Three Important Works of Contemporary Theology

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.

I tag Dennis, John H and Thomas.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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10 Responses to Three Important Works of Contemporary Theology

  1. John H says:

    Hmm. No promises – see this post – but equally I might see if I can come up with something. If I do, it’ll no doubt expose me as being pitifully shallow compared with those who have posted already (when was “The Bible According to Peanuts” published, again?). But hey, if I have a spare moment this weekend I may be tempted to break my tag-meme-fast…

    (cross-posting in my comments and yours)

  2. Jon says:

    Robert Alter… How is that theological? I appreciate your mention of him but neither does he treat the text in a theological manner, neither does he encourage one too… Influential? Yes! Theological? No!

    I think Alastair reads so few books he had to squeeze this one in…! No… Wait…

  3. Al says:

    Jon,
    I know, it is a stretch (and probably should not be allowed). However, I think that any book that is so significant for the way in which we read Scripture is of great importance for Theology whether it is explicitly theological itself or not. The work of men such as Alter has also contributed to certain forms of biblical criticism going out of vogue to some extent and to people rethinking the way that we ought to read Scripture. It has had significant theological effect, whether or not it itself presents itself as theological. I suppose that I wanted to try to cast the net just a little bit wider.

    Anyway, you should be pleased that I settled for this instead of the other option I had in mind. I was originally thinking of some way to justify the inclusion of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. I can think of few more important contributions to the treasury of Western literature over the past 25 years.

  4. Patrik says:

    Thanks for playing! Just a note: for me to be able to track all contributions, it is helpful if the phrase “best contemporary theology” is included, either in the heading or in the body of the post.

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  6. ryan says:

    i’m with you here on the Farrow and the Alter, despite the ambiguity of relevence for the latter. That work of Hays i haven’t read yet, though echoes is great.

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