The past several weeks my Facebook friends have been swapping lists of their “Ten Most Influential/Important Books.” Now, typically social media trends don’t excite me and giving into peer pressure does not sound very enticing. But when it comes to books and reading, the bibliophile within cannot resist. So I gave in. But seeing all those lists got me thinking: we all have books we have read. What about books that we should have read? In other words, are there some books, or at least some types of books, that educated Christian men and women should read in order to understand who we are and how we have gotten where we are culturally?
As both a lover of books and creator of lists, I had made a “Ten Books You Should Read” list before (and, whatever else I’m about to suggest, we should all consult and read the “Canon” of Western Civilization). Never are my lists intended to be “closed canons”, but instead starting points. So I returned to and modified my list of books that every American Christian should read:
10. A book that engages the world (AKA: How do I make sense of this topic?)
There are lots of great books on a variety of subjects that helpfully engage both faith and culture in meaningful ways. Some of my favorites are: Pilgrim Theology, Michael Bauman; A Conflict of Visions, Thomas Sowell; The Gift of Fire, Richard Mitchell; The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark Noll; Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton; Confessions, St. Augustine; The Best Things in Life, Peter Kreeft; The Celebration of Disciple, Richard Foster; A Reformation Debate, Calvin, Sadoleto, and Olin; Understanding the Times (2E), David Noebel; How Should We Then Live?, Francis Schaeffer; The Intellectual Life, A. G. Sertillanges, and Freedom of a Christian, Gilbert Meilaender. Start somewhere and pick up one of these books (or something like them).
While neither entirely encompassing nor perfect, these little books are easy to read and provide numerous insights into thinking about and relating to the opposite sex. The point here is that everyone should think deeply about relationships before they enter into one.
8. A book on Church History (AKA: You need to know where you came from)
There are many accessible introductions to the History of Christianity out there. My first endeavor into Church History came through Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language. Mark Noll also has some quality forays into the development of the Great Church, such as Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. David Bentley Hart’s The Story of Christianity is excellent as well. Remember, understanding the past is often the key to understanding the present and determining the future.
7. A Guide to Christian Ambition, Hugh Hewitt (AKA: How is my life going to make a difference?)
Most people want to have an impact on the world, if only in some small way. This little book highlights numerous possibilities to influence the world around you. A must read for those thinking about or involved in politics, business, or education.
6. Life at the Bottom, Theodore Dalrymple (AKA: Discovering the darker side of the contemporary West)
So much of what we hear about the effectiveness of politicians and political solutions comes through the rhetoric of media outlets. Life at the Bottom offers real-life examples of the failure of much of recent Western civilization’s attempts to better the lives of the poor. This is an eye opener, so don’t read it if you don’t want your presuppositions challenged.
5. The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (AKA: Living and loving like Christ)
Combats the doctrine of ‘cheap grace’ that runs rampant in the lives of so many Christians, and calls them towards meaningful Christ-centered discipleship. A good reminder that “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”
4. The Drama of Scripture (2E), Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen (AKA: Reading and Interpreting the Bible)
This incredible book outlines the metanarrative of the Biblical story, from creation to fall to redemption, showing us how we fit into God’s story and offering some superb interpretive and practice nuggets along the way. I recently returned to the second edition of this work after reading the first edition several years ago–this is a must read for those involved in any sort of theology. Which means everyone who calls themselves a Christian. Or has ever thought about religion. So pretty much everyone reading this blog.
These works help with understanding worldviews, those competing ideas, ideologies, and visions for the future that impact how everyone views and lives in the world. Making Sense of Your World asks important questions about how to make sense of the marketplace of competing worldviews at work within our context. Sire offers a catalogue of some of the most important and influential worldviews in contemporary culture. Both provide insightful questions and concerns for the world we live in, and demonstrate the importance of a thoughtful Christian worldview.
2. Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis (AKA: Practical theology for our time)
Lewis’ masterpiece contains what may be the simplest and most brilliant practical theology in the English language. Of course, one should read the entire Lewis canon. But if you can’t handle all of that, start with Mere Christianity, which includes arguments for the existence of God, thoughts on apologetics, insights for Christian virtues and living, explanations for ethics, and simply-worded deep theological thoughts concerning the nature of God and Christian faith. Read Lewis.
1. The Bible (AKA: The foundation)
If you call yourself a Christian, you need to be familiar with the basic source text of your faith. If you are not a Christian, you need to be familiar with the most influential document in the known history of the universe. Read. The. Bible. Preferably all of it. Preferably more than once.
What about you–what books do you think everyone should read? How would you modify this list?