The most stimulating works of systematic theology from the last 20 years

On Twitter yesterday I made an observation followed by a question. I said that Paul Griffiths' Decreation is, in my view, the most thought-provoking, stimulating, exhilarating work of systematic theology written since the first volume of Robert Jenson's systematics was published in 1997. Then I asked: What are other plausible candidates from, say, the last two decades?

I thought of half a dozen off the top of my head, then started adding others' replies to the list. See the (lightly curated) resulting list below.

A few preliminary comments, though. First, everything on the list was published (for the first time) in 1998 or later. That's arbitrary, but then, all lists are; that's what makes them fun.

Second, your mileage may vary, as mine does; I think some of these books are in a league of their own compared so some of the others. But I've tried to be broader than just my own preferences.

Third, candidates for this list are works of Christian systematic theology. As ever, the genre is loose enough that you know it when you see it. But I had to make some choices. So comparative theology is out, as is moral theology—excellent examples of the latter might be Cavanaugh's Torture and Eucharist and Herdt's Putting on Virtue. The same goes for historical theology: Ayres's Nicaea and Its Legacy, though laudably normative in many of its proposals, and arguably one of the handful of most important theological books in recent decades, is not itself an instance of systematic theology. I've similarly ruled out works of theology primarily interpreting a single theologian, past or present; so books with Augustine or Barth or whomever in the title are excluded. (I imagine this is the most contestable of the criteria. I'm only half persuaded myself, as evidenced by the exception I allowed.) Works of practical or popular or narrative theology are out too; whereas Cone's God of the Oppressed is certainly systematic theology at its most bracing, The Cross and the Lynching Tree belongs to a different genre (which, lest I be misunderstood, is not a judgment of value). Biblical scholarship is excluded from consideration as well; N. T. Wright and Richard Hays and John Barclay and Paula Fredriksen are brilliant and theologically stimulating writers, but their work is not systematic theology. Oh, and I suppose I should add: I'm limiting this to works originally written in English, if only to narrow the purview of the list (while lessening its potential hubris).

Fourth, this is not intended as a list of the "best books" from the last two decades. My words about Decreation were sharp and specific: it's a knock-your-socks-off kind of book, the sort of work you can't put down, that leads to compulsive reading, that changes your mind 10 times in as many pages, and makes you rethink, or refortify, what you always thought about this or that major topic. A book on this list should not be boring, in other words; and there are good works of scholarship that are undeniably boring. Such works are not included here.

Fifth, some might quibble with the choice of book for a given author. Should Tanner's book be Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity or Christ the Key? Should Rowan Williams's be On Christian Theology or The Edge of Words? John Webster's Holy Scripture or God Without Measure? I've opted for my own idiosyncratic preference or gut sense for what made a bigger "splash" at the time of its publication. Again: your mileage may vary.

Without further ado (ordered alphabetically):
  1. Marilyn McCord Adams, Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology (2006)
  2. John Behr, The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death (2006)
  3. J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (2008)
  4. Sarah Coakley, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy, and Gender (2002)
  5. Paul J. Griffiths, Decreation: The Last Things of All Creatures (2014)
  6. David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (2003)
  7. Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (2010)
  8. David H. Kelsey, Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology (2009)
  9. Matthew Levering, Scripture and Metaphysics: Aquinas and the Renewal of Trinitarian Theology (2004)
  10. Alan E. Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (2003)
  11. Bruce D. Marshall, Trinity and Truth (1999)
  12. Eugene F. Rogers Jr., Sexuality and the Christian Body: Their Way Into the Triune God (1999)
  13. Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015)
  14. Katherine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology: Volume 1, The Doctrine of God (2015)
  15. Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology (2001)
  16. Linn Marie Tonstad, God and Difference: The Trinity, Sexuality, and the Transformation of Finitude (2016)
  17. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (2010)
  18. John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (2003)
  19. Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (2014)
  20. Frances Young, God's Presence: A Contemporary Recapitulation of Early Christianity (2013)


  1. Which of these 20 do you think are in a league of their own?


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