The Christian Century magazine, a fine publication indeed, has published a cover story of great interest in this week’s issue. The article is titled, “Essential Theology Books of the Past 25 Years.“ This is a very interesting piece, if only because it reveals so much about each of the contributors. The Christian Century editors asked eight very prominent theologians the following questions: “Suppose someone who hasn’t been keeping up with theology for the past 25 years now wants to read the most important books written during that time. What five titles would you suggest?” Each theologian then responded with a little paragraph explaining his or her selection of the particular books.
Interestingly, the most frequently named book was John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory, the seminal work that launched the theological movement known as “Radical Orthodoxy.” Stanley Hauerwas, Lawrence Cunningham, and Willie James Jennings all mentioned the text. For those who do not already know, I have done a significant amount of work on the Radical Orthodoxy movement in recent years, with particular attention to Milbank’s contribution. My Master’s thesis was: “Postmodernity and Univocity: A Critical Assessment of Radical Orthodoxy’s Use of John Duns Scotus.” In it I spend a considerable amount of energy on Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory. I would certainly admit that it has become a force to be reckoned with, but that it so ubiquitously present in the forefront of major theologians’ thought appears to suggest that it is even more significant than I originally thought. I guess I should stick with that line of research in the ensuing years.
I was surprised that only one person, Lawrence Cunningham, mentioned Bernard McGinn’s magisterial multi-volume series: The Presence of God: A History of Western Mysticism. It would seem to me that this text deserves much more attention that it received from this poll.
It’s nice to see popular magazines keeping academic theology on the front burner every now and then. How would you answer the question, which five books would you consider the essential theological texts of the last 25 years??