Things I look for...
I have been thinking about what qualities make a theological book or article "worthwhile" in my opinion. Since I read a lot of different articles and books focused on the same topics, what I look for focuses around whether I can get something out of the work I am reading that was not contained in the other works. Thus, a book or article can be brilliant, but if I don't learn something from it, it is not going to be worthwhile reading in my view. This could of course mean that the single overall best book on the topic for a person to read if they were only going to read one book on that topic, might not be "worthwhile" according to my criteria. I think there are four primary qualities I look for, at least one of which needs to be present:
1. Original scholarship
The author proposes new ideas, novel approaches, a radical thesis... something that makes me stop and think "wow, hadn't thought of that" or "hmm, that's an interesting idea".
2. Breadth of citations
Some writers interact a lot with the rest of scholarly literature. If a book makes reference to the ideas of a hundred other different authors then there's bound to be something to be learned from it.
3. Insightful analyzes
When dealing with a controversial issue, sometimes writers can beautifully lay out the various viewpoints that different people hold on the topic, and explain wonderfully the pros and cons of the different viewpoints. This is often a great help to clear thinking, even though no conclusion may be reached and no original research is done.
4. Strong arguments
This is where the writer provides an abnormally high level of good-logic and evidence-analysis in their arguments. Rather than survey the various views and then sit on the fence, the writer provides the strongest possible argument for their views.
I was thinking about these things because I am currently reading Ben Witherington's Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary and trying to work out why I think it is so bad. I think I've convinced myself that the reason I hate it is because it fails abysmally on all four of the above criteria.