A few weeks ago, an individual in our church asked me to write a post on the best Christian books to read. “Hang,” I thought to myself, “that’s a tough call.” There is SO much good stuff out there – where do I start?” Yet, I remember as a young Christian asking the same thing to many Christian leaders and Pastors. I wanted to know the books that had the most impact on their lives.
So here’s my top twenty. Of course, not everyone is going to agree with this list, as it is entirely subjective. Yet I do believe there is content here that you will find in many other “best Christian books” lists. Some of these are classics (such as “Pilgrim’s Progress” and “The Knowledge of the Holy”), having been around for years, and others appeared only the past decade. Some influenced me early in my Christian life and others more recently. There is a real good mix here – theology, biography, church history and apologetics. It’s not an exhaustive list, and doesn’t cover the entire spectrum of the Christian life or hit every Christian doctrine. They are just, simply put, great books.
These are not in order of priority, with the exception of the first five, which I would recommend that every Christian read at some point or another. So here we go:
1. Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan.
It’s a classic. I believe every Christian, young or mature, should read this book – seriously. I suggest a modern language version; you’ll find it easier and more pleasurable reading. But the original rendition is still fine.
2. The Knowledge of the Holy, by A.W. Tozer.
This little book packs a serious punch. Tozer explores the different attributes of God and then at the end of each chapter invites you to bow down before the greatness of God. The opening words in the first chapter are priceless: “What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Read that again. Think about it for a moment. Then get hold of the book.
3. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, by Paul Miller.
Every Christian should read books on prayer from time to time in order to keep their prayer life alive (I do this annually). This the best of the bunch. It is encouraging, grace-filled, faith-filled, and not condemning! The opening chapters on becoming like a little child and learning to talk to God as Father are precious beyond words. It will change the way you view God as well as prayer.
4. Knowing God, by J.I. Packer.
If you want to know what God is like, this is your book. It’s sold millions of copies and still continues to benefit thousands of Christians around the world. You’ll learn more about God as well as yourself. You’ll come to understand the weight of sin and the beauty of the gospel. “Sons of God” (chapter 19) is all about our adoption and has to be one the sweetest, richest chapters on the reality of our salvation I have ever read.
5. Tortured for Christ, by Richard Wurmbrand.
This may surprise some that I have this book as one of my top five. But I think it is a must read for every Christian. Pastor Richard Wurmbrand endured fourteen years of Communist imprisonment and torture in his homeland of Romania. He documents the sufferings he endured, but also the sweet communion with God he enjoyed through, by the indwelling Holy Spirit. His strong faith and love for his torturers will inspire and encourage you.
6. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, by Donald Whitney.
A rich Christian life doesn’t come without discipline, and in this book Donald Whitney examines many different disciplines for the Christian life, such as Bible reading, prayer, journaling, fasting, and solitude. This is the best book on this subject in my view; it’s biblical, practical and thought-provoking.
7. The Ultimate Priority: Worship, by John MacArthur.
This is not a book about worship in the church. It says little about music styles and taste. This is about the heart, and will help you think rightly about what true worship is all about. It also spells out what true worship isn’t.
8. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs.
This is my all-time favourite of the Puritan Paperback series. Burroughs defines contentment as “that sweet, inward, quite, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly discipline in every condition.” (p.19). He then unpacks that in the remainder of the book. If you find yourself struggling with contentment in your job, marriage, or any other situation, this book is for you.
9. Christ’s Call to Discipleship, by James Montgomery Boice.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked this book off my shelf in my sermon preparation. This still the best book on discipleship that I’ve ever read! It will challenge your perspective on Christianity in a number of areas and make you ask some hard questions about the superficiality of the contemporary church. Boice doesn’t sugar coat anything, so prepare to be challenged. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
10. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, by John Piper.
There are few books that have my understanding of what it means to love God than this one. Loving God is more than just duty, it is delight. “One has already made a god out of whatever he finds the most pleasure in,” writes Piper. His mission is this book is to have you finding your greatest pleasure and delight in this life in God.
11. Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, by Jerry Bridges.
All of us will go through trials of some sort, and this book will equip you to trust God in even the most difficult circumstances. The chapter of the Sovereignty of God is just brilliant: personal, biblical, and faith-filling. My favourite quote: “Trusting God is not a matter of my feelings but of my will. I never feel like trusting God when adversity strikes, but I can choose to do so even when I don’t feel like it. That act of that will, though, must be based on belief, and belief must be based on truth.” (p. 52). Bingo!
12. The Reason for God, by Tim Keller.
In an age of doubt and skepticism, Tim Keller offers wise, winsome answers to those who are asking questions. This is a great book for believers because it gives a solid platform on which to stand when thrown difficult questions, and a great book for skeptics, atheists and agnostics, because it provides a challenging argument for the existence of God and the reasonableness of the Christian faith. You should always have one of these one your shelf to give to an unbeliever. Then go have coffee with him (or her).
13. Shadow of the Almighty, by Elizabeth Elliot.
Every Christian is familiar with the story of Jim Elliott and his four missionary friends who were speared to death trying to reach an unreached tribe in the jungle of Ecuador. But few know about his life. In this book you’ll follow Jim from childhood through school and into adult life. It’s filled with excerpts from his personal diary, letters to Elizabeth when he was courting her as well as a plethora of other spiritual jewels which will enrich your soul. If you are going to read one Christian biography in your life, read this one.
14. The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul.
R. C. Sproul, in this classic work, puts the holiness of God in its proper and central place in the Christian life. He paints an awe-inspiring vision of God that encourages Christian to become holy just as God is holy. This is not a safe book. Once you encounter the holiness of God, your life will never be the same.
15. Disciples are Made, Not born, by Walter A. Henrichsen and Howard G. Hendricks
This is the go-to book on discipleship. My wife and I have taken scores of people through this in our discipling. It’s a great book for training leaders (especially Youth Group Leaders) because the emphasis is on life-on-life transformation, not activities and entertainment.
16. Don’t Waste Your Life, by John Piper.
I took a group of men through this book a number of years ago. Some of them are still talking about it. On the back cover it reads, “Most people slip by in life without a passion for God, spending their lives on trivial diversions, living for comfort and pleasure, and perhaps trying to avoid sin. This book will warn you not to get caught up in a life that counts for nothing. It will challenge you to live and ide boasting in the cross of Christ and making the glory of God your singular passion. If you believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain, read this book, learn to live for Christ, and don’t waste your life!”
17. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis.
I could recommend a lot of different books by C.S. Lewis, but this one is probably my favourite. Written as a conversation between a senior demon and a younger demon, it provides fascinating insights into the ways of Satan. You’ll never think of the devil the same way again!
18. Church History in Plain Language, by Bruce Shelley.
Every Christian should be somewhat acquainted with their history. And there’s plenty of it (over 2000 years worth). As the famous quote goes: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana). In order to remember it, you first need to know it! You’ll learn everything you need to know about the early church councils and the battles that were fought, famous Christian leaders as well as heretics (there’s a good dose of them). You’ll also learn about great periods such as the forming of the Bible, the first Pope and the Reformation. Easy reading, as well as accurate, which is why I like recommending this book.
19. Humility: True Greatness, by C.J. Mahaney.
There are few things more important to God than humility. If you want to grow in humility, read this book (it’s worth it for chapter 2 – “The Perils of Pride” alone).
20. Found: God’s Will, by John MacArthur.
Navigating the decision-making process as a Christian can be so confusing in life, whether it’s deciding on a new job or making a choice on which church to go to. MacArthur strips away the confusion and makes it all very simple. You could read this in one setting. It’s short, simple and to the point. Great for a new Christian as well as leaders.