The primary key to reading for spiritual nourishment is not how many books you read, but learning to read the few right books well. As in any spiritual endeavor, it is not quantity but quality. Here are a few important tips before you look over the list below.
- The Bible is the basic reading material above all others. It is the guide for discerning the value of all other sources.
- Understand that we all have a unique personality and different books will appeal to each of us differently. Having said this, however, breadth in the spiritual life is nurtured by engaging with books that you do not have a natural affinity for. Read to grow, not to be entertained.
- Read with discernment. Not everything in a book is always helpful or even correct. As noted above, the Bible is an evaluation of all other texts. The books suggested here are solid basic reading meant to feed you, not make you nit-picky!
- I like to support good authors but I also believe in sharing. Lend and share books. Buy the ones you want to keep referencing, read again or give away. One caveat on borrowing though, read it and return in to the lender within a month.
- Enjoy! Inasmuch as reading is a discipline, it can be one that bears much fruit!
If you have a book or author you would like to add to the list, please e-mail your suggestion along with a brief comment to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration!
Limited time for reading? If you read anything, start with these.
If you are going to study the Bible, the first thing you want to get is a One Volume Bible Dictionary. This book will usually contain information and brief analysis of every book in the Bible, person and other such details in an alphabetical and indexed form. Another help would be to acquire a Bible Handbook. A Handbook provides useful information and will go through the Bible with notes on every section of the text. It is kind of like a simplified commentary. Large publishing houses have one volume dictionaries and handbooks available. Some reliable publishers would be IVP, Zondervan, Baker, Eerdmans and Nelson although there are others as well. Next to these two stand-bys, single-volume surveys of the Old and New Testaments will add a lot more detail to your understanding. We are very much blessed with resources in English where the best and brightest scholars have material available. Here is a list of easy to read materials that will get you started.
“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Theology boils down to what one thinks about God. What defines good theology versus bad theology is whether or not it reflects what is revealed in the Bible accurately. It is very important in the christian life to know what you believe and why you believe it not only for your own integrity but so that you can share it effectively with others. This is a short list of books that will serve you well in this pursuit.
The Story of Christianity, Michael Collins & Matthew A. Price
This book by DK Publishing is full of pictures and illustrations that provides a start to understanding Christianity through the ages. It is the collaboration between a Protestant and Catholic scholar so the material is balanced. What makes this worth reading are the visuals that bring history to life which are accompanied by concise, accurate, easy-to-read and informative sections. A good primer.
The Story of Christianity, Justo Gonzalez
Despite this being a common seminary textbook, it’s probably one of the easiest to read. Although it is something of a sprawling megalith in 2 volumes (33AD to 16th C, then 16th C to 20th C) that total about 800 pages, it provides a breadth of perspective without getting too bogged down in a lot of details. Although history is often thought of as a boring topic, Gonzalez has an easy-to-read writing style that appeals to almost everyone. And if 800 pages seems like a lot, remember that Christian history has roughly 2000 years to it!
The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert E. Coleman Essential
If there is one book that most influences our church’s understanding of why we are doing things the way we do them, this is it. Robert Coleman’s short and concise book lays out that sharing Christ with others and discipleship are one and the same. We are called simply to follow Jesus and carry out the mission he was on and has entrusted to us. easy to read and straight-forward.
God’s Missionary People, Charles Van Engen
Missional Church, Darrell Guder
What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancy – Anecdotes & Apologetics Essential
Very conversant with North American culture, this journalist provides a refreshing understanding of the gospel. Not a heady book, but one that gives a down to earth bottom line as to what Christianity is about – grace. A good book to read and then give away. Yancey has written so many books that it would take a paragraph to list them out. This one is the one recommended to start you off to see if you are interested in his style.
The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel Essential
The Case for Christ resulted from journalist Strobel’s investigation into Christianity through conversations with scholars, scientists and experts due his his wife’s conversion. This eventually led him to faith in Christ. If you are looking for answers for yourself or have a friend who is curious, this book is a start. It focuses on the reliability of the Bible, the character of Jesus and considers the astounding claim of Jesus’ resurrection. Strobel has followed up with The Case for Faith which tackles a host of difficult questions and The Case for a Creator dealing with the created world.
A Ready Defense, Josh McDowell
This is one of the best reference books out there for answering questions asked of Christianity. It is also great for understanding what and why we believe what we do as Christians. It is well laid out, concise and well written. Sections include answering questions about the Bible, Jesus, other major religions, cults, occult, atheism, humanism, agnosticism, Christian experience and popular questions. McDowell has also written other books on apologetics worth reading but this compiles most of the material from his earlier work.
Spirituality in the Christian sense means “To live under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.” The focus of Christian Spirituality is a person’s relationship with God. The books in this category spans different times in history as well as very different people. What they share however is the same: a love for God.
Fiction is often overlooked because it is sometimes considered not as important as non-fiction. It is tragic that our culture has lost much of its ability to cultivate the imagination, creativity and artistry. Without these values, our world becomes cold and pragmatic. “Fiction” is sometimes interpreted as being “not real,” but nothing could be farther from the truth. Good fiction brings us to consider our humanity in a subtle manner. Providing us with the opportunity to gain new insight into our world and ourselves. In fact, one might uncover more truth and reality in fiction than non-fiction.
The Son of Laughter, Frederick Buechner
In The Son of Laughter, Buechner fills in the “behind the scenes” narrative for the Jacob and Joseph stories that adds a very down-to-earth and often poignant way. You may find yourself stopping after every single chapter to reflect on your own spiritual journey. In fact, it’s recommended that you do. Buechner is also a wonderful writer and his non-fiction such as The Hungering Dark, The Alphabet of Grace, and The Magnificent Defeat, which are collections of his sermons and essays are well worth reading for your devotion. He has also written other phenomenal fiction that includes filling in the blanks in the lives of two saints after whom two of his books, Godric (nominated for a Pulitzer) and Brendan are titled. Buechner’s autobiography is a powerful trilogy regarding his struggle with his father’s suicide and its implications throughout his life, discovering his vocation and his relationship with God. These books are entitled Now and Then, The Sacred Journey and Telling Secrets.
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
C’mon, you didn’t think we’d leave what some have considered the most important work of fiction in the Twentieth Century off the list, do you? Tolkien’s work is not explicitly Christian although it showcases how the Christian imagination can be applied. The work is rife with Christian themes woven together in a true masterwork. Those of you who prefer a lighter start should go with Tolkien’s The Hobbit. By the way, treat yourself to the book. It really is better than the movies.
The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
Although Lewis was a great Christian apologist and thinker, he also wrote a wonderful set of seven fantasy books that served to fire the imagination of the young. He and Tolkien were friends and while Tolkien steered clear of analogous material, Lewis was very comfortable in it. Lewis also wrote a science fiction trilogy and in other styles as well. His books are all worth reading.