The Church Leaders “Best Books” series is our way of helping leaders find, read, and recommend books on a variety of important topics related to ministry and the Christian life. Check out the rest of our best books lists.
We are joined today by Jonathan Parnell, recommending five must-reads for seminarians. Jonathan is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God, and is the lead planter of Cities Church in Minneapolis–Saint Paul, where he lives with his wife, Melissa, and their four children. He is also the author of Reading to Walk and co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary. Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanparnell.
You read a lot in seminary. It is hard, time-intensive work, but the effect a good book might have on your life is incalculable. Sometimes it might be an arresting paragraph, other times it might be the flavor of an entire work, but either way, ministers of the gospel are equipped, in large part, by words on pages. Here are five books I happily commend to you.
1. The Bible by God
Yeah, that just happened. My kids would get this answer right. If I were to ask them about the most important book in world, about the book that is worth reading above all the others, they would say the Bible. It’s funny, though, that seminarians can tend to forget this along the way. It can make it a text for cold-hearted study rather than a treasure to stir our souls. It can become an assignment instead of an encounter. Don’t let that happen. Read the Bible, and read it slow, everyday.
2. Desiring God by John Piper
Okay, okay—that just happened, too. There is no other book outside the Bible that has had such a proven impact than this classic by Pastor John. It changed my course of ministry from being a run-of-the-mill, go-through-the-motions, man-centered preacher boy to being overcome by the majesty of a sovereign, glad God. It was a Damascus-road knock-down for me that reconfigured the goal of my life and ministry—to see and show the glory of God for my joy and others’.
3. A Little Exercise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke
This is the shortest book on the list, and perhaps the most timely for seminarians. Thielicke is like a grandpa to men studying theology for vocational ministry. He was the first person I encountered who grasped the dynamic of the head and heart in theological studies, and the perilous position in which so many future ministers find themselves.
4. The Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer
This book isn’t an easy read, but the payoff is unparalleled. Vanhoozer doesn’t just make a point, he proposes a paradigm for life—all centered on the triune God who speaks. I come back to this book often, and there has since been published a shorter option which I love just as much: Faith Speaking Understanding. Whether one or the other, or both, read Vanhoozer.
5. Repentance by C. John (Jack) Miller
Because you and I need to repent. We do. Just when your soul might be getting crusty, just when you’ve had it up to here with all this academic literature, you crack open Jack Miller and begin to sob. The heart softens, the head lifts, grace has overcome. The gospel. The gospel. The gospel. That’s why we’re in this thing. That’s why we care at all about God, and seminary and reading. It’s because of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Jack Miller helps us remember.