Mushy Brains, Dry Brains

It sounds like the title of story book for hungry little zombie children. Don’t worry though its not, I haven’t broken the ground on the genre just yet. Mushy Brains, Dry Brains, is actually how I feel after reading certain books.


The other day I was talking to a friend who teaches at Eternity Bible College about what books we enjoyed the most this year. As we got to talking it became clear that both of us have experienced the sort of spiritual dryness that accompanies reading a ton of academic books. He said that he tries to correct the imbalance by reading some “devotional” type books along the way, however many devotional books are just so lame! They are filled with fluff and bad theology, and they leave your brain mushy. I felt the same way. I told him that I try to read 1 ministry/devotional book for each academic book I read (and maybe about 5 fiction books per year). I found that this helps. But I think there is a real problem. Why can’t there be books that don’t leave your brain feeling dry or mushy?

Why can’t there book books that are both academic and devotional? Why can’t there be books that touch both the head and the heart?

I think there are certainly some of those kinds of books out there. So with that I give you my list of 8 awesome books (I’m limiting myself to “modern” books) that will not leave your brain feeling dry or mushy.

  1. Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright – This book changed my life. It was also the book that brought me into historical Jesus studies. Now I would say that most historical Jesus studies deflate the reader spiritually. Not this one though. Wright presents such a compelling picture of Jesus and his mission, more specifically a picture of Jesus as the promised King of the OT that you won’t be able to keep yourself from putting the book down in order to worship Jesus on the spot. It might be a hard read for some, but its well worth the effort.
  2. The Mediation of Christ by T.F. Torrance – This is a condensed version of Torrance’s theology on the person and work of Christ. It’s a systematic explanation of the gospel: The second person of the trinity took on human flesh, uniting the divine nature with human nature in order to bring reconciliation between the two. The reconciliation which began in a manger climaxes on the cross and extends into eternity as the God-Man reigns at the right hand of the Father. Again, the way he presents his theology of incarnation and atonement will cause you to worship. In fact I found myself shedding a few tears while reading this academic book.
  3. Holy Scripture by John Webster – Its exactly what it sounds like, a dogmatic account sketching out a doctrine of Holy Scripture. It is not meant to be a comprehensive account of Holy Scripture, thus it is just a sketch. Also it is a piece of dogmatic theology, thus it is a piece of theology which exists within the bounds of recognized church dogma. As I read Webster’s theology I was personally edified, and was drawn into a deeper fellowship with the God whose communicative actions was what this book was all about. Ultimately Webster embodies what the proper task of the theologian: to instruct, guide, and form the disciples of Jesus Christ.
  4. Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden – This is the authoritative biography on Edwards.  In my opinion there is something moving about reading biographies of spiritual giants that just builds up our faith. Although its academic (and long), this biography encouraged me to be a better shepherd and to love God with my mind just like Edwards did.
  5. Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright – This book changed my life. It brought me into Kingdom theology, and I have lived there ever since. In it Wright paints a picture of what Christian eschatology is all about, through deep exegesis and sweeping big picture theology Wright writes that our life desperately matters for the next life. He concludes the book with some thoughts on what a robust eschatology does for the mission of the church.
  6. Prayer by Karl Barth – I know a lot of evangelicals cringe when it comes to Barth, but not me. This is one of the books that reassured me that I made the right choice in accepting (some of) Barth’s theology. Who would have thought, the guy who wrote a 6 million word long dogmatic theology could have written such a beautiful and moving book on the theology of prayer and the role of prayer in the life of the church. There is a lot of gold in this little book.
  7. Atonement by T.F. Torrance – No book has done more to shape my Christology and understanding of the gospel than this book. Torrance follows other reformed guys like McCleod Campbell and Jon Edwards, as well as church fathers like Athanasius in understanding the atonement through the vicarious humanity of Christ. More than anybody else, Torrance’s work here is theology that preaches. Pick this long book up and I guarantee you will have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the gospel. It’s a bit complicated, but if you can grasp what he is saying it will move you to tears, and more importantly it will move you to worship your Savior.
  8. The Gospel of the Kingdom by George Eldon Ladd – Biblical Studies was not a friendly field for evangelicals when Ladd was writing, it was dominated by liberals and fundamentalists, but Ladd broke the glass ceiling so to speak. This is a great intro to Kingdom theology, but more importantly for me, I was personally challenged to live according to the way of the Kingdom while I was reading this. I can vividly remember where I was when I read some of the most challenging parts. I was in a car on the 395 on the way back from Mammoth. As I was reading I put the book down to pray that I would truly be kingdom focused. This book will do that to you.

What are your favorite academic books with “heart?” I would love to hear your answers. Comment below!


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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