Several people have asked me to suggest some helpful reading on various ministry-related topics. Here’s an attempt at the books I most highly recommend in these areas, along with some that have come most highly recommended to me.
I write this with many of my own leaders in mind, so these lists assume I’m talking to bright, interested people, but not scholars or seminarians, necessarily. With that, I’m looking for works that I can feel confident putting in the hands of most of my people.
These suggestions are intended to give you a start. I’m not providing a full analysis here. Take a look at their tables of contents, sample some pages, and read some reviews to get a better feel for which is right for you. And, of course, I’m happy to talk to you more about what you’re looking for and what might be best.
Understanding the Biblical Narrative
For an introduction to the larger narrative of Scripture––something to give you a better handle on how the whole Scripture story weaves together, these two books will serve you very well:
- The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen
- The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible by Sean Gladding
Those are relatively short works. For a more detailed introduction, take a look at Introducing the Bible by John Drane. It’s big (736 pp.), but very reader friendly. You can also use the OT and NT sections in this as your introductory surveys for those areas.
For a general introduction to the Old Testament, these two books are where I’d start:
- The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament by Sandra Richter. This will give you a great overview of the big picture of the Old Testament, helping you arrange and understand all the scattered facts you might have about the OT.
- Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian Survey by Bill Arnold and Bryan Beyer. This will give you a more straightforward book-by-book survey of the Old Testament at a very readable level.
Relating the Old Testament to modern Christian ethical concerns is an ongoing challenge. If you’re dealing with those concerns, I’d suggest Old Testament Ethics for the People of God by Christopher J. H. Wright. It’s another big book, but very accessible. And though it’s worth reading front to back, you can also use it to just read up on a particular area.
Whereas the Old Testament setting spans centuries — millennia even — the New Testament setting spans only a few decades. Because of that, it has been a bit easier for people to ask what “the setting” of the New Testament was. I’d go to a few books to help me understand that setting:
- The Shadow of the Galilean: The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative Form by Gerd Theissen. This is a short, creative narrative that will introduce you to the social world of Jesus.
- The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World by Bruce Longenecker with Ben Witherington III. Like the book above, this will give you a short, creative narrative account to introduce you to the social world of many of the early Christians.
- New Testament History: A Narrative Account by Ben Witherington III. It’s big (400 pp.) but accessible. This one will help you understand the significant people and events that gave shape to the setting in Jerusalem when Jesus came and the setting of the early Church both in Israel and spread across the Roman Empire.
For a more standard survey of the New Testament, I might start with Mark Allan Powell’s Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey.
And for all those tough ethical conundrums (divorce and remarriage, homosexual practice, abortion, violence, women in ministry) that we go to the New Testament hoping to understand, the book to go to is The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction To New Testament Ethics by Richard Hays. He says you should read it in order––not jumping to the specific topics––and it’s probably better that way, but I think some of the individual chapters on various topics are quite good on their own. And his five pages on sharing possessions in the conclusion are perhaps the best part of the whole book.
General Bible Study
We struggle to understand how to go about reading and studying the Bible. Fortunately, there are some books out that I think are outstanding resources:
- Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson. The Publishers Weekly review tells us, “Peterson says that we ought not read the Bible the same way we read a cookbook, a textbook, or even a great novel. Rather, Christians are to absorb, imbibe, feed on and digest Scripture.” He teaches us how to do that in this book.
- For the method I most believe in for Scripture study––called inductive Bible study––start with Bible Study That Works by David Thompson. It’s an easy ready, just over 100 pages. Very helpful. If you like that and want to get really advanced, go to Inductive Bible Study: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics by David Bauer and Robert Traina. And for more on inductive Bible study, see my post: Shortcuts to studying Scripture — and why they take longer.
- Have questions about why there are different translations? Or which to use? Or how to interpret different genres of writing throughout the Bible? A great place to start is How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.
- And finally, I know many people struggle to understand how the Bible is authoritative, and just what kind of authority the Bible has. The best work to help shape your understanding of how to understand the Bible’s authority––and thus, how to read the Bible in the first place––is N. T. Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today.
There’s a running start at some resources concerning the Bible. I’ll have future posts on theology, pastoral care, worship, discipleship & spiritual formation, Church history, and church & society issues. I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions about this list or future lists.
I’ve read most, but not all of these. Those I haven’t read, I’ve skimmed through enough and heard enough good things from trusted people that I can recommend them with confidence.