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Kevin J. Vanhoozer: 5 picks

Essential theology books of the past 25 years

David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Bosch's classic study of biblical and historical paradigms for missions sets forth not a theological agenda for mission but a missiological agenda for theology. God's mission to the world is nothing less than the subject with which theology has to deal. Along with Andrew Walls, Lesslie Newbigin and others, Bosch reminds us that Western theology takes place in a missionary situation: faith's search for understanding directs the church to be neither secularist nor separatist but to be in the world peculiarly, participating in God's mission for the sake of the world.

John Webster, Word and Church: Essays in Church Dogmatics. Webster's collection of essays on scripture, Christ and the church bodes well for the future of systematic theology. Defining dogmatics as "that delightful activity in which the church praises God by ordering its thinking towards the gospel of Christ," these essays signal renewed confidence in theology's resources for the task of rational speech about God and the gospel. No mediating or correlating here, just good old theological theology.

N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God. Wright's first volume of his magnum opus is a methodological tour de force. It is also a bold call to New Testament scholars not to evade the question of God and, as such, represents one of the earliest shots across the critical bow by the proponents of a theological interpretation of scripture.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim That God Speaks. This is not your grandmother's philosophy of religion. Wolterstorff is less interested in traditional problems like the existence of God and the problem of evil than he is in conceptually clarifying and elaborating the claim, pervasive in scripture, that God speaks. The dogmatic recovery of the word of God at the beginning of the 20th century finds its logical counterpart at century's end. Wolterstorff's work is exemplary of the recent constructive interest among philosophers committed to the project of analytic theology.

John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church. Zizioulas is the Orthodox theologian who launched a thousand Protestant ships into the seas of trinitarian theology. This stunning reflection on the nature of personhood as communal rather than substantival is best read alongside Oliver O'Donovan's similarly brilliant Begotten or Made, written the year before. Being as Communion helped show theologians how to mine the writings of the church fathers for all they're worth.

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