Summer is almost upon us and for many students, both in high school and university, summer becomes a time where students let their spiritual development languish as the period of work and study seems to be over. However, rather than languish in time, summer also becomes an opportunity to develop a mind that is keen to learn about the things pertaining to God, to build up the mind so that we may better understand ourselves and our faith. To that end, I want to recommend 10 books which I think are immensely helpful to Christians who want to obtain a better understanding of our shared faith. These are all books I have read and which have deeply shaped my life and how I see my own faith and belief in Jesus Christ.
1. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Target Area: Basic faith formation
One of the best summaries of the Christian faith that has ever been produced. C.S. Lewis takes us through our need for God, the moral argument for God, and a basic summary of Christian Ethics. Mere Christianity remains a readable summary of the basic Christian faith, of “mere” Christianity presenting a faith shared by over a billion people in the world regardless of denomination. Mere Christianity can be found online here.
Target Area: Church History
To study history is to understand where we come from so that we might also have a better idea of where we are going. These books I used in university to study the history of Christianity and the form an accessible, easily readable, friendly presentation of the History of Christianity from the Apostolic age to the present. From the creation of the Nicene Creed to the nailing of the 95 Thesis on Wittenberg to the Pentecostal explosion, this overview is comprehensive in scope and of worth to any Christian interested in just where our faith came from.
3. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
Target Area: The Character of God
This modern classic by J.I. Packer explains a solid Evangelical understanding of God. Going through the existence of God, his characters, and how this relates to us Knowing God is an important book to understand who God is, what he has done for us, and why. Reading this book will be fruitful in helping a believer to really know better the God that we love and serve.
4. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Target Area: Discipleship
Bonhoeffer ultimately died for his conviction. He followed the cost of discipleship to the end. Today the church as a whole wallows in cheap grace in grace described clearly in this book:
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate
We as Christians need to relearn the cost of grace and this book powerfully expounds the sermon on the mount in ways that shine light into how we as Christians fail each and every day to follow through on picking up our cross and in making discipleship the number one priority in our lives as Christians. This book is a must read for anyone seeking to seriously follow Christ by following the principles outlined in his Sermon on the Mount.
Alternative: Radical by David Platt
5. Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World by Michael Horton
Target Area: Christian Living
As a corollary to The Cost of Discipleship and especially it’s alternative Radical I want to recommend this book, Ordinary. So often, especially as someone who is relatively young, I want to do things that are radical, to show my fire for God by doing things which go far above and beyond what is normal. However, the Christian life is often not defined by constant restlessness and excitement. Rather, the Christian life is found often in the means of grace, week after week of normality, of going to church and reading the word in community. This book by Michael Horton is a powerful reminder that though we take up our cross daily, the Christian life is a marathon of being ordinary, normal, and unseen. The radicality of the Christian life as presented in this book does not come from our desire to leap across national boundaries to spread the gospel, but in how we treat our neighbor and those closest to us each and every day.
6. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Target Area: Christian Living
The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory of the Christian life written by John Bunyan in the 1600s. This book has stood the test of time with phrases such as Vanity Fair becoming part and parcel of our speech today. I do not believe there is any other book that so clearly allegorizes the struggles of the Christian life from salvation to death as well as this book. This book is a book that I believe every Christian should read as a reminder of where we come from, where we are going, and of the struggles we have now each and every day. It is a reminder that our struggles today are for our hope tomorrow and that in the fullness of time, we too can reach the Celestial City.
7. Adam: God’s Beloved by Henri Nouwen
Target Area: Biblical Anthropology
In this book, Nouwen explores his relationship with Adam, a person with disability, and how he learned profoundly from his interaction with Adam even though Adam had an inability to communicate with Nouwen. In this book we find a reflection of our pride we have in our own hears and the potential to learn from anyone around us regardless of how different they are to us. This book profoundly shaped my view of what it means to be human and I believe that this book is an important read for all Christians.
8. Reformed Dogmatics, Abridged by Herman Bavnick, Ed. John Bolt
Target Area: Systematic Theology
This abridged addition of the four volume set of Reformed Dogmatics is the best systematic theology I’ve used so far. This book is a must for any reader with questions such as “what is human nature” or “what is sin.” This book states the formed positions in theology while also fairly stating opposing positions with charity and a hesitancy to outright condemn. While pricey, I believe that this book is a worthwhile investment of time and money to read. However, I strongly believe that every person should have access to a good systematic theology, and should Bavnick be too pricey, the best alternative is found online in Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof which explains many of the same questions in a more succinct and clear (though less exhaustive) manner.
9. Models of the Church by Avery Dulles
Target Area: Theology of the Church
This is perhaps the oddest book on the list, but I found this book to be especially enlightening to how I viewed the church with all its failings and brokenness. This book discusses the church through several lenses: Institution, Mystical Communion, Sacrament, Herald, Servant, and as a Community of Disciples. It discusses the strengths of each model and what happens when each of these apsects of the roles of the church are taken too far. If you are one who wants to think deeply about what the church is, this book is a must read. An alternative in understanding the church is the textbook Center Church by Tim Keller which I also found very helpful with its overview of it’s own view of what the church should be.
10. unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
Target Area: The Present Church
This book presents research into how people perceive the church. This book is an eyeopening look at how we as a church have failed to show the love of Christ to those in our community. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the conclusions of the author of this book, the research presented is food for thought in how we as individuals and as a church conduct ourselves towards our neighbors and in this society in which we live.