Let’s take a break from the craziness to talk about something dear to me. Books. Digital or otherwise, the words of others have the potential to change your life. Rene Descartes said, “The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.” Nowhere is that truer than in the Christian life.
The Literate Christian
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go” (Dr. Seuss).
I have a few friends who learned to read as adults, after becoming a Christian. Their motivation was their desire to read the bible. Jesus was the one who gave them a reason to learn.
I’m glad that is not the story for most. However, it’s telling. Becoming a Christian should call you to a higher level of learning, and therefore, a higher level of reading.
When you become a follower of Jesus Christ, you do not do so mindlessly. It’s a conscious decision; a deliberate movement of the mind and will. You don’t check your brain at the door when you enter God’s Holy presence.
Reading exercises the mind just as running does the body. It builds your emotional, psychological, and spiritual muscles.
Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37, emphasis mine). Reading takes us to countless vistas, exercising the mind.
12 Books Every Christian Should Read
So, here are twelve books that every Christian should read.
NOTE: It was nearly impossible to get the list down to twelve. These are not the best Christian books. They are simply the books that, taken together, will give you a well-rounded understanding of Jesus and the Christian faith. I’ve chosen four books on theology, six on personal spiritual formation, one apologetic, and one devotional.
1. Knowing God
by J.I. Packer
“Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God).
A book on theology that will touch your mind and your heart.
Packer unpacks (pun intended) the nature of God in powerfully simple prose. You will be tempted to think you are learning nothing new (especially if you grew up in Sunday School), but upon reflection will realize that you have experienced the essence of God.
2. The Holiness of God
by R.C. Sproul
When God’s justice falls, we are offended because we think God owes perpetual mercy. We must not take His grace for granted. We must never lose our capacity to be amazed by grace” (R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God).
Holiness is the single most important defining characteristic of God. Yet, it is the least understood.
Sproul does a masterful job of bringing clarity to God’s holiness.
He incorporates history and psychology along with biblical narratives to reveal different aspects of God’s holiness. You will receive a more comprehensive understanding of the perfection of God’s character, the depths of your own sin, and the unfathomable gift of grace.
3. Celebration of Discipline
by Richard J. Foster
The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people” (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline).
This is the classic twentieth-century guide to a deeper inner life. Foster explores twelve approaches to experiencing God through the inner, outer, and corporate disciplines.
It should stay on your shelf because it gets better with every reading. If you will apply ten percent of what Foster offers you will be a stronger Christian.
4. The Cost of Discipleship
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).
I read this book during my first year of Seminary. It is one of the most radical works of the 20th Century, not only becomes Bonhoeffer managed to write it, but also because he lived it.
It’s not the easiest book to read, but if you stick with it you will not be sorry.
5. Mere Christianity
by C.S. Lewis
Nothing you have not given away will ever really be yours” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).
I love the magnificent way Lewis’ mind works. He gives us a practical apologetic for the Christian faith.
Einstein said that genius is “taking the complex and making it simple.” By that standard, Lewis’ Mere Christianity is genius.
If it gets a bit dense, stay with it. You won’t regret it.
6. Power through Prayer
by E.M. Bounds
The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men” (E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer).
Simply the most convicting book I have ever read. I force myself to read it once a year.
What can I say? I’m a masochist.
This book will bring you to your knees.
7. Life of the Beloved
by Henri Nouwen
Our lives are unique stones in the mosaic of human existence — priceless and irreplaceable (Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved).
I love this book. I’ve read it five times for pure joy.
Nouwen wrote it to convince a dear friend of the beauty of Christianity. Sadly, his friend wasn’t convinced. But millions of Christians have benefitted from it.
It will make your heart soar.
8. The Pursuit of God
by A.W. Tozer
God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves” (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God).
I could have included several other of Tozer’s books on this list (Whatever Happened to Worship? is one of his best works). The Pursuit of God is not necessarily his best, only his most important.
Tozer gives us the wings we need to pursue God with all our heart, strength, and mind.
9. Basic Christianity
by John Stott
Jesus never concealed the fact that his religion included a demand as well as an offer. Indeed, the demand was as total as the offer was free. If he offered men his salvation, he also demanded their submission. He gave no encouragement whatever to thoughtless applicants for discipleship. He brought no pressure to bear on any inquirer. He sent irresponsible enthusiasts away empty” (John Stott, Basic Christianity).
This is not the most exciting book. It is simply the best book for learning the basics of the Christian faith.
Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Stott’s Basic Christianity adeptly covers the most important truths of the Christian faith.
10. My Utmost for His Highest
by Oswald Chambers
Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do; He reveals to you Who He is” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest).
I almost left this book out of the list because it’s not the kind of book you read in a single sitting. It’s a devotional, meant to be read in 365 daily readings. I only include it because you absolutely must go through it once before you die.
Warning: It will ruin you for other devotionals. They will all seem trite and simplistic next to this one.
Note: The link above is to the original, classic language version. There is a newer version that has been edited to modern English. Obviously, I prefer the original.
11. Contemplative Prayer
by Thomas Merton
True contemplation is not a psychological trick but a theological grace. It can come to us ONLY as a gift, and not as a result of our own clever use of spiritual techniques” (Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer).
There have been thousands of books written on prayer. This is the one by which they are all measured.
If you’ve never read Merton, this may not be a good place to start. Seven Story Mountain will give you a better grasp of Merton. However, Contemplative Prayer is his most important work.
12. Abide in Christ
by Andrew Murray
It is only into the thirst of an empty soul that the streams of living waters flow. Ever thirsting is the secret of never thirsting” (Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ).
This book is so simple and yet so impactful. Murray takes you on a profound journey through the places where Jesus calls you to abide in him.
It is arranged in 31 short chapters so that it could be read as a daily devotional. You’ll want to devour it whole the first time.
It will encourage you in immeasurable ways. I keep this one on my desk and go to it often.
There they are — the 12 books every Christian should read. I’m sure you can add your own!