I was asked by a church member a while ago for a list of Christian books I would recommend. That’s a dangerous question to ask a pastor, because you’re certain to get a lot more information than you really wanted. And so, this is my overwrought response to that member’s request.
First I conducted an informal facebook survey to find out what Christian books have been helpful to others. (If you responded to my inquiry on facebook, thank you for your feedback – it was fun to hear what books have profited others). I then consulted a few other reading lists I found on the internet. Since I thought these lists would be a good supplement my own, I’ve included links to them below. Finally, and most importantly, I thought about books that have been a particular help to me along the way in my own journey as a Christian. So this is a very personal list. No doubt another minister would compile a quite different collection of “must-read” books. But for what it’s worth, these are the books that have had a formative influence on my own thinking about the things of God and how to be a faithful disciple of Christ. And I hope that by listing them here, they might be a blessing to others in the same way.
I should add that there are many other important books, even those in the “must-read” category, that I have not included on this list for a couple of reasons. One, this list is for basic reading in theology and the Christian life (thus, as much as I love John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, it’s not on here). Two, I didn’t want the list to get unwieldy.
I’ve included a link with each book to the Westminster Bookstore in Philadelphia. Their prices are good, but they don’t deliver to Alaska. So if you live in The Last Frontier, you’ll have to use Amazon.com (or try monergismbooks.com).
As the saying goes – so many books, so little time. Since time is short, then, we should read the best books. This list represents a few that I think are among the best.
Naturally, the list starts with the Bible. If I could go back in time, to a time when I was a believer but not yet as busy as I am today, I would read the Bible a lot more than I did then.
The Reformation Study Bible. The introductions, outlines, and the study notes are all written by scholars committed to Reformed theology. And scattered throughout are the best short summaries of important doctrines that I’ve seen anywhere (written, I believe, by J. I. Packer).
The ESV Study Bible. Don’t buy this Bible if you have a weak back – it’s huge! But, it contains a mind-boggling amount of information – extensive study notes, full-color maps and illustrations, useful charts, articles touching on a whole range of issues, and also many other standard study Bible helps. It could very well be the “mother of all study Bibles”. And as a bonus, when you buy it, you also get access to the ESV Study Bible Online Version that includes everything you’ll find in the actual book itself. This is my “go-to” study Bible. While the notes and articles are doctrinally sound (at least what I’ve read), and though many committed Reformed scholars contributed to it, overall the theology is more generically evangelical than explicitly Reformed. But I have no hesitation recommending this Bible to others.
Westminster Standards (Confession of Faith, Larger Catechism, Shorter Catechism). These are a summary of the teaching of the Bible, which is, in their own words, “what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man” (WSC #3). They are also the confessional standards of my church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). Despite that, I suspect most members of the OPC and other conservative Presbyterian churches haven’t actually read through these standards. And that’s too bad, because they contain such a rich deposit of truth and practical guidance. Admittedly, the Westminster Standards do not make for breezy reading. But it is well worth the effort to work through them carefully and thoughtfully. You’ll find more “meat” here in a few pages than in all the books at a typical Christian bookstore put together.
Knowing God, by J.I. Packer. Of the contemporary Christian authors I have read, Packer takes the prize for the best writer. This is the first book I would probably put into the hands of a new believer. Packer wants us not just to know about God, but to truly know God. This book will help you to that end.
The Christian Life, by Sinclair Ferguson. The Scottish Rev. Ferguson is my favorite preacher and one of my favorite authors. The book is easy to read, but the theology is deep and rich.
Summary of Christian Doctrine, by Louis Berkhof. This is a very brief summary of the all the major theological headings that are typically addressed by much larger systematic theologies (like Berkhof’s own Systematic Theology).
Putting Amazing Back into Grace, by Michael Horton. This is the one book I have not read on the list. But I included it since some of my facebook friends named it as one of the most influential books they’ve read. The author discusses the basics of historic Reformed theology and practice, especially in light of contemporary Christianity. It even has cartoon illustrations, not something you see in many books of this kind!
Redemption Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray. Murray is a great author to read because he writes with such logic, precision, and clarity. And what’s more, he grounds everything he says in careful biblical exegesis. In this book he unpacks the atoning death of Christ on the cross (“redemption accomplished”), and the manner by which the Spirit applies Christ’s work to us (“redemption applied”).
Children of the Promise, by Robert R. Booth. Though the author’s purpose with this book is to make the case for infant baptism, he does so with a thorough and lucid presentation of what is called covenant theology. Covenant theology refers to the overarching structure of God’s revelation and God’s dealings with his people over time. For example, it addresses such questions as these: What is the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, and between Israel and the Church? What does the Old Testament have to do with Christians today? And, what place do the Church and family have in God’s redemptive plan? Not only are these crucial questions for understanding the practice of infant baptism, but they are also crucial questions for understanding the Bible as a whole.
Chosen by God, by R.C. Sproul. As you can tell from the title, this book is about the doctrines of grace, including predestination. Though many other books have been written about this, I listed this one because it cemented in my own mind the truth of the sovereignty (and utter graciousness) of God in saving sinners.
I see I only have a few entries here. This is mainly because so many of the books above and below (“Classics”) have much to say about the Christian life. And that’s not surprising, since the way to grow as a disciple of Christ – in day-to-day obedience, service, and love – is to grow in the knowledge of Christ (Colossians 2:6, 7).
But having said that, I also see I should do some more reading in this area. As time goes on, I’ll add more to this section, Lord willing.
Power through Prayer, by E.M. Bounds. Good books on prayer do not just tell you about prayer, but they make you want to pray. This one does just that.
Shepherding a Child’s Heart, by Tedd Tripp. This will be especially helpful to parents. However, the author’s basic insight, that the goal in child rearing is not mere external obedience but leading a child to embrace the gospel, has much broader applications.
Morning and Evening, by C.H. Spurgeon. This is a devotional book which I just discovered recently. The readings are short and pithy, and always helpful in focusing my thoughts on Christ.
Confessions, by Augustine. Augustine describes his journey from immorality and vain philosophy to life in Christ.
Christian Liberty, by Martin Luther. In this short booklet, Luther explores what it means that “a Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”
Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, by John Calvin. In this excerpt from his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin challenges the reader to live a life of self-denial and cross-bearing. This is an excellent introduction to Calvin’s writings.
The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. Of the classics I’ve listed, read this first.
The Holiness of God, by R. C. Sproul. You will look at God differently after taking to heart what Sproul says about his holiness. Lord willing, this will be a book Christians will be reading many, many years from now.
Here are a few reading lists online:
Westminster Theological Seminary (for those pursuing seminary, but including books of general interest).
Reformed Theological Seminary (ditto).
I hope my list is helpful to you. Tolle lege! (Take up and read!).