As the summer draws to a close, I wanted to put together a book list for my friends; so I did! Each book on this list comes with the highest recommendation. I have read all but five of the books on this list, so I wrote a short blurb about each book. For the five that I have not read, one of my friends who has read them wrote the recommendation. I hope that this list will prove to be helpful!
Church Membership – Jonathan Leeman“Becoming a member of a church is an important, and often neglected, part of the Christian life. Yet the trend these days is one of shunning the practice of organized religion and showing a distaste or fear of commitment, especially of institutions.
Jonathan Leeman addresses these issues with a straightforward explanation of what church membership is and why it’s important. Giving the local church its proper due, Leeman has built a compelling case for committing to the local body.”
What is the Gospel? – Greg GilbertThis book is quite short, but it helps explain the gospel for both salvation and sanctification. Paul Whitt’s session at the beginning of the summer (God, Man, Christ, Response) finds it’s root in this book. This book provides clear definition and direction for knowing the gospel for yourself and knowing the gospel to explain to others.
The Hole in our Holiness – Kevin DeYoungThis book definitively discusses the Christian and personal holiness. We often find ourselves in a battle between desiring to be holy and desiring to avoid legalism. DeYoung tactfully approaches the subject by defining holiness and our responsibility in pursuing it. DeYoung points out that by pursuing holiness we are really pursuing Christ. This book is both encouraging and convicting—definitely worth the read.
Desiring God – John PiperThis book is one that everyone should really read. This book introduces a deeper level of thinking to every area of the Christian life. Piper covers salvation, sanctification, suffering, and many other topics in this valuable book. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this book is learning that the source of all joy comes from God, and that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.
True Beauty – Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole WhitacreUnlike other books on beauty, even those books authored by Christians, True Beauty does not merely redefine beauty from external to internal. The authors take a necessary step in understanding true beauty by helping readers understand that true beauty is not about the individual at all, but rather, true beauty is about imaging the character of God. By focusing on God’s beauty rather than our own, we can then pursue biblical beauty by cultivating an inward beauty that mirrors Christ.
This short book addresses practical issues including true beauty and our culture, our hearts, our bodies, and our clothes. The authors fill the book with stories of women to illustrate true to life examples of the conflict within women in pursuit of beauty. The authors dive into Scripture to help readers truly understand beauty because, “In His perfect wisdom and love, God has provided truth in His Word that transcends time and change, and helps us navigate and rise above the cacophony of messages about beauty in our culture.”
The Dude’s Guide to Manhood – Darrin PatrickDarrin Patrick’s The Dude’s Guide to Manhood highlights long forgotten essential wisdom that boys need to know for the journey to manhood. Patrick lays out characteristics of manhood from a biblical worldview. Patrick realizes that many men in the world are “men without maps,” and that manhood is so misunderstood because people never truly learn to become men. He emphasizes the fact that becoming a man is not something that just happens because manhood is something that must be learned and then taught to others. This book teaches essential character qualities that many boys never learn.
Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions – Gregory KouklIn a culture devoid of truth and biblical literacy, believers need to be prepared to converse with people of different faiths and belief systems, and with people who claim no belief system at all. Gregory Koukl’s Tactics proves to be an invaluable resource for training to engage people in our culture. Not only does the book instruct the reader how to engage others in conversation, but also teaches the reader to spot errors in argumentation. People often just repeat claims that they have heard without understanding them or without truly believing them. This lack of belief and understanding often leads to errors in argumentation that kills the argument or position immediately. Other times the position cannot be held because the logical outworking of the position goes beyond what the proponent is willing to hold to. Koukl teaches simply and clearly how to recognize and use these errors.
Counterfeit Gods – Tim KellerThis book proved to be both a quick and thought provoking read. Keller attempts to expose idols that are being worshiped by the average Christian. We may not have a golden calf set up in the back yard, but we do have our own idols. Keller defines an idol as something that we look to for things that only God can give us, which means they may, in fact, be good things. “We think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect it to satisfy our deepest hopes and needs. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.”
Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with the Family of God – Josh HarrisThis book is short, but provides a biblical approach toward the local church. Our generation values independent, consumer-centered mindsets, and those mindsets often merge into our thinking about the local church. This book serves as a good introduction to begin thinking about the value of the local church and your role as a church member, and may be especially helpful if you don’t thoroughly enjoy reading but want to pursue knowledge about your role in the church.
Mere Christianity – C.S. LewisIn Mere Christianity, Lewis begins by arguing for a superior being, eventually working his way to argue for the Christian God. After laying the foundation for Christianity, Lewis helps Christians better understand what it means to live a life of faith.
What is a Healthy Church Member – Thabiti AnyabwileAs one of my friends said, “Everyone should read it . . . because everyone should be a healthy church member.” This book applies the nine marks of a healthy church to the church member. If you are interested in pursuing your role as a healthy church member, this short book could be a valuable resource.
The Screwtape Letters – C.S. LewisThis is a book that I try to read once a year. This book helps readers understand spiritual warfare from a different perspective. Lewis imagines what demons and the Devil are thinking in regards to spiritual warfare, and he projects the tactics that the other side uses by portraying letters between a younger demon in training and an older demon.
This book reveals blind spots and brutally exposes our worldly thinking by showing us the harmful thought patterns and life choices in which we often participate.
Knowing God – J.I. PackerThis monumental book makes its way onto almost every to-read list. If we really believe that every sin problem comes back to a wrong view of God, then it is our responsibility in pursuing holiness and spiritual growth to know God truly and accurately. Our daily life flows from our theology, and our theology boils down to what we believe about God. Although this book is a bit lengthier than some of the others on this list, this is a book that everyone should read. This is the kind of book that you don’t want to plan to read through quickly, but rather to read through slowly with prayer and meditation.
The Prodigal God – Tim KellerKeller works through the story that we often think of at “The Prodigal Son,” to reveal that the story is actually about our Prodigal God. Saying that God is “prodigal” sounds a bit sacrilegious and disrespectful, but “prodigal” simply means “giving something on a lavish scale.” God has given his grace and forgiveness to us on a lavish scale, so in this account He is the one who is truly prodigal. This book not only reveals the message of the gospel for regeneration and sanctification, but the book also helps us understand how we ought to approach Jesus’ parables.
Marks of the Messenger – Mack StilesMarks of the Messenger by J. Mack Stiles had a profound impact on me in the sense that it opened my eyes to my need to be radically influenced by the gospel in order to share it with other people. When Stiles inserts Keller’s statement that, “We never get beyond the gospel in our Christian life to something more advanced. The gospel is not the first step in a stairway of truths; rather, it is more like the hub in a wheel of truth.” I was deeply convicted at my lack of gospel centered living. This book warns against pragmatic evangelism, teaches unconditional love, and applies evangelism to the local church. If you are interested in developing your role as an evangelist, this book will be profoundly helpful.
The Spiritual Discipline of Discernment – Tim ChalliesThis book is short and easy to read. It’s value is in it’s simplicity, because it helps us to break down what it means to be discerning in understanding God’s specific will for our lives while avoiding the erroneous thinking that tends to be presented in a book about God’s will. This book doesn’t merely address making big decisions based on God’s will, but making daily life choices with the spiritual discipline of discernment.
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church – Mark DeverThis book covers a biblical view of the church that helps people know what to look for in a church. As many of us are reaching stages of life in which we are in control of where we attend church, this book can help us make responsible, biblical decisions.
The books also finds value in that it helps direct us in knowing how to best serve our local churches. By painting a picture of a healthy church, Dever points us in the direction that we should be heading as we strive to minister to local churches as a camp, as college students, and as church members.
Valley of VisionThis is a collection of Puritan prayers that are extremely helpful in cultivating a life of prayer. These prayers cover a variety of topics and themes, all of which are valuable for growing into a deeper understanding of prayer. This is definitely not a book that you would sit down to merely read through; instead, this book is helpful for reading one a day or one a week. I particularly attempt to incorporate these prayers into my own prayer life and meditation and have found them quite helpful.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy – Eric MetaxasAlthough this book is a bit lengthy, Metaxas captivating writing keeps the book from becoming a drag. This book “gives witness to one man’s extraordinary faith and to the tortured fate of the nation he sought to deliver from the curse of Nazism. It brings the reader face to face with a man determined to do the will of God radically, courageously, and joyfully―even to the point of death. “Bonhoeffer” is the story of a life framed by a passion for truth and a commitment to justice on behalf of those who face implacable evil.”
The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich BonhoefferDietrich Bonhoeffer knew the cost of discipleship—in fact, he was martyred because of his commitment to the Christian faith. Bonhoeffer’s life demonstrates that “when Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die.” This book offers deep insights into the life of discipleship that we are called to by echoing and investigating the teachings of Jesus. Bonhoeffer was in his early twenties when he wrote this book, so he writes as one who is not far removed from our age group. However, he writes with maturity and wisdom that evidence his commitment to biblical discipleship.
The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. LewisI just finished my annual reading of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Though this is only the second year in a row that I have taken time to read The Chronicles completely through, I plan on doing so the rest of my life. These wonderful tales awaken my affections for Jesus Christ, provide excellent examples for me to follow, and draw me into a world of magic. As a naturally fearful person, I find myself relating to each of the characters during times that fear has gripped him or her most. Each time, in an hour of desperate need, Aslan comes. One of my favorite parts for fighting fear is in the final chapter of The Last Battle. While in Aslan’s Land Lucy says, “Have you noticed one can’t feel afraid, even if one wants to? Try it.” I look forward to being in Jesus’s land where my faith shall be sight and my fear shall be no more.
In reading The Chronicles of Narnia I have come to know that behind frowning providence is Jesus’s smiling face. I have come to know that obedience in one task often means that I will be given a more difficult task. I have learned that no matter where I am, or how equipped I may feel, I still need Jesus. I have learned being a man means rushing into difficulty first, staying longest, and laughing loudest. I have learned not to give up. I have learned to press on because, some day, I will stand before Jesus. I have learned that, though I have failed so often, there will come a time where Jesus will not always be chastening me. I have learned to know Aslan in Narnia so that I may better know Jesus in this world.
Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles – Joe RigneyRigney captures the lessons that C. S. Lewis teaches in The Chronicles of Narnia without taking away from the magic and mystery of the stories. Lewis expresses his beliefs concerning education, apologetics, and much more through his Chronicles. Rigney helps readers understand why they love Narnia, and how to live as much like a Narnian in this world as is possible. His thoughts left me feeling discipled, refreshed, and desiring to know Aslan better in that world, so that I might know Jesus better in this one.
I Heard the Owl Call My Name – Margaret CravenThis book is a fiction book set in Canada. I particularly enjoyed reading Margaret Craven’s I Heard the Owl Call My Name because of the motif of death throughout the book. Death flavors the book starting with the preface, when the reader realizes that the main character, Mark, is going to die in a short period of time, continuing to the death of multiple characters in the book, the death of a culture, the death of relationships, and ending in the Mark’s death. This book highlights the meaning of true life by focusing on death.
In order for Mark to prepare to die, he must learn how to live, but he can only learn how to live by learning how to die. This cycle is confusing and slightly abstract; however, Mark had to die to his own society by learning to become a servant to the Indians so that he could truly live. Life does not find value when it does not involve sacrifice. I think that Scripture makes it clear that true life, eternal life, is only possible through sacrifice; that before life comes a seed must fall into the ground and die. Mark learned to truly live by dying to himself and living for the Indians. When Mark reaches physical death, he would continue to live in his impact on those he served.
When People are Big and God is Small – Ed WelchThe book presents many reasons for the fear of man, as well as many practical worldview and fundamental thinking shifts that must be changed in order to combat the fear of man. First, people must fear God. Fearing God involves knowing God, and knowing God involves a life that is saturated with Scripture. Second, people must understand their identity and the natural character of man. For believers, identity is found in Christ; and when one truly understands his or her identity, the fear of man begins to diminish while a fear of God begins to grow. Those who understand the natural character of man is that man is indeed sinful, and that sinful man often focuses on wants and emotions rather than on needs and reality. Third, people who understand the fear of God, the character of man, and identity in Christ are free to love both neighbors and enemies.
When these three paradigm shifts have been put in place, the focus of an individual is directed to loving God and others, not fearing people and loving self. Although this book was extremely helpful, as the book goes on it becomes more dry. Welch also, like many other spiritual growth book authors, at times uses Scripture passages and Biblical narratives as case studies for a specific sin problem, when perhaps the purpose of those passages and narratives were never intended to diagnose a specific sin problem but were being employed to tell a greater story. Despite that annoyance, this book proves to be extremely helpful in thinking through and escaping from the fear of man.
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life – Donald WhitneyThis book may not be an enjoyable read, but it is a must-read. Whitney’s book is considered the best book on the disciplines of grace, because of its systematic and thorough approach to these elements of experiencing God. I recommend this book more than any other, and its confrontation is necessary during this age of “lethargic sanctification.” If you’re wondering how to apply Philippians 2:12 into your daily life, this book is for you.
*Don’t get this book confused with R. Kent Hugh’s book on the spiritual discipline
Complete In Him – Michael BarrettBarrett’s classic work explains the aspects of salvation in a way that will comfort and awe you. This book will produce a confidence in Christ’s work, a gratitude for how He saves, and a commitment to working out that salvation. Many people credit this book as the turning point in their understanding of the gospel. It is printed off-and-on in small batches, so you may need to find a used copy or wait until it’s reprinted.
Unbroken – LauraHillenbrandPlease, read this before you watch the movie. This biography tells the life story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was captured by the Japanese while he was serving his country during World War II. The resulting imprisonment, torture, and rescue makes for a captivating read, but the account of how God saved him and what followed is the capstone of this book. You won’t be able to put it down!
Unpacking Forgiveness – ChrisBraunsMany Christians think they know what the Bible teaches about forgiveness, but this book explains it and applies it accurately. Brauns clarifies and corrects the truth about how we are to seek forgiveness and how we are to forgive others. He empathizes with those who have experienced terrible hurt, while still calling them to biblical obedience.
Just Do Something – KevinDeYoungA very quick read, this book explains the concept of “God’s will” and encourages its readers to action. DeYoung emphasizes obedience to the clearly outlined commands of Scripture and then shows how we are to act in light of them. I highly encourage anyone to read this book, but especially those who are struggling with knowing what God wants for their future.
The Trellis and the Vine – Colin Marshall and Tony PayneIf you are involved in church ministry, and especially in church leadership, you need to read this book. So often our conceptions of church are skewed, and this book distinguishes between the essence of the church (people) and the extras of the church (programs, building, etc.). While that concept is familiar to most, Marshall and Payne communicate in a way that is clear and convicting. This book is helpful for any type and size of church that seeks to be biblical in practice.