A Little Book for New Theologians: A Recommendation

I’ve recently finished reading a gem of a book by Kelly Kapic titled A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (IVP Academic, 2012). I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It follows in the train of earlier classics by B.B. Warfield and Helmut Thielicke in encouraging beginning students of theology to exercise humility and cultivate godliness as they study Christian doctrine. Along the way, Kapic offers some introductory thoughts on the method and end of theology. Kapic divides the book into two sections of ten short chapters.

Part One: Why Study Theology

    1. Entering the Conversation
    2. To Know and Enjoy God: Becoming Wise
    3. Theology as Pilgrimage

 Part Two: Characteristics of Faithful Theology and Theologians

    1. The Inseparability of Life and Theology
    2. Faithful Reason
    3. Prayer and Study
    4. Humility and Repentance
    5. Suffering, Justice and Knowing God
    6. Tradition and Community
    7. Love of Scripture

I don’t know that I’ve ever “marked up” a book this short before, but I found myself constantly underlining, adding check marks of agreement, and scribbling thoughts in the margin. A Little Book for New Theologians is just that good.

If you are a college or seminary student interested in studying theology, you need to read this book. If you are a theologically minded pastor (and if you are a pastor, you ought to be one of the theologically minded stripe), you need to read this book. If you are a seasoned professor of theology, you need to read this book. It could easily and profitably be read in a couple of hours. Highly recommended.

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.