There are more than 300,000 books published in America every year! There’s (obviously) no way to read all of those books in a lifetime, let alone every year.
It can be hard to find trust-worthy, and engaging books in that sea of chaos, but reading them is one of the best ways to learn about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Each of these books helped me understand what it meant to call myself a disciple of Jesus, what salvation means, and how I can better live out my faith. I recommend reading them in this order if you haven’t read any of them yet.
1. The Bible
Yes. I’m starting with Bible. I know this one is supposed to go without saying on these kinds of lists, but less than half of us Christians devote any real time to reading it, and fewer of us have read all of it. #jesusjuke
What Its About: To borrow from the Bible Project, “it’s a unified collection of stories that point to Jesus.”
Why You Should Read It: It’s the foundation of our entire faith. It’s full of wisdom and advice for living a good life. But it’s also full of weird stories, foreign cultures, and hard-to-understand principles. That’s why we need to read some of these other books, too. But don’t skip this one! This is the most important one on this list!
2. Mere Christianity
C.S. Lewis adapted a series of his radio shows to create this book, and it has a conversational and casual format as a result. Casual ≠ easy, though. Lewis was a genius, and there will be parts that are challenging to understand. But, I promise it’s #worthit.
What Its About: It’s the basics of Christian faith explored and explained.
Why You Should Read It: Mere Christianity serves as a great introduction to apologetics, while also providing us with some of that famous C.S. Lewis wisdom. Lewis uses our ideas of fairness and justice to provide a reason for God to exist, then lays a strong foundation for what all Christians should believe and how we should behave.
3. Ragamuffin Gospel
Written by alcoholic, defrocked Catholic priest Brennan Manning, this book reveals God’s love and grace in a very compelling way.
What Its About: The overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. Its full of stories demonstrating God’s love for you, no matter how good or bad you think you are.
Why You Should Read It: Manning is a masterful storyteller, and he has an incredible story. Words often found in reviews of the book: revolutionary, formative, transformational, comforting, hopeful, essential. After reading Lewis’s thoughts on Christianity, Manning’s experience of Christianity and Jesus will be a completely new perspective that arrives at the same place: God is full of love and grace for you. And it will blow your mind!
4. Surprised by Hope
Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright is one of the most brilliant Christian thinkers of the last few centuries. He often finds new ways to explain ancient truths that make them much more accessible for the modern audience, and this book is a great example of his skill.
What Its About: The point of our Christian faith. Why did God create us? Why did Jesus save us? What did he save us from? The answers to the these questions are surprising and full of hope!
Why You Should Read It: This book corrected a lot of the wrong and misunderstood ideas about heaven I learned as a youngster. It’s not a place where we’ll go sing worship songs for an eternity, or even a strictly spiritual place. Understanding heaven’s purpose, and our role in its formation, is an essential step in fulfilling the mission Jesus gave us before he ascended. Intrigued? You should be!
5. Celebration of Discipline
Do I need even tell you more? A book about discipline is something we find irresistible, right? No? Well this one is worth reading.
What Its About: Not punishment. It describes the history, purpose, and means of several spiritual practices. It teaches us how to pray, fast, live simply, serve, and celebrate.
Why You Should Read It: Richard Foster wrote this book for everyone that has ever wondered why their faith seems to swing between dry, inconsequential and pervasive, emotional times. The spiritual disciplines are an essential part of every Christian’s growth. Without them we are subject to seemingly random times of intimacy with God. With them, we learn to trust and find God in the midst of any circumstance.
6. The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a giant amongst theologians because his life was an amazing example of the things he taught. And the thing he taught most was how following Christ meant you might have to give your life for that pursuit. And he did exactly that!
What Its About: We all know someone that says they follow Jesus, but their life rarely looks like they actually do. Bonhoeffer wrote a whole treatise on why that is bad, and it’s one of the most challenging books you could ever read.
Why You Should Read It: I was expecting this book to highlight all the ways other people fail to live out the calling of Jesus, but he came after me hard. This book will challenge you to examine your whole life and find the ways you have not submitted yet to Jesus. The beauty of the book is that he doesn’t define how a Christian should look, but does define the attitude of humility and generosity and grace and obedience that should mark a believer’s life. It’s not an easy read, but it’s an important one.
7. Generous Justice
Tim Keller is one of my favorite living pastors and authors. He is one of those rare theologians whose love for theology is only outshined by his obvious love for people in his writings. Reading any of his books is something I strongly recommend.
What Its About: The word “justice” is one of those English words that can mean so many things that it’s hard to really know what it means in the Bible. Tim Keller defines the way Biblical authors used “justice” and what it means for us today.
Why You Should Read It: Precisely because it gives us a much better understanding of God’s desire for justice than Cory does up there. Keller explores the words mishpat and tzedekah, and relates stories about how we are to practice them in our current context. Sometimes it’s hard to know how Christians should interact with politics and policies, but Generous Justice reminds us that our purpose lies beyond politics and forces us to examine how we can practice justice right now.
Looking back on this list, I realized that all of them (with the exception of the Bible,) were written by modern, white, European men. That doesn’t take away from how excellent or beneficial these books are, but it does reveal a gap in my understanding. There’s a whole context and experience in Christianity that I didn’t have growing up and I’d like to change that.
So, my next step in understanding Christianity is this: I’ve dedicated 2018 to reading the experiences, thoughts, and ideas of non-white men. It has been an eye opening experience that has strengthened my faith in and awe of Jesus in many ways. Some of the best books I’ve read so far this year:
- Let Justice Roll Down, John M. Perkins
- I’m Still Here, Austin Channing Brown
- Assimilate or Go Home, D.L. Mayfield
- The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James H. Cone
Which books would you say are essential to developing a mature Christian faith?
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