Dear Sarah, Lindsey, and Countless Friends:
As I have cultivated a life of reading, I have learned a few lessons. For now, I will expound upon three. Then, you will find a list of 75 books that have helped me on my journey chasing after Jesus.
First, what C. S. Lewis wrote concerning the reading of old books is true, in that the ancient texts show us the biases and shortsightedness of our own age, as well as underscore where we have found solid footing. Don't read the prominent titles in the Christian Living section of the bookstores; dig deeper. Dare yourself to read Calvin and Wesley and Luther, and beyond them Augustine and Athanasius, the Didache and the Church Fathers.
Secondly, it is wise to keep a notebook handy when you read, and mark a page "to explore later", wherein you can record all the titles to which great authors make passing references, or those works buried within the footnotes that scream your name and ask for you to chase. I have become accustomed to following the breadcrumbs, and while on occasion I've found the trail fade and have turned back, more often I have found the morsels more satisfying the further down the path I'm led.
This second bit of advice led me to works like Watership Down and Saint Maybe, books I read because they were referenced within theological essays. It also led me to Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, a play I never explored in high school, after it was referenced in a compelling way within the context of a sermon. Books seem to work their way in to my life, and I am always searching for great titles. Bibliographies have become great friends, and as time has passed, more and more names I find there are familiar.
Thirdly, I would recommend aligning yourself with others who read great books, preferably those who you may see from time to time, so that the great ideas can enter in to conversation, and the truths of any book, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, can be wrestled with in community. As much as I love the realm of ideas, I have never lost sight of the reality that it is the life that counts. A great scholar is not necessarily a great saint. Let what you learn transform your life, with love of God and neighbor being your highest aspiration.
These lessons are not exhaustive; more could be said. But they make for an adequate beginning. The life of study, I believe, is necessary for every Christian. Scripture is our foundation, but the Great Tradition also serves to build us up, as other Christians throughout history have sought to know and serve Jesus faithfully, and have left behind wisdom for us to explore and apply and take back to Scripture as we prayerfully discern what aligns and what stands askew. Learning is a constant wrestling with God; we are all like Jacob.
Since you asked me about the "great books" I have read, I have listed Christian books and others that are not explicitly so, but have taught me lessons or given me some insight in to our world. I'd rather not remain in the Christian ghetto. Like other evangelicals, I have attempted to maintain an "engaged orthodoxy", pursuing sound doctrine and a greater understanding of the truths of the faith, all while remaining cognizant of the world we live in.
Finally, if this list is too overwhelming, you may want to begin by browsing my recommendations for "Practical Approaches to Christian Spiritual Growth." You may also want to consult Renovare's 25 Books Every Christian Should Read, some of which are available for download, for free.
Blessings as you chase after Jesus. Hopefully some of these books will help you on the way. And of course, if you ever wish to discuss any of these titles, you know where to find me.
The Five Most Important Books I Have Read Apart from Holy Scripture
- Thomas A’Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Dover Thrift Editions)
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
- Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic
- John Wesley, John Wesley's 'A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.'
- Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God
Theological and Philosophical Works That Have Shaped Me
- The Desert Fathers, The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (Penguin Classics)
- William Abraham, Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism
- William Abraham, The Logic of Evangelism
- Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics (Oxford World's Classics)
- Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
- G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
- Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
- C. S. Lewis, Miracles
- Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition
- Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace
- John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, 3rd Edition (7 Volumes)
- John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus
Historical and Sociological Works that Have Been Invaluable
- James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World
- Alister McGrath, Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution--A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First
- Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
- Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) [Vol. 2-5, also.]
- Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force ....
Practical Approaches to Christian Spiritual Growth
- The Rule of Saint Benedict
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community
- Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth
- Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home
- Reuben Job, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living
- Joshua Choonmin Kang, Scripture by Heart: Devotional Practices for Memorizing God's Word
- Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion
- Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow
- Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
- Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology [Vol. 1 in his Spiritual Theology Series, five volumes total.]
- James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows (Apprentice (IVP Books))
- James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ (Apprentice (IVP Books))
- James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love (Apprentice (IVP Books))
- Dallas Willard, Hearing God, Updated and Expanded: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God
- Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives
- Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture
- N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (with DVD)
- N. T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters
- N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters
- N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
Contemporary Works That I Have Enjoyed
- Jon Acuff, Stuff Christians Like
- Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
- Tom Conover, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing
- Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
- Ian Morgan Cron, Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts
- Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling
- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
- Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
- Bob Goff, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World
- Timothy J. Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
- Timothy J. Keller, The Prodigal God
- Timothy J. Keller, Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just
- Timothy J. Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters
- Timothy J. Keller, King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus
- Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith
- Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
- John Perkins, Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development
- Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
- Avi Steinberg, Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian
- N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense
Provocative Fiction and Short Stories
- David James Duncan, The Brothers K
- C. S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia Box Set
- Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories
- Charles Porter, True Grit
- J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings