Joel has tagged me for the important contemporary theological works meme. Most of the works that I would have chosen have already been mentioned. The following are not the works that I deem to be the three most important of the last 25 years, by any means. However, I believe that they are not unworthy of mention on a list of such books.
Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981 — this just squeaks in)
The author of this book is a Jewish, rather than a Christian, thinker. Furthermore, Alter writes more as a literary than as a theological person. However, I believe that Alter’s groundbreaking work is worthy of inclusion. In reading the Bible as a work of literature and challenging theologians to develop literary sensibilities, Alter’s work has been of great significance for many students of Scripture. A truly Christian reading of Scripture must go far beyond reading the Bible as literature and must also radically question this basic claim (surely the Scriptures are a very different sort of thing from those works which we usually think of when we say ‘literature’), but Alter’s work still has many important lessons to teach us.
Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1—4:11 (1983)
Hays’ Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul has already been listed by Joel. I would add this book to the list, not primarily for Hays’ argument for a subjective genitive reading of pistis Iesou Christou, but for the use that the book makes of the category of narrative for understanding the work of Paul. This work is truly of seminal significance. Doctoral dissertations that have received the attention that this work has are extremely uncommon. Hays’ work gave impetus to a move towards narrative on the part of Pauline scholarship and its effects remain with us to this day.
Douglas Farrow, Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension for Ecclesiology and Christian Cosmology (1999)
The ascension of Christ has is in many ways been a neglected doctrine in the modern history of the Church. Farrow’s book reclaims this doctrine as one of great significance for the Church’s theological reflection. For this, and the high quality of its content, I believe that this book deserves its inclusion on a list of the most important works of contemporary theology.