What Books Should I Read Before Starting at RBC?

Posted On October 27, 2017

Several times a year, we have student preview days at Reformation Bible College. Almost inevitably, someone will raise his or her hand during a Q&A and ask: “What Books Should I Read Before Starting at RBC?” During my years in seminary, I worked in the campus bookstore, and I am an unapologetic bibliophile. I love to recommend books. However, when I receive this question from incoming students, I am always at something of a loss. Part of the problem is that I wish they had asked the question four or five years earlier because when I get started recommending books, I can have a difficult time stopping. By the time I finish, the questioner has a list of recommended reading that would take several years to complete. Usually by the time they ask us this question they have between three and twelve months before they begin their courses at RBC.

Furthermore, many of the books that immediately spring to mind are books that I require in my theology courses. So someone may ask what books they should read before beginning studies at RBC, and after I suggest several titles, I receive the follow-up question: “What about Calvin’s Institutes? You didn’t recommend that one. Why not?” Well, because we require significant sections of Calvin’s Institutes in each of the systematic theology courses. By the time you finish all seven required systematic theology courses, you will have read almost all of Calvin’s Institutes. So, what books would I recommend as a preparation for those planning to enroll at RBC? Assuming that you are already reading the Bible regularly, the following books are among those I would recommend:

  1. R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God and Chosen by God. These books should be required reading for all Christians. Both are modern theological classics.
  2. Kelly M. Kapic, A Little Book for New Theologians. Kapic’s little book focuses on why we study theology and the necessary characteristics of a theologian. The second is particularly important because too many young Reformed Christians separate the head and the heart.
  3. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem. This is a brilliant introduction to some of the basic themes of biblical theology. It will whet students’ appetites for more.
  4. Augustine, Confessions. Because one cannot be a serious theologian without having read the Confessions.
  5. Louis Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine. We require Berkhof’s Systematic Theology as a text in all of our systematic theology courses. His Manual is a good summary overview of what he covers in much more detail in the larger work.
  6. Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God. If you read it, you will understand why I recommend it.
  7. Colin Brown, Philosophy and the Christian Faith. Brown’s book is a concise introduction to the thought of major philosophers throughout history. It will be helpful because you will hear many of these names throughout your studies.
  8. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. This is simply one of the best books I’ve read in the last 30 years. It helps to explain how our move from a word-based culture to an image-based culture changed everything.
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. I recommend this one only because I often make allusions to Middle-earth, and knowing the story will help students recognize these allusions.
  10. Michael Kibbe, From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research. I believe the title is self-explanatory. Every theological student should read and master the information in this little work.

Dr. Keith Mathison is professor of Systematic Theology at Reformation Bible College.