[This is a work in progress…Revision history now added at the bottom of this article.]
I’ve read a lot of books in my lifetime – some have been life-changing others time-wasting. The sheer volume of books being published each year is overwhelming – how do we choose what books to read? In this article I will attempt to create a constantly evolving corpus of volumes that might serve as a basic primer for individuals looking to progress in their personal and spiritual growth.
It will include, first and foremost, volumes which apply to all readers and which I would consider life-changing for any reader. It also includes more “niche” topic books – books which apply to a single gender or life situation – but the “niche” will be statistically significant (e.g. a good number of readers will either have experienced or will know someone who has experienced these situations). I don’t expect anyone to read all of these niche volumes – they are here primarily as a resource. I don’t know how many times I’ve been faced with difficult circumstances in my life or in my relationship with others and felt at a total loss for how to successfully travel through these dark days. Hopefully, these resources will provide some guidance.
I’ve linked these books to Amazon – b/c I have an Amazon Affiliate account and get a percentage of the sales I send to Amazon. That said, some of these books can be found for cheaper through Christian Book Distributors (CBD). Ach, it pangs me to give up my referral fees. =)
I’m building a library I hope others can use, but it is also a library I will use. As such there are numerous volumes herein which seem to me to be the best possible volumes on a subject – however this comes from appearances, from hearsay, from reviews, from popularity, and so on. Please feel free to suggest alternative volumes. Those volumes which I have personally read are noted with an * following the title. Titles not given a full reading but at least glanced at are marked by **. All others have no markings – indicating I have not read them. Should authors, publishers, or others stumble upon these pages and desire to see these volumes moved to a * or at least a ** status, I won’t argue with free copies of the books in question.
- NLT (New Living Translation) Study Bible.*1I am a big fan of the NLT as a readable translation of the Bible. I have heard great things about what the Study Bible notes provides, but haven’t personally had the opportunity to read these notes. I’ve decided not to respond to the inevitable criticisms of reading a thought-for-thought translation here, but if you wish to bring up the challenge…I believe I have a good response. =)
- Metamorpha: Jesus as a Way of Life (Kyle Strobel).*2An extremely even-handed, readable volume written by a young author who balances the new trends of postmodernity with our historical and evangelical legacy. I especially appreciate his challenge to the new generations to not simply abandon the “old” churches which have hurt us and his extensive bibliography which provides a great jumping off point for further reading.
- Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (Richard Foster).*3Covers the spiritual disciples. One of the best books I have ever read on the topic – extremely practical in nature. Foster’s Quaker beliefs do place some of his writings outside of what many would comfortably define as fundamentalism. Foster also depends heavily on Quaker figures and mystical figures for his quotations and sources, which will be foreign to many.
- Desiring God (John Piper).*4It took me three or four times to read this book…and then only a period of over a year. Piper is one of our brightest contemporary theological minds…yet, his pervasive Calvinism in the beginning of the book caused me to throw the volume down several times. Once one struggles past this (for those who struggle with Calvinism) the book is quite amazing.
Bible Study (General):
- How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Douglas Stuart, Gordon Fee).*5If you only read a few books off this list, make this one of them. Stuart and Fee do an amazing job of enlightening our understanding of Scripture by helping us to understand the importance and role of history, culture, and literary form amongst other items as we read.
- The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old and New Testaments (John Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, ed.).**6I read most of this volume during my undergraduate studies at Philadelphia Biblical University. While not extensive nor providing all views on the Scriptures it does provide a great quick reference on a book. In general, I imagine the studies will be acceptable to those in most evangelistic denominations with the exception of some prophetic materials which will be heavily dispensational in slant – something which many churches differ on.
- The New Daily Study Bible (William Barclay).**7William Barclay is one of the best commentators I have ever read. I have never found a replacement for his DSB series of commentaries – which are written for the lay reader yet reveal insights for all. His ability to make complex truths simple, intimate knowledge of Koine Greek, deep historical and cultural knowledge – all make his commentaries timeless. Barclay does have fairly unorthodox beliefs but tends to maintain a more orthodox position within these commentaries.
- An Introduction to the Old Testament (Tremper Longman III, Raymond B. Dillard).
- An Introduction to the New Testament (D.A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo).
- Old Testament Theology (Bruce K. Waltke).8Winner of the 2008 Bible Reference & Study Christian Book Award. See also Tony Reinke’s review.
- New Testament Theology (I. Howard Marshall).9Winner of the 2005 Reference Works/Commentaries Christian Book Award. See Robert J. Cara’s review here. Note that Marshall is not dispensationalist, holds a more Arminian viewpoint, and argues against the New Perspective. Volume is generally evangelical in tone.
- Commentary on New Testament Use of the Old Testament (G.K. Beale, D.A. Carson, ed.).
- The NIV Application Commentary: New Testament (Zondervan).
- Story of Christianity** (Justo Gonzalez).10Gonzalez is a hero to me. I’m still reading this volume – b/c its actually two volumes with perhaps 1400 pages – but every word is worthwhile!
- Pagan Christianity! (Frank Viola, George Barna).
- 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Mark Galli).
- Becoming a Contagious Christian (Bill Hybels, Mark Mittelberg).**
- Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Wayne Grudem).11While I haven’t personally read, I only hear good things.
- Everyone Communicates, Few Connect (John Maxwell).
- Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives (Dr. Richard Swenson).*12An extremely valuable book in our American work-a-holic culture.
- Grace-Based Parenting (Tim Kimmel).
- The Five Love Languages, Secrets to Love that Lasts (Dr. Gary Chapman).13A perpetual best-seller, no personal experience.
- Love & Respect (Dr. Emerson Eggerichs).**14Heard high praises from many and have read a good portion myself. At times is a bit redundant – but perhaps that is because we forget truths, especially in our most intimate relationships?
- Depression: A Stubborn Darkness (Edward T. Welch).
- Addiction: A Banquet in the Grave (Edward T. Welch).
- Unmasking Male Depression (Dr. Archibald D. Hart).
- The Obsessive-Compulsive Trap: Real Help for a Real Disorder (Dr. Mark E. Crawford).**15A very small and easy read with a lot of helpful information on OCD. My subjective experience is that people with this disorder (including myself) seem to be a higher percentage in churches than the general population.
- How to Stay Christian in College (J. Budziszewski).
- Every Young Man’s Battle (Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker, Mike Yourkey).16I’ve read this book and it is a good book. Being a sheltered homeschooler it introduced me to some aspects of male sexuality I was unfamiliar with at the time. Generally, though, I expect the topics tackled are well understood in the teenage male population.
- Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain (William M. Struthers). [HT: Annie Bolger]
- Living Beyond a Broken Marriage (Dr. David Hawkins).
- The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Gregory Boyd).17Not read it, but it sounds interesting. At CBD its $2.00! Has received solid reader reviews at both CBD and Amazon.
- Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals (Shane Claiborne, Chris Haw). [HT: Evan Curry]
- Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America (Stanley Hauerwas). [HT: Evan Curry]
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (John Maxwell).*18John Maxwell is an excellent resource on leadership, has experience in both ministry and corporate leadership and writes in a very readable/enjoyable manner. His books are fairly concise as well.
- When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself (Brian Fikkert, Steve Corbett).
- Blindsided by Grace: Entering the World of Disability (Robert F. Molsberry).
- Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches (Russell D. Moore).
- On the Threshold of Hope: Opening the Door to Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Diane Mandt Langberg).
- The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? (Richard Stearns). [HT: Laura Saloiye]
- The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (Shane Claiborne). [HT: Evan Curry]
- Evil & the Justice of God (N.T. Wright). [HT: Evan Curry]
- Being Sick Well: Joyful Living Despite Chronic Illness (Jeffrey H. Boyd).
- The Purpose Driven Church (Rick Warren).*19I know, I know. Everyone hates the Purpose Driven Church…or at least a lot of people who frequent the circles I travel in…but I insist this is due to the misapplication of Warren’s principles rather than Warren’s principles in and of themselves. Warren repeatedly warns against cookie-cutting one’s church after Saddleback, and yet this is what has occurred in many situations and this is (largely) what people revolt against. Give it a chance – its still the best and most practical guide to “doing church” I’ve read.
- For All God’s Worth (N.T. Wright). [HT: Andrew Vogel]
- Diary of an Old Soul (George MacDonald).*20MacDonald wrote this after losing two of his adult children in the same year. He wrote it over a period of a year – one small poem each day. It is a beautifully deep and devotional work and the poems tie into each other and reflect a soul hungering after God.
- Life Together (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).**
- The Cost of Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).**
- The Problem of Pain (C.S. Lewis).
- Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan).** [HT: Kara Pickens]
- Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis).* [HT: Martha Mackey]
- Orthodoxy (G.K. Chesterton).** [HT: Martha Mackey]
- Grieving the Child I Never Knew (Kathe Wunnenberg).
- How Long, O Lord? (D.A. Carson). [HT: Annie Bolger]
- The Gift Nobody Wants (Philip Yancey). [HT: Annie Bolger]
- Surprised by Hope (N.T. Wright).**
- Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (John Piper ed.).**
- Man as Male and Female: A Study in Sexual Relationships from a Theological Point of View (Paul K Jewett).* [HT: Kara Pickens]
- The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (James W. Sire).
- Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Andy Crouch). [HT: Evan Curry]
- Purpose Driven Youth Ministry (Doug Fields).*
- Let the Nations Be Glad (John Piper). [HT: Annie Bolger]
- From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (Ruth Tucker). [HT: Annie Bolger]
- No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green (Melody Green).*
- My Struggle with Faith (Joseph Girzone).*
- Science and Religion: A New Introduction (Alister E. McGrath). [HT: Andrew Vogel]
- Max Lucado – Facing Your Giants, Fearless*, It’s Not About Me, Cure for the Common Life, The 3:16 Promise, You! God’s Brand New Idea, The Applause of Heaven**, Just Like Jesus, Cast of Characters, In the Grip of Grace, 3:16–The Numbers of Hope, He Chose the Nails, In the Eye of the Storm, Come Thirsty, He Still Moves Stones, God Came Near, The Great House of God, Outlive Your Life, For the Tough Time, Six Hours One Friday
- John Eldredge
- Adam (Ted Dekker).
- Demon: A Memoir (Tosca Lee).
- The Oath (Frank Peretti).
Secondary Bible Study:
- A Short Introduction to Hermeneutics (David Jasper). [HT: Kara Pickens]
- Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Peter Enns). [HT: Andrew Vogel]
- Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. (John Walton). [HT: Andrew Vogel]
- Four Views on Hell (John F. Walvoord, Zachary J. Hayes, Clark H. Pinnock).
- Revelation: Four Views (Steven Gregg).
- Three Views on the Rapture (Richard R. Reiter, Paul D. Feinberg, Gleason L. Archer Jr., Douglas J. Moo).
Secondary Christian Living:
- Inside Out (Dr. Larry Crabb).*21A challenging and insightful book by psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb. I don’t agree with everything Crabb says and find psychoanalytic theory (which seems to be appropriated) only a partial perspective…but still, worthwhile.
- After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (N.T. Wright). [HT: Evan Curry]
Secondary Church History:
- Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction (Bryan M. Litfin). [HT: Annie Bolger]
- The Great Divorce (C.S. Lewis).*
- 3/23/16 – Primarily behind the scenes work, updated code overall, removed unnecessary code, increased size of headers, and changed some Amazon links to short links.
- 6/5/10 – Added additional footnotes. Added Obsessive-Compulsive Trap to Mental Health. Added Secondary Classics section and moved The Great Divorce (Lewis) to it.
- 6/5/10 – Split Bible Study into Beginner and Advanced sections. Created Secondary Bible Study section, moved Jasper’s Hermeneutics, Enn’s Inspiration and Incarnation, and Walton’s Ancient Near Eastern Thought to secondary.
- 6/4/10 – Installed WP-Footnotes and rewrote all footnotes using this technology, also, updated footnote content.
- 6/3/10 – Added friends feedback on various worthwhile books.