What Should I Read Before Seminary?

August 25, 2023

Many incoming students ask what they can do to prepare themselves for their time at seminary, and specifically what they should be reading before they attend Westminster. Knowing that attending seminary is a difficult endeavor, this is a prudent mindset to have.

My name is Brandon Smith, and I’m a Westminster MDiv alumnus who can speak from experience. With that in mind, I’ve assembled a suggested reading list in the disciplines of biblical studies, systematic theology, apologetics, church history, pastoral theology, and biblical counseling.

The Bible 

The most obvious thing that you should be reading before attending seminary is the Bible. “Read your Bible” may seem like a cliche panacea, but having a solid familiarity with Scripture is the best thing that will prepare you for a seminary education. The Scriptures are the foundation of everything that we do at Westminster. Herman Bavinck famously stated that “Mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics.” Well, Scripture is the lifeblood of Westminster. So, being attuned with your Bible will make life as a Westminster student much easier. As far as translations go, The ESV and the NASB are great.

Biblical Studies

One of the most important works to read in preparation for a Westminster education is Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments by Gerhardus Vos. When I first started attending Westminster an older student saw that I had a copy of this book and told me something to the effect of, “Vos is like cheat codes for Westminster. Read and understand him and you’re guaranteed to get at least a C in every class.” That may not be entirely true, but it is hard to overstate just how informative this book is to the overall theological methodology at Westminster.

Another great book that is specifically focused on the Old Testament is Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview by Meredith Kline. Kline’s idiosyncratic writing style will become very familiar to you during your time at Westminster so it will serve you well to become acquainted with it ahead of time. If you read this book as well as Kline’s Images of the Spirit you will also have the added benefit of understanding many WTS inside jokes about his liberal usage of hyphenations.

For New Testament books, Paul: An Outline of His Theology by Herman Ridderbos and Pauline Eschatology by Gerhard’s Vos will be very informative and will give you a solid familiarity with the standard approach to the New Testament that you will see in your NT courses at Westminster. For an even more in depth work on the biblical theology of the New Testament you can check out G.K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. This book is a pretty massive tome, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t finish it before you start seminary.

Systematic Theology

The core of your Systematic Theology reading at Westminster is going to be made up of The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck, and Institutes of Elenctic Theology by Francis Turretin. These are works that you almost definitely will be reading in seminary so it is to your advantage to get a head start if possible. They will be works that you will be revisiting in your ministry long after you have graduated and are well worth the investment, so they are worth the price tag.

Additionally, the Collected Writings of John Murray will also be very helpful. If you would prefer a single volume work that will give you some exposure to Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied would meet that need. Finally, An Introduction to Systematic Theology by Cornelius Van Til is also a book that will be helpful for Systematic Theology and as the groundwork for understanding Van Til’s apologetic methodology.


When it comes to apologetics at Westminster, the best book to read ahead of time is Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint. This book was written by Dr. Oliphint to take the apologetic method of Van Til and present it in an easily digestible and accessible way.

Dr. Oliphint’s work will get you acquainted with Van Til, but you will have to turn to the source eventually, so getting acquainted with Van Til first hand will be important, too. I’d recommend starting with Christian Apologetics by Cornelius Van Til and then moving to the more robust and difficult work Defense of the Faith, also by Van Til. Another great resource to become acquainted with Van Til would be Van Til’s Apologetic by Greg Bahnsen. This work contains long sections of Van Til’s work with explanatory sections by Bahnsen.

Church History

Starting with the ancient church, Henry Chadwick’s book The Early Church is a go-to text for that period of church history and is a fascinating read that does a great job of distilling hundreds of years of church history into an engaging and enriching read.

The Christian Tradition 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition 100-600 by Jarislov Pelikan covers roughly the same time period of church history. When I took Westminster’s Ancient Church course, reading this book was described by the professor as “a bit like chewing gravel” because the writing style is pretty opaque. However, the content of the book is well worth the effort of reading it.

Moving further along in church history, The European Reformations by Carter Lindburg is a great book that covers the distinctions between the various reformation movements in Europe. In that regard, the pluralization in the title is not a typo. 

Moving past the reformation, Richard Muller’s Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics is a huge multi-volume work on the period of the reformation from 1520 on to 1725. This is another 4 volume set, so it will be a bit expensive. However, this is another work that will serve as a resource for your future ministry for years to come.

Pastoral Theology

Called to the Ministry is a book that will definitely benefit you in the time leading up to seminary in that it will help you discern your particular call to ministry and give you an idea of what the call to ministry that you are entering into entails. Two other books by Clowney that will serve you well are Preaching and Biblical Theology and Preaching Christ in All of Scripture. Additionally, Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers is a classic but recently translated work that will be a great help to you. Another classic work is Preaching and Preachers by Martin Lloyd Jones.

Biblical Counseling

You might think that if you aren’t planning on becoming a counselor, that counseling isn’t something that you need to worry about learning. Well, think again, because counseling is a vitally important part of practically every form of ministry. For that reason, biblical counseling is non-negotiable at Westminster. With that in mind, The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context by David Powlison will give you a great historical account of the development of Biblical counseling and give you a good understanding of the principles of biblical counseling in the process. How People Change by Tim Lane also helps readers build a basic understanding of biblical counseling. And if you want to go a bit deeper into the principles and practice of biblical counseling, Seeing With New Eyes, also by Powlison, is a great resource.


It’s a running joke that while welcoming new students during orientation at Westminster we say “Welcome to Westminster, you’re already two weeks behind.” So, do yourself a favor and read some of these works and maybe you’ll only be one week behind. 

Now, some words of encouragement in case you feel overwhelmed: don’t worry too much about reading every single book on this list. Most students come to Westminster having read none of the books on this list. So any reading that you do from this list will give you a leg up. 

If you have any questions about the books on this list or want more books that would be helpful, our admissions staff are more than willing to help. Get in touch with them here, or speak with a staff member at the Westminster Bookstore (most of whom are seminary trained as well).

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