I need to begin this post by again acknowledging my own debt to the Renovare list I posted yesterday, but the aim of the Renovare list is a little too specific. Renovare was writing the list of books on spirituality every Christian should read, but there is far more to the Christian life than spirituality and I want this list to reflect that fact. My criteria for this list is fairly simple- the book must address Christian growth in some way, and the book must be written at a level that most people can understand (even if that means slowing down to read it). While I want to limit this list to “classic” works that have stood the test of time, I recognize there are situations which are important to our own time and place, which would not have been important 100 or even 50 years ago, and so I include some books on this list because they represent the best I have read in a specific category which American Christians need to engage. The list is in no specific order so readers should not think I am rating a specific book as the best. The first 11 are verbatim from the Renovare list so you might skim that to see where I think they certainly got it right.
Before the list proper a few honorable mentions: American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea John Wilsey Want to know why American Christians believe some of the things they do about religion and government, start here. Also, Saving Us Katherine Hayhoe I know climate change is not a topic everyone wants to talk about, but it is important and Katherine does an amazing job showing how theology should be brought to these discussions. The Violence of the Biblical God L. Daniel Hawk is the best book I have read about the violent passages in the Bible and can certainly benefit anyone struggling with the Bible.
- 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.
- 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.
- Revelations of Divine Love (Showings) Julian of Norwich– Julian’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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. I think that every Christian should read this book but do not stop with Lewis, I would not rank this in my top 5 favorite Lewis books.
- 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.
- The Hiding Place Corrie Ten Boom– This is an autobiography and specifically her experiences during World War II. Corrie and her family helped Jews escape the Nazi regime and paid the price being sentenced to Concentration Camps. Corrie’s story is about how God continued to help her and work through her during this time and culminates in an incredible story of forgiveness.
- Silence Shusaku Endo -Based on a true story, Endo tells a gripping story of Christians in 17th century Japan. But this is more than a historical novel, Endo is also telling the story of his own discomfort with God’s silence. Silence can be an uncomfortable read but it is certainly a must for anyone who wants to have a deep and well rounded faith.
- Soul Survivor Philip Yancey– Yancey is a fabulous author and many of his books are well worth the time, but this one gets on the list because it is unique. Yancey does a masterful job walking through how his Christian journey was shaped by others and that is something our culture needs to learn. This book might not be on someone’s list in a century but this type of book needs to be read. (My full review is here).
- Reading While Black Esau McCaulley– “We got something to say” is a tagline for this book and McCaulley certainly does. An up and coming New Testament scholar wants to show what the conservative African American tradition can bring to the table of Bible study and Theology. This tradition is underappreciated and needs to be heard, especially by those of us influenced by white protestant traditions.
- Eat This Book Eugene Peterson– Every Christian must wrestle with the question “What is the Bible and how do I read it?” Peterson’s book is one of the best on how to read the Bible and will expand your idea of how you connect to God’s Word.
- The Lost World of Genesis One John Walton– Outside of the United States this book might not be a must, but the two areas where American Christians get the Bible wrong the most are the beginning and the end. Walton’s work is the best at helping us understand what the opening chapters of Genesis is trying to say.
- Surprised by Hope N.T. Wright– While we are on the subject, this is best book on how to understand “The End”. Wright walks through God’s plan for the culmination of creation and dispels many rumors along the way. Understanding the Bible can be very difficult but these three books will go a long way to helping anyone get started.
- The Language of God Francis Collins– Dr. Collins is retiring as NIH Director and is one of the most respected scientists of our generation. In a world dominated and driven by science reading Dr. Collins’ story and thoughts on the relationship between science and faith is important for finding our place within modern Western Society.
- Living Wisely with the Church Fathers Christopher Hall– Though I have emphasized the need to relate to modern society, Christopher Hall reminds us that we need to learn from our predecessors. This is just one of a 4 volume work which provides insight from the first few centuries of Christian thought. Learning how early Christians thought about their world helps strengthen our ability to live in ours.
- Sabbath as Resistance Walter Brueggemann– Like N.T. Wright or C.S. Lewis there are several books from Brueggemann which could make this list but I chose this one because it provides so much insight on why the Biblical commandment for Sabbath is essential to a Christian community. This book simultaneously teaches people how to approach the Bible and how to let the Bible impact life.
- A Celebration of Discipline Richard Foster– Foster is another author with the potential for multiple entries and I almost selected Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home but this one is essential. Foster maps out many different spiritual disciplines with the notion that discipline is not pleasant but it is necessary for growth.
- Strength to Love Martin Luther King Jr.– The concepts that King lays out in this book are something for every American Christian to wrestle with. What does it mean to love, particularly within our sinful world. This book does not feel at all dated and needs to be experienced by more Christians.
- A Little Exercise for Young Theologians Helmut Thielicke– This short read is very dense with wisdom. We tend to think of theology as an academic exercise but in reality it is a discipline for every Christian. Thielicke helps the reader consider God without pressing his own theology, simply a wonderful book.
- Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition Christine Pohl– There are many areas where the modern American Church can improve, but one of the most pressing is in community building. American Christianity is built on worshiping as individuals in large crowds; this mentality does not in any way foster community. This book helps Christians understand the importance of hospitality and intentional community building.
Do you agree? What am I missing from the list? I would love to have your feedback.