Renovare’s 25 Books Every Christian Should Read

In 2011 Revovare published “25 Books Every Christian Should Read” and this list had a serious impact on my life. This is a very good list but I also recognize there are a handful of books that for one reason or another I would change. Today I am posting the original list, with my own comments and tomorrow I will post the 25 books I think every Christians should read. The list is simply ordered by publication date and I do not recommend reading the books in this order.

  1. On the Incarnation St. AthanasiusA very short book describing the need for Jesus to come to the world and what his incarnation means for the world, excellent for those just beginning the list.
  2. Confessions St. Augustine The first spiritual memoir and unmatched in the genre particularly for those whose faith is bolstered by hearing the struggles and successes of others, consider this as on of the absolute first on the list to read.
  3. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers Various A collection of the wisdom of the desert monks, these are short pieces of wisdom and cannot be rushed through, one must spend time with each saying before moving on to the next.
  4. The Rule of St. Benedict St. BenedictBenedict the Great’s rule for monastic living, these simple ideas benefit anyone who wants to live in community with their fellow Christians. The rules can also help us as we learn to engage with our own churches.
  5. The Divine Comedy Dante Alighieri Dante’s dream of the hideousness of Hell and the glorious nature of Heaven, the poetry Dante uses helps to provide a graphic picture of the spiritual world, which is often very inspiring. This book was written in Medieval Italy and can be daunting a good annotated version is helpful.
  6. The Cloud of Unknowing AnonymousThose new to spirituality and mysticism will perhaps find this work somewhat daunting, but it is a wonderful look at the mystery of our relationship with God, but, perhaps Julian should be read first.
  7. Revelations of Divine Love (Showings) Julian of NorwichJulian’s beautiful portrait of God and as she dealt with very serious illness, the vivid pictures of the vision bring God’s immensity and immense love into sharp focus
  8. The Imitation of Christ Thomas à Kempis The title says it all, Thomas’ description of the Christian life is inspiring, he cuts to the heart of the Christian experience, probably should one of the first on this list every Christian reads.
  9. The Philokalia Various– This is a lengthy collection of spiritual writings from the Greek Orthodox tradition, many are extremely good, but the collection is sizable and can be easily overwhelming.
  10. Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin Calvin’s systematic theology is sometimes dense, sometimes inspiring surely a must read, but given its length and depth not the first read on the list.
  11. The Interior Castle St. Teresa of Ávila Much like the Cloud of Unknowing, this is a wonderful piece of mystical writing, her description of moving deeper into castle is inspiring, though if one does not practice the journey with her it can be a challenge to fully grasp her meaning.
  12. Dark Night of the Soul St. John of the Cross– The master of mystic Christianity John describes going through the dark night or Cloud surrounding God to come out in God’s full glory, this is definitely best read after one experiences Julian and Brother Lawrence.
  13. Pensées Blaise Pascal The title is accurate, the book is collections of thoughts on God by the great French mathematician, deep and philosophical, yet gentle and devotional, a wonderful answer to the enlightenment Deism of his time.
  14. The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan Bunyan’s original language is somewhat difficult, pick up an updated version, but this allegory marvelously describes Bunyan’s own journey to faith and has inspired many others to follow his pilgrimage. The drawback to this book is that some try to make Bunyan’s journey the stereotype for all Christians which undermines the beauty of the book.
  15. The Practice of the Presence of God Brother Lawrence The book is Lawrence’s advice to a friend on how he tries to find God in everyday chores as he serves his monastery, this short book should be at the top of everyone’s must read list.
  16. A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life William Law Devotion is serious business and growing with God takes determination, Law’s use of reason to show the need for God and a deeply spiritual life in quite effective, while the title might sound dry and dusty this is a lively and engaging book.
  17. The Way of a Pilgrim Unknown Author This is one of the best books on the list, describing an anonymous pilgrim’s journey around Russia as he learns to practice the Jesus prayer and incorporate Jesus literately into every breath.
  18. The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoevsky The fictional story of one family searching for faith and meaning in 19th century Russia, this is a long novel and very deep, but a wonderful portrayal of humanity’s search for faith and God in the midst of daily life.
  19. Orthodoxy G. K. Chesterton Chesterton is known for his sharp wit and clever mind, this book explores orthodox Christianity with every inch of his mind, anyone reading this book should also consider picking up the companion volume Heretics.
  20. The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins This 19th century Catholic monk grasped deep truths about God in his poetry. If you have a difficult time understanding or appreciating poetry this might not be for you, but at least try to read The Wreck of the Deutschland & As Kingfishers Catch Fire.
  21. Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer– This is Bonhoeffer’s case against a view of grace that does not cost us or challenge us, he works his way through the Sermon on the Mount showing how God’s grace should change us to be like God.
  22. A Testament of Devotion Thomas R. Kelly– “What if we simplified our lives and focused on God” this is Kelly’s focus in the book, as he outlines how we step back from the chaos of life simplify ourselves and focus on God, this is a very short book and very powerful.
  23. The Seven Storey Mountain Thomas Merton– Merton was a mid-20th century mystic who describes his own path to discovering God, much of the mysticism of the earlier masters, yet, in a format which is easier for the modern reader.
  24. Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis This book comes out of Lewis’ radio addresses during WWII and shows his wit and intelligence as he describes how much it takes to be merely Christian.
  25. The Return of the Prodigal Son Henri J. M. Nouwen– Nouwen captures his reflections on Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son in this wonderful volume providing readers with a look into the very heart of God’s character and love for the lost.

While it is ridiculous for me to comment on a reading order that is “best” or even “helpful” I do think some of these are better for newcomers than others. If I was unfamiliar with these books I would start with St. Augustine’s Confessions, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, or Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (if you are inclined toward deep Novels). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Henri Nouwen, and Brother Lawrence are also great choices for those new to devotional literature. I highlight these books because they were the most straightforward and easiest for me to grasp. But whichever books you find yourself beginning with make a note that you will have to circle around to them a second time because these books seem to gain depth as you grow in your spiritual journey.

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