joseph Ratzinger. Introduction to Christianity. I know most people, including God, will disagree; but I wish Ratzinger had remained an academic and thus had had time to write a systematic theology.
7) Herbert McCabe. God, Christ and Us—a collection of homilies that will surprise you. You probably would not have guessed that a Thomist could be so … evangelical.
8) David B. Hart. I’m going to go with The Experience of God. The second half of the book (on consciousness) is opaque to me, but the first half on Being is illuminating and will invite you to rethink what you think the word “God” means. If you don’t like this book, no need to look at any of Hart’s other books, including, I suspect, his magnum opus, The Beauty of the Infinite.
9) N. T. Wright. How many books has Wright written? How can one choose just one “first book”? But here it goes: Simply Christian.
10) John Zizioulas. The essay is Zizioulas’s medium of choice, but fortunately Douglas Knight has pulled together material from a series of lectures to form a coherent introduction to Zizioulas’s theology: Lectures in Christian Dogmatics.
Which first books do you recommend for your favorite theologians?