Before I started working in school administration, I was a music teacher and had 10 weeks to relax and do (for the most part) whatever I wanted. The last 3 years of my teaching career I started a summer tradition that helped me greatly in my Christian walk; I committed to reading at least one Christian book each week of my vacation (and sometimes more just for fun). Those times in the summer enriched my soul in ways that are difficult to put into words and I would encourage you as a member of Cornerstone to take advantage of this time at home.
Even though quarantine and social distancing may be coming to an end soon, some of us may be affected for a few more weeks, if not more, so here is a list I compiled of some recommended reading to strengthen your faith and help you mediate on God. I think that every Christian would benefit from this list whether quarantined or not. Notice that none of these books have “steps to a better Christian life”, they are all books that will help you get a better understanding, appreciation, and love for God, by the Spirit, through Jesus Christ.
- The Explicit Gospel – by Matt Chandler
Understanding the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ is essential to being a Christian and knowing God. It seems like it would be obvious, but it is surprising how many people in church are unclear on the answer to the question, “What is the Gospel?” It must be made explicit and should be the focus of our lives as Christians.
- Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God – by J.I. Packer
God chooses his people in eternity past “before the foundations of the world” (Eph 1:4) and He also commands His people to tell others to repent and believe. But if He is sovereign over salvation, how does that affect evangelism. This relatively short book tackles a very complex and often confusing topic; the seeming paradox that “God is sovereign over salvation and man is still responsible.”
- Gospel Wakefulness – by Jared Wilson
All Christians experience the feeling of distance from God or the fallacy that they are not as close to God. But those who are truly His will also be refreshed and renewed at different times in life by a re-awakening to the wonders of the good news of Jesus. These times of Gospel-Wakefulness can be some of the greatest moments in the Christian life and remind us that God really is good.
- Mere Christianity – by C.S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis is probably 70% responsible for my love of reading due to his children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia. An Anglican professor of mid-eval studies, this author has inspired countless Christians with his variety of fictional stories, essays, letters, and non-fictional works. Mere Christianity is a compilation of transcriptions from a series of BBC radio shows that Lewis did in the 1940s. (I almost put “The Weight of Glory” by Lewis on this list-it is a short sermon/essay that I would also consider one of his best)
- The Pursuit of God – by A.W. Tozer
Aiden Wilson Tozer spoke clearly and plainly about God and the things of God as an American pastor in the early 1900s. With no formal education, he became a pastor who wrote more than 60 books in his lifetime and received honorary doctorates from two different colleges. This Christian classic addresses the most important thing we can do in this life: pursue God. It also uses the famous analogy/simile that the church is like a room full of pianos that will never be in tune unless they tune to one tuning fork (God) instead of trying to be in tune with each other; as a music minister, I have always loved that part.
- The Hiding Place – by Corrie Ten Boom
When I was in the 5th grade, my teacher was a former missionary to Albania and loved to talk about God and the things of God. After recess, we had a daily 30-minute time-slot for the teacher to read a book to the class. This is when I was first introduced to The Hiding Place, the autobiography of Corrie Ten Boom, a holocaust survivor who clung to her faith in Christ in one of the worst Jewish prison camps (Auschwitz) during World War II. This real-life tale of horror and the unthinkable mistreatment of humans is told in first-person from the viewpoint of a woman who truly knew what suffering meant and learned how a Christian reacts to it. To say this book had an impact on my 11-year-old self would be an understatement. Everyone should read this book. (Fun-Fact: my sister-in-law is named after this same Corrie”)
- Confessions – by Saint Augustine
As a Reformed-Baptist it may come as a surprise that I have a Catholic Saint so high on this list. Keep in mind that the word “Catholic” means “universal” and in the 4th century, the “catholic” church did not resemble the modern-day papacy of the 21st century and was more a result of the “New-Testament church” that came into being in the book of Acts after Jesus’ resurrection. Augustine was a bishop (pastor) in Roman-occupied Northern Africa. He was a deep thinker with a reverence for Christ like few others in history and he elaborated on many Biblical concepts such as “original sin” and “just-war theory” that have impacted the church throughout history. His masterpiece “Confessions” could be described as a unique journal, book of philosophy, worship, prayer, exhortation, and personal-testimony, in a series of 13 books, combined all in one. I would highly suggest finding an abridged copy with a contemporary translation. My favorite edition is the “Faith Classics” edition by Barbour Publishing, 2013.
- The Reason for God – by Tim Keller
Apologetics is a word that could be defined as: “knowing what you believe and why you believe it so that you can defend it”. While I don’t believe that debate will ever lead anyone to salvation (only God can do that), knowledge, logic, and understanding are important in the Christian life. After all 1 Peter 3:15 tells us, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV)…
I don’t think pastor Tim Keller would consider this an apologetics book, however, I think it could be used as such. Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York is a gifted communicator and excellent writer. The Reason For God is a fairly long book, so if you wanted to read something by Keller that could be finished in a day, I would also recommend “Prodigal God”; its content is completely different but it is one I think everyone should read.
- Knowing God – by J.I. Packer
The first time I read this book, I borrowed it from Nick Esch and he said something like, “Packer is old, and his writing is a little dry, but if you read this slowly and think about each chapter it will be really good for your soul”; and he was correct. It will take a while to get through this, but the topic of Knowing God is one of the most important topics in the universe and will be well worth your time. As Jesus said in His “high-priestly prayer”, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV).
- Desiring God – by John Piper
I saved this for #1 because I think it is the most important Christian book that has been written in the last century. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”. In his book, Piper improves this statement with one minor change and says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” Glorifying God, Knowing God, and Desiring God are at the heart of the gospel, and these themes are evident in all of Piper’s writings (Actually, this entire list could have been made up of John Piper’s books but I wanted to give some variety…). Inspired greatly by themes from Jonathan Edwards’ classic, “Religious Affections”, “Desiring God” would be my highest Christian book recommendation outside of the Bible. I would also recommend reading his shorter but equally important book “When I don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy” which answers questions that could be raised when reading “Desiring God”. I would also recommend “The Pleasures of God” which expands more of the same themes from Desiring God.
So, there it is. There are probably Christian books that exist or will be written that are better than the ones on this list, but I chose these because they have had an impact on my life as a Christian, and I think that after reading through them, a person will have a very well-rounded and holistic view of what is important. I also chose them because even though I haven’t read them all more than once, I believe they all deserve a re-read (if you would be willing to read it again, that’s how you know a book is really good). The reason that I did not include any books about music, or books specifically written for Worship Leaders is that while there are some good books about that sort of thing, the more important aspects and concepts of worship are rooted in our understanding of who God is (I might make another list sometime on books addressing the nature of worship…). If we desire to know Him rightly then we will desire to worship Him rightly.
I’ll be doing about 90% of work from home for at least another month, which frees me up a little more than usual so don’t hesitate to call me up if you are interested in discussing this list or anything else.
I love you all in Christ!