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My top ten books on theology and ministry (1)

ImageTo launch what might be a new mini-series on the blog, my good friend James Blandford-Baker offers his top ten books on theology and ministry that shaped his own thinking and practice. James is Vicar of St Andrew’s, Histon, and Priest-in-Charge of St Andrew’s, Impington, as well as being Rural Dean of North Stowe in Ely Diocese.


This list was compiled in response to a question from one of our ordinands who asked about my top five most helpful books in theology and ministry. It’s a question that quite a few folk have asked me over the years, mainly because so many clergy find it difficult to keep up with their reading and only want to read books that are really helpful. I’ve been helped greatly by fellow members of the Grove Biblical Group, many of whom are active biblical scholars. I can’t read everything they recommend but some of the texts that get mentioned regularly are in this list. The books chosen are those that I return to time and time again and which have personally helped me in my ministry.


K E Bailey, Poet and Peasant & Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Grand Rapids, MU: Eerdmans, 1983). Bailey’s seminal work on the parables of Jesus in Luke. Anything by Bailey is worth reading but this one I return to time and again in preaching and teaching. His latest book, on Psalm 23, is reviewed by Grove Biblical Group member Richard Briggs here.

R Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006). A ‘bombshell’ book in which Bauckham relentlessly undermines the hopeless speculations of the form critics and restores faith in the gospels as eyewitness testimony with characteristic thoroughness and insight. If you don’t have time to read this then he published the key issues in the Grove Biblical series No 48 (of course he did!)

N T Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: Volume 2 (London: SPCK, 1996). Probably Wright’s best book. I read it every summer. Wright provides the crucial interpretative keys that enable us to read the gospels in (something close to) their original context.

W Brueggemann, Genesis (Interpretation, Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982). Brueggemann is always worth reading but this is among his best books. Refreshing insight into reading Genesis, especially the creations and ‘fall’ narratives (and if you read it you’ll discover why ‘fall’ has inverted commas around it).

R Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (T&T Clark: Edinburgh, 1997). Easily the most readable book on biblical ethics. Understandable, convincing and challenging from one of the best New Testament commentators around today (his commentary on 1 Corinthians is also excellent).

V J Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered: An Epistle from the Masai (London: SCM Press, 1982). This remains an extraordinary story of what doing genuinely contextual mission looks like. Unsurpassed as a narrative of missional encounter.

J B Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers (Leicester: Apollos, 1990). I bought this when at college as it was going cheap in a sale. Reading the letters of Ignatius and writing an essay on them convinced me of the primary need always to engage with the original texts before reading what someone else has said.

S P Walker, Leading out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership (The Undefended Leader Book 1, Carlisle: Piquant Editions Ltd, 2007). I think all books on leadership are intimidating (especially ones from America!). This is the exception to that rule. A book that will genuinely encourage you in your role as a Christian leader, won’t tell you to go to the gym every morning at 5.30am, and won’t make you feel tired and exhausted just by reading it. Full of wisdom and insight. The second book in the series is also good but don’t bother with the third which goes off on a completely different subject!

51zwf8ncOPLR Stark, The Rise of Christianity (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996). Stark is an American sociologist who has studied the first four centuries of Christian history. His insights into why the church grew and carried on growing should challenge the Western church today. We could do a lot worse than replicate the faithful discipleship of the early Christians. [Ed: this is a very different use of sociology of religion from what we have seen in the C of E recently…]

N T Wright, New Heavens, New Earth: The Biblical Picture of Christian Hope (Grove Biblical Book B11, Cambridge: Grove Books, 1999). Ok, so there had to be a Grove Book in the list somewhere and if anyone should be allowed two books in a list it has to be Tom Wright. This transformed my understanding, my preaching and my funeral ministry…and brought genuine hope and comfort to many in the face of death. That’s recommendation enough.


What would your top ten be? And whose list would you like to see? Include suggestions in the comments below.


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11 Responses to My top ten books on theology and ministry (1)

  1. Pete March 17, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    “don’t bother with the third” for “don’t other with the third”

  2. Richard Pennystan March 18, 2015 at 8:47 am #

    Culture of Honour – Danny Silk
    Grace Outpouring – Roy Godwin
    Repenting of Religion – Greg Boyd

  3. cybarev March 18, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    Cross Of Christ – John Stott
    Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
    Preach The Word – Greg Haslem
    Reason For God – Tim Keller
    Letters and Papers From Prison – Bonhoeffer

  4. John Bavington March 18, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

    “In the land of blue burqas” by Kate McCord – a fascinating insight into Muslim self-understanding in Afghanistan, with very challenging reflection on Christian living and thinking.

  5. Jimmy Hamilton-Brown March 19, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

    The Crucified God Moltmann
    Transforming Mission Bosch
    Mission in Christ’s Way Newbigin

  6. James Blandford-Baker March 19, 2015 at 6:59 pm #

    Thanks Jimmy…your first two almost made into my list as well; Newbigin’s ‘The Gospel in a Pluralist Society’ wasn’t far behind…

  7. James Blandford-Baker March 19, 2015 at 7:01 pm #

    John Bavington: that sounds like a very interesting read…and great to hear from you by the way! Hope all is well.

  8. Darren Howie March 23, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

    10 books for theology and ministry:

    Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World
    Moltmann, Church in the power of the Spirit
    Yoder, The Politics of Jesus
    Rodney Clapp, Peculiar People
    Walker, Leading out of who you Are
    Newbigin, Gospel for a pluralist Society
    Bosch, Transforming Mission
    Chris Wright, Mission of God
    Moynagh, Church for Every Context
    Boyd, The Myth of a Christain Religion

  9. Andrew Meredith March 23, 2015 at 7:48 pm #

    Richard Foster Money Sex Power

    Tom Smail Windows on the Cross (Small but useful summary of different views of the Atonement)

    David Watson Discipleship

    Rees Howells Intercessor

  10. Blair March 26, 2015 at 11:17 am #

    WH Vanstone, ‘Love’s endeavour, love’s expense’

  11. tim sumpter April 21, 2015 at 2:17 pm #

    Thanks James. I read the third on your list last year: ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’ (NT Wright) and found it truly delicious. Even more so, is the thought of you reading it (and I quote) ‘…every summer’. There are numerous responses one could make to that, but this one will suffice: ‘WOW’.

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