A true lover of books always struggles a bit when trying to provide a “recommended book list” to others…not because there is any lack of good books to recommend, but rather because there are so many that are worth recommending that it’s hard to limit the list. Furthermore, a person who has a passion for books (as I do) knows that he or she will be forever judged according to the quality and type of books that they recommend. So, for example, if I were to recommend a book to you that you, ultimately, found to be quite awful, chances are good that you’d never trust my opinion on books again! In that regard, recommending anything is always a risk…particularly if you value your “reputation” as an expert of any sort on the things which you recommend. In other words, if you really don’t KNOW what’s good, then it’s certainly best for everyone involved if you don’t pretend that you do!
I certainly count myself as a “lover” of good books (Although, we certainly should not permit ourselves to “love” any material objects in the same way that we love people, or God, but I trust that you know what I mean…). Since I have also worked for many years in the area of Christian book retail – and have had countless conversations with authors, publishers, book vendors, bookstore managers, and certainly a variety of avid readers, in addition to being an avid reader myself – then I have possibly also earned the title of “book expert”…at least by some people’s standards. Regardless, based upon my years of reading and “book-related experience”, I do at least feel qualified to make a few recommendations to you, in hopes that – if you have not already read these particular books – you might feel challenged to do so and be blessed as a result.
I admit, again, that making a book list of any sort is tricky, and that it will always vary somewhat according to what the needs and interests of the individual reader might be. Still, readers of good books will not limit themselves to only what they have found appealing in the past. Rather, they will be willing to try reading new things (provided they have been recommended by a reliable source!) which might help them to grow as a reader, or – better yet – as a person. With that in mind, here is a list of what I would recommend as ten excellent, yet very foundational, books for Christian living. In other words, here are ten books that I think “every Christian should read” (…next to the Bible, of course!).
1 ) Basic Christianity – John R. W. Stott (Quite simply, the best basic overview of the Christian faith, written by one of the greatest living Bible teachers.)
2 ) Knowing God – J. I. Packer (This is the most popular book by Packer, who is arguably the most respected living theologian. In this book, he offers a fantastic explanation of the character and attributes of God.)
3 ) Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis (A Christian classic for sure, this is Lewis’s collection of articles – originally presented as radio talks – which use basic human reasoning to persuade readers of the undeniable validity of the claims of Christ, and the wisdom of choosing to follow Christ.)
4 ) Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster (Foster, a Quaker, sometimes strikes Protestant readers as a bit too “contemplative” or “meditative” in his conversations about prayer. Still, there is no book yet that does a better job of clearly explaining each of the spiritual disciplines which Christians are called to practice on a regular basis [prayer, fasting, meditation, etc.], and challenging us to be faithful in exercising them!)
5 ) The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges (Truly a fantastic book! Here, Jerry Bridges gives a very clear explanation of what the Bible says about “holiness”, and why we should devote the rest of our lives to pursuing it. If you like this book – as many do – then you might also want to read his follow-up book, The Practice of Godliness, which surveys the biblical teaching on the “fruit of the Spirit”.)
6 ) The Master Plan of Evangelism – Robert Coleman (A very basic explanation of how Jesus helped listeners to trust in Him, and how we can learn to do evangelism by looking at His example. Billy Graham wrote the “Foreword” to this book.)
7 ) The Supremacy of Christ – Ajith Fernando (Ajith, who is often compared to John Stott, is the head of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. This excellent book, which is sadly getting harder to find and nearly out of print, gives a powerful presentation of Christ’s supremacy over all other [so-called] “gods”. Jesus alone is our Savior, and this book makes that case in a very strong, inspiring manner.)
8 ) The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan (This is a classic allegory, written in a “screenplay-type” format [in which each individual character is notated every time that they speak], which beautifully depicts the spiritual journey – with all of its high’s and low’s – which every Christ-follower embarks upon. Coincidentally, since being published in 1678, it has never been out of print, has been translated into over 200 languages, and is reportedly the best selling book in the world next to the Bible.)
9 ) Christian Mission in the Modern World – John R. W. Stott (Every Christian needs to get a sense of God’s missionary call on our lives, and nobody explains this more concisely, clearly, and biblically than does John Stott in this book.)
10 ) Knowing Scripture – R. C. Sproul (This is – many would agree – the best concise introduction to how we are to grow in our knowledge of God’s Word.)
As you might imagine, though, I have a few more titles that I wish could fit in the “top ten” list. So, I’ll offer you five more recommendations as a supplement to the above list. This list, however, will feature titles which are slightly more “theologically rich” (in other words, more in-depth, though not necessarily harder to read). So, it would be a good idea to acquaint yourself with the books in the first list before proceeding to this one.
1 ) Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God – J. I. Packer (This just might be the greatest book ever written on evangelism. While Coleman’s book [above] gives more emphasis to “how” we are to do evangelism, this one looks at the process more from God’s perspective, focusing more on why we do evangelism and how people actually come to faith.)
2 ) Pages from Church History – Stephen J. Nichols (We live in a culture that is FAR too neglectful of their history. As Christians, we all need to acquire some sense of how the church has developed and grown over the past 2,000 years. In this excellent book, Stephen Nichols [an outstanding college professor and personal friend of mine] offers a very manageable survey of church history by looking at 13 key “moments” from the time of Christ until today.)
3 ) Desiring God – John Piper (A bit more theologically specific, but still very significant! John Piper’s argument throughout this book is that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” This is the signature book by my personal favorite preacher, and it receives strong endorsements from such respected theologians as Jerry Bridges and J. I. Packer.)
4 ) Know the Truth – Bruce Milne (If you want to read an overview of all of the major doctrines of the Bible, you will not find a better introductory book than this one!)
5 ) Baptism & Fullness – John Stott (In a day when wrong teaching about the Spirit of God is in vast abundance, this is a great corrective! Everything that John Stott writes is worth reading, and this is one of his most beloved offerings. If you wanted one more excellent book about the Holy Spirit to read alongside this one, I would also suggest Keep in Step with the Spirit by J. I. Packer.)
So, anyway, I hope that these lists will be a blessing to you. Sure, this is just “one guy’s opinion” – and you are welcome to take it or leave it – but these are books that have endured in Christian circles for years, and if you read them all, then you will have “fed” your heart and mind some really good, biblically-based material on virtually every aspect of Christian theology. If you have already read these titles, or if you read them based on my recommendation, I would love to hear how they’ve helped you on your faith journey. Otherwise, keep reading things that bring glory to our Lord!