25 Christian Books I Love to Recommend
I love encouraging people to read weighty, worthy, readable Christian books. I have said many times, Read! Read! Read! But beware of wasting your time on theological foam and suds. Read rich doctrinal books about the one who called you to his glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3)
Now, I know what you are thinking: I don’t have the time or the ability to get anywhere in books like that. So, I want to show you something really encouraging. When this was shown to me, it changed my life. Most of us don’t aspire very high in our reading because we don’t feel like there is any hope.
Suppose you read about 250 words a minute and that you resolve to devote just 15 minutes a day to serious theological reading to deepen your grasp of biblical truth. In one year (365 days) you would read for 5,475 minutes. Multiply that times 250 words per minute and you get 1,368,750 words per year. Now most books have between 300 and 400 words per page. So, if we take 350 words per page and divide that into 1,368,750 words per year, we get 3,910 pages per year. This means that at 250 words a minute, 15 minutes a day, you could read about 20 average-sized books a year!
Read Well, Not (Necessarily) Much
Now, where should you start? Someone recently asked me to make a list of some of the books I have in mind that are substance, not suds. Let me stress at the outset that I don’t think reading many books is important — not for the average person anyway. Reading good books — solid books, non-sudsy books, substantial books — is really important. And reading them well.
If you wonder what I mean by reading well, one place to start is Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book. I read this when I was 22. If you expect to ever read another book, it is never too late for Adler.
I’ll group these recommendations into categories, beginning with biography, which is one of the most efficient ways to learn about history and theology and psychology (actually, everything), all in the form of a good story.
Great Christian Biographies
Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand is a biography of that epoch-making Martin Luther in the 1500s.
David Daniell’s biography William Tyndale: A Biography gives us a taste of a period of history in which Christians burned Christians for reading the Bible. William Tyndale translated the Bible from Greek into English for the first time in the 1500s. He was killed for it. It’s an amazing glimpse into the kind of Christianity that burns people alive for reading the English Bible, and the kind of man who risks his life to help those people read it.
Next, two biographies by Iain Murray: Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography and The Forgotten Spurgeon. Murray is an unusually effective storyteller because there is always life and doctrine in his stories. Yet you never feel like he’s just using the story to teach the doctrine. But the doctrine really does create amazing stories. But probably the fullest, most comprehensive, yet deeply appreciative biography of America’s greatest theologian is George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life.
Augustine’s Confessions is the longest prayer you will ever read. Seriously. The whole book is written to God. He died in 430 and is probably the most influential Christian in history, outside the Bible. His Confessions is three hundred pages long, and every page invites us into a radically Godward life. Taste and see what Augustine does there for the celebration of sovereign grace over his lecherous early life, and what God made of him.
Stories from the Mission Field
Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson tells of the man who went out from America to do missions in Burma, where he almost went insane with grief and loneliness. It is a great, soul-strengthening story.
John Paton’s autobiography, John G. Paton: The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides, is worth it just for the first few pages with the magnificent farewell scene between him and his father. It is an unforgettable, beautiful moment where a father who loves his son sends him off, knowing he may never see him again. But the father knew that his son was doing exactly what he wanted him to do.
Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret was written by his son and daughter-in-law. Taylor was the founder of the China Inland Mission. And getting inside his life and story is a great place to be.
Elisabeth Elliot’s biography of Amy Carmichael, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael, is great, not only because Amy Carmichael was a one-of-a-kind woman and missionary, but because you get a taste of Elisabeth Elliot. Elisabeth Elliot was, to my mind, almost in a class by herself among twentieth-century women because of the amazing combination of gifts that she brought. (For a longer list of books about women that are worthy, I would suggest you go to Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s list of biographies.)
The Basics of Reformed Theology
First, two by J.I. Packer. Get Knowing God. Get A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, which is a collection of shorter writings. You don’t have to read it straight through. In fact, in that book, Packer’s introduction to John Owen’s Death of Death is probably one of the most influential short essays in the contemporary Reformed resurgence. It catapulted many of us from a fledgling love of God’s sovereignty into a more full and robust appreciation for the truth of God’s invincible grace.
Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity, edited by Anthony Carter, is valuable not only because the stories themselves are fascinating and helpful, but because these ten brothers become portals into African-American authors that you may know little about and want to follow up on.
Jonathan Edwards’s Religious Affections is in a class by itself (in my judgment) for elevating and clarifying the role of the affections, or the emotions, in the Christian life. It was a shocking and glorious read for me sitting in a rocking chair on many Sunday evenings in Munich, Germany, decades ago. I am listening to it on audio even now as I write this. A Bible bath of self-crucifying acid.
The Wonder of Salvation
I would point you to two by John Stott: Basic Christianity and The Cross of Christ. There are no Stotts left that I know of. Even the Brits who are brilliant today seem to want to communicate like Americans (casual/careless). We need Stott, not only for his biblical faithfulness, but also for his impeccable clarity and precision and orderliness.
John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied — oh, how I remember reading this in my early thirties. Just the title itself is great and explains so much! It helps us understand that there is an accomplished stage in redemption, and an applied stage. A once-for-all work of redemption, and an ongoing work. It walks us through what that means in light of God’s sovereign way of working in our lives.
How to Live Like a Christian
This is the place to make sure that John Owen gets included. After Jonathan Edwards, outside the Bible, no one has fed my soul more deeply than this greatest Puritan writer who died in 1683. His small classic On the Mortification of Sin is the fullest and best exposition and application of Romans 8:13 that I know of: “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
I would also point you to another Puritan named Jeremiah Burroughs and his book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment as a sampling of all those wonderful Puritan paperbacks which The Banner of Truth has reprinted. They are worthy of our attention. Packer calls them the redwoods in the forest of theology.
Spurgeon has written so much, you can’t begin to read it all. But let me point to his Lectures to My Students and highlight two chapters in that book (both available online). The first is “The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear” — how to handle and survive criticism in the ministry (or anywhere). If you want to know how to navigate life when you are a controversial person, you need to have a blind eye and a deaf ear, and read what Spurgeon means by that. The other one is “The Minister’s Fainting Fits.” That is an old-fashioned title for how to deal with depression and discouragement. I think you will be really encouraged by that short piece.
Stories That Never Happened
John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress has sold more books than any other book outside the Bible. Historically, Pilgrim’s Progress is off-the-charts helpful and influential. If you’ve never read that classic, go there.
Believe it or not, I did not read C.S. Lewis’s Narnia children’s books until my mid-thirties. I didn’t grow up in a home that even knew about C.S. Lewis. But we read them to our children. They loved them — and I loved them in my mid-thirties. I still do. The children’s books are called The Chronicles of Narnia. Get the audio set and play them for the whole family as you drive. Then there’s the Space Trilogy for an adult taste where you can see what Lewis does with science fiction in contemporary cultural criticism.
Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment — I read it as a junior in high school. I don’t remember what impact it had, but I remember being riveted by it. Just recently, I listened to it again and found it — oh my — so compelling. Dostoyevsky is compelling because of his penetrating insights into the human soul for its evil and its good and how those are all tangled up together.
Read for Your Soul
Let me close with a caution: Beware of reading for quantity to impress anyone. Read for your soul.
If we could live a thousand years, and experience a thousand relationships in the thousand times and places and cultures, perhaps we wouldn’t need books in order to (eventually) become wise. But our lives are short, and God has been merciful to give us many places, many times, many cultures, and many experiences distilled into books.
Find the ones that strengthen your faith and make you want to live all-out for God.