Recommended Pre-Seminary Reading

Several times a year I participate in a faculty panel during our Preview Weekends at Southeastern Seminary. Prospective students pepper us with questions about theological education, doctrine, campus culture, and ministry. It isn’t uncommon for prospective students to ask us what books they ought to be reading before they enroll in seminary. In this post, I want to share some recommended readings for students who plan to attend Southeastern or a similar seminary or divinity school. I think you will find all of these books helpful in your preparation for seminary.

1 – The Holy Bible

It may sound obvious, but the most important book you can read before starting seminary is the Bible. If you’ve never read the Bible through in its entirety, I’d highly encourage you to do so during the year or two before you begin seminary. The Bible will be (or at least it ought to be) the most important book you will study during your seminary education.

2 – Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book, updated edition (Touchstone, 1972)

You will read a lot of books in seminary. For most students, this will include extensive reading in new subjects never before considered in any real depth. It would be a tragedy to read so many good books, graduate from seminary, and not really understand or remember most of what you read. Adler’s classic-first published in 1940-will help you learn to be a better reader, which will help you more than you know once you start taking seminary classes.

3 – William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary edition (Harper, 2006)

You will write a lot of papers in seminary. This is challenging for most students, but especially those who majored in undergraduate fields that required a minimal amount of research and writing. There are many helpful books that are intended to help you be a better writer, but this one is my personal favorite. You can probably read On Writing Well in a couple of evenings, and I bet you’ll even enjoy it-Zinsser is, coincidentally enough, a pretty engaging writer.

4 – Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (NavPress, 2009)

One of the tragedies of seminary is that some students sacrifice their devotional life on the altar of their education and other (admittedly worthwhile) priorities. Such students then often develop a bad attitude and blame seminary for ruining their spiritual walk. You don’t want to be that guy (or gal). Miller’s book is my personal favorite on the topic of prayer, and you need to be prepared to persevere in prayer through seminary-for your own sake and for the sake of those to whom the Lord is preparing you to minister.

5 – Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians (Eerdmans, 1980)

Seminarians are notoriously obnoxious, knowing just enough about theology to be dangerous. Reading Thielcke in advance of seminary will help you to stave off the potential rants, soap-boxes, bloviations, pontifications, and cage-stages that await any student who really cares about doctrine. It’s entirely possible you’ll read this book in a seminary class-trust me, a second reading will probably do you good. Read it before you enroll.

There are many other good books you could read before seminary. I’d recommend a steady diet of what I call “substantive Christian living” books by authors such as A. W. Tozer, Tim Keller, Jerry Bridges, John Piper, Tullian Tchividjian, Trevin Wax, and C. J. Mahaney-books that will feed your soul and perhaps challenge your thinking in the months leading up to the start of your seminary education. I’d also encourage you to read some good Christian autobiographies and biographies-some of my personal favorites include works about Adoniram Judson, John Newton, William Carey, Charles Simeon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

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  2. Dougald McLaurin   •  

    Great books!

    At library orientation I always recommend Adler’s book along with Browne’s “Asking the Right Question.”

    I will mention your post today and tomorrow in library orientation.


  3. Michael   •  


    I think these are great suggestions! I found that my time at Southeastern was rewarding and challenging at the same time (not only academically but spiritually as well). Caring for one’s soul is of utmost importance and cannot be overstated. I was consistently cautioned by my local pastors to make sure that I was studying God’s Word to grow in my relationship with Him and not just for a grade. Great advice!

  4. Laura   •  

    Great list! I’ll second the addition of Browne and add another: Barth’s Evangelical: An Introduction. I don’t agree with Barth on everything, but I like the way he thinks about theology.

  5. Nathan   •  

    Hell Dr. Finn,

    Thank you for such a post, I find it helpful.

  6. Nathan   •  

    Ouch, that of course was suppose to be a “hello”, my apologies.

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