As a passionate lifelong reader, I have several reading goals in mind. First, I certainly want to be well-read when it comes to Holy Scripture. Second, I want to read many of the classics of Western civilization. Third, I want to read many Christian classic texts as well.
According to the great educator and philosopher Mortimer J. Adler, a classic text is a book that one can never fully exhaust. That is, the content of the book is so rich and enduring that the reader continues to be challenged throughout his or her life. Scripture, of course, is the greatest of all classic works. But Christian authors outside of the Bible have produced many books that qualify as classics.
In parts one and two of this series, we were introduced to Christian classics in the genres of biography and fiction and poetry. This week, I recommend five books in another literary category for your Christian reading pleasure and to grow and challenge you in your faith. In the final part of this series, I’ll introduce books in still another category.
Part 3: Theology and Apologetics Classics
Here are five Christian classics in the broad category of theology and apologetics:
1. City of God by St. Augustine
In part one of this series, I asserted that St. Augustine is arguably the most influential Christian thinker outside the New Testament authors. City of God stands as Augustine’s monumental world-and-life-view analysis. It is his longest (more than a thousand pages) and most comprehensive work, and it is considered by some to be his most significant contribution to Western thought. In this book, Augustine laid new foundations in the fields of Christian apologetics and worldview and in the analysis of Christian history.
2. On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius
Athanasius is one of the most respected persons in church history. His articulation and defense of essential Christian doctrine (primarily Christology) earned him the title “Father of Orthodoxy.” As the title indicates, Athanasius’s book provides an explanation and defense of the historic Christian doctrine of the incarnation in the context of heretical attacks against it. Athanasius affirms that the essence of Christianity is found in the historic truth claim of Jesus Christ being God in human flesh (a single person with both a divine and a human nature).
3. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
As stated previously in this series, C. S. Lewis was perhaps the most influential Christian thinker and writer of the twentieth century. In this work, Lewis presents the idea of “mere Christianity,” which reflects far more than a book title. This term refers to a group of essential and “agreed, or common, or central” Christian doctrines (such as the Trinity, the incarnation, and the atonement) that all branches of historic Christendom (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) affirm. Thus, the book explains and defends the central beliefs and values of common Christianity.
4. Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas may have had the brightest mind in the history of Christendom. Summa Theologica is a timeless exploration and defense of classical Christian theism by arguably Christendom’s finest philosopher. The work’s best-known section is Aquinas’s “Five Ways,” or proofs for the existence of God. But this classic text is so much more than that—it truly reflects the view that Christian theology is indeed the queen of the sciences.
5. Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
John Calvin is not only the most influential scholar within the broad Reformed theological tradition, but many historians consider him one of the most influential persons in the history of Western civilization itself. And his book Institutes of the Christian Religion is a great theological classic. The work represents a full systematic theology of the Reformed tradition within historic Protestantism. Intended as a basic introduction or catechism to Christian theology, the starting point of Institutes of the Christian Religion is the Apostles’ Creed. Calvin surveys the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in creation, revelation, and redemption.
Well, that’s my recommended list of theological and apologetics Christian classics. I hope you’ll pick them up and read them. Look forward to part four of this series next week in which we’ll look at one more category of Christian classics.
Reflections: Your Turn
Which of these classics have you read? Which one are you looking forward to reading?
- “Take Up and Read: City of God” by Kenneth Samples (article)
- “Take Up and Read: On the Incarnation” by Kenneth Samples (article)
- “Take Up and Read: Mere Christianity” by Kenneth Samples (article)
- “Take Up and Read: Summa Theologica” by Kenneth Samples (article)
- “Take Up and Read: Institutes of the Christian Religion” by Kenneth Samples (article)
- For additional recommendations in the Christian theological genre, see “Ten Historic Christian Theological Texts.”