Five of the Greatest Christian Books of All-Time? (What Are Your Picks?)

Stephen J. Drain's picture

“The discerning person acquires knowledge, and the wise person seeks knowledge” (Proverbs 18:15).

“I would like you to give me five of the greatest Christian books of all time.”

This was what I told my dad in response to his asking me to provide Christmas gift suggestions for him and Mom about fifteen years ago. Of course, in this case I meant books other than the Bible, as I understood that the Bible contained 66 of the greatest and most influential books from throughout Christendom’s history.

Now for my dad, this request may have been one of the best challenges or gift suggestions of all time since he’s a person who has enjoyed reading and studying the Bible and other Christian writings most of his life. (This is something I always admired about him.) So Dad perused his library, did some research, and sought suggestions from other Christians he respected, including his brother, my Uncle David, who was a Presbyterian minister. I know this was one “assignment” that Dad enjoyed. (And, by the way, thanks to both Dad, and Mom, for giving me five great books on Christmas day that year.)

But what prompted my suggestion? Well, in my Christian walk and study I was ready to begin reading some of the great works and inspirational classics from the previous two millennia. You see, in the previous ten years I’d read the Bible twice, and had read and/or studied portions of it a dozen times more. I’d also thoroughly enjoyed listening to a lot of radio preachers from whom I gleaned as much wisdom and knowledge as I possibly could. I’d heard many learned Christians speak of, and about, great Christians of the past saying, so and so held this position on… and such and such was the position of…. Conversations of that sort had not always interested me, but by this time in my life I was interested. I wanted to know the thoughts, opinions, and ideas of the learned and wise believers who had gone before me. Many of them devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures, serving God, and battling the enemies of God and the Gospel through their words and writings. Some did these things when their very lives were being threatened. I wanted to see what they had to teach me. After all, “Those who are wise store up knowledge” (Proverbs 10:14) and “The one who associates with the wise grows wise” (Proverbs 13:20). And God knows I have always needed all the help I could find!

So, what books did Dad settle on?

1.      The Confessions of St. Augustine

2.      The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther

3.      Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

4.      The Soul Winner by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

5.      Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Since such lists are subjective, I expect some will say, “That’s what he came up with?” But I also suspect that if you asked my father, “Why did you pick those books?” he would answer something to the effect that he could have picked ten or fifteen books, that he might change a couple of the books today, but those are the ones he chose at the time. Certainly, picking five books from all the Christian writings of the last 2000 years is not an easy task. (I hope you will try it in a moment, and see for yourself how difficult it is.)

As for me, if I recall correctly, I read Confessions, Mere Christianity, and The Soul Winner within a year or so of receiving them. I began Luther’s The Bondage of the Will in 1997 and found it, at the time, the most difficult book I’d ever attempted to read. Thinking back, I recall only being able to read one or two pages a day before finding the need to stop and rest my brain.[1] The book became so laborious for me that I put it aside for over a year. In the interim I read the biography of Luther, Here I Stand by Roland Bainton, in order to gain a better perspective on the book. I picked Bondage of the Will up again at the end of 1999 and finished it in 2000. But what of Calvin’s Institutes? Well, desiring to read it from beginning to end, not only as an occasionally reference, I still have only read about one third of it in these many years, as it weighs in at over 1200 pages (Yikes!).

So now, here’s the challenge for the reader: I invite you to respond to this blog and present us all with your list of Five of the Greatest Christian Books of All-Time. How will you choose? What will your criteria be? Will you pick the five books that had the greatest impact on your life, the five that God really used to  make a difference in your Christian walk, faith, or understanding? Will your list be of the five books you would highly recommend to unbelievers or, perhaps, five books you would recommend to new or growing Christians? What subjects will you choose? Christian history, biography, novels, psychology or relationship books, science or intelligent design, theology, philosophy, apologetics, commentaries, books by evangelists and/or preachers. Here is your opportunity to present your list. And when you respond, please tell us why you have chosen your five books.

Below is my list of Five of the Greatest Christian Books of All-Time, chosen for the following reason: They are books that really had an impact on me and my Christian thinking as I went in search of the Truth. They are books that I would want everyone to read, believer and non-believer alike, because in my heart I would hope and pray that they would impact each reader as much as they impacted me.

1.      Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

2.      The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

3.      The Confessions of St. Augustine

4.      Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton

5.      The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

This is my list for now, at this moment in time. I expect it could have been different a year ago… It might be different in another year. Perhaps you will pick one of them up, read it, and be blessed by it.

“The words of the wise are heard in quiet” (Ecclesiastes 9:17).

So what’s your list?

 


[1]
Please see the following Far Side cartoon to understand how I felt:

http://blogperso.univ-rennes1.fr/san.vu-ngoc/public/images/fun/larson_brain_full.jpeg

 

Comments

Well, as far as the most influential Christian books go, I would suggest:

The City of God by St. Augustine. His view of history and theology so profoundly shaped Western Civilization that it is difficult to exaggerate its influence.

Life of Saint Anthony by Athanasius. Without this popularizing tract, Western monasticism might never have been seriously stunted. Without monasticism--the seedbed of Christian theology, piety and missions--there would have been no Christian West.

The Diatessaron (the harmony of the four gospels) by Tatian was used for centuries in the East as scripture. Its influence on the liturgy and life of the Eastern church--possibly even Islam--is incalculable.

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis was deeply influential in both Catholic and Protestant piety, shaping Christian experience across much of Western Christianity until the present.

For the fifth, I am tempted to add Augustine's Confessions, even though I am hesitant to have two works by the same author. Still, the Confessions was deeply influential in the West.

I realize this list is heavily slanted toward Western Christianity. 

This is not the same list as the books that have been most influential in my life. That is because we need to hear the words of the gospel spoken to us in our specific times and places.

Each book made an impact in my life, basically I have been set free spiritually by something in all of these books.

Breaking Free - Beth Moore

Freedom in Christ - Neit T Anderson

Experiencing God - Henry & Richard Huckaby

The Five Love Languages - Gary Chapman

The Wall - A Parable - Gloria J Evans

The Case for Christ - Lee Strobel

Lance Ponder's picture

It is hard to trim the list that far. I'm not sure about favorites, but these are five that to me personally have been very influential and important:

Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell (also Evidence for Christianity).

The Genesis Flood by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb.

The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur.

Hearing God by Peter Lord.

Starlight and Time by Russell Humphreys.

There are several others I could name, but these are at the top of my list. The first, Evidence, was used to set me free from a cult when I was in my 20s. The Genesis Flood led to realize that Genesis and the whole basis for literal faith has some truth to it. The Gospel According to Jesus helped me see the whole gospel message in a completely new and vital way. Hearing God is an old book used in a church study group years ago. Through that book I learned to hear that still small voice. The last on my list, Starlight and Time, is one which, though published several years ago, I only became aware of it a couple of years ago. It catapulted my faith in Genesis because it helped me across that last hurdle which, for me, was the problem of distant starlight. It is no longer a problem in my thinking and now I fully accept the literal truth of Genesis and that has been remarkably transformational in my personal faith.

There are many others I would recommend and far more I would love to read if I could find the time. I hope this list is helpful.

Stephen J. Drain's picture

Lance,

I also thought of including "Evidence tthat Demands a Verdict, pt. 1" now "Evidence for Christianity." Narrowing it to 5 is certainly difficult!

Steve

Hi Steve! Here is my list:

Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

The Shack

Sorry, I can't think of five. 

In no particular order:

  • Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster
  • Knowing God, J.I. Packer
  • The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer
  • The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard
  • Can Man Live Without God, Ravi Zacharias

not sure these can be qualified as "of all time" (especially since they are mostly more recent books), but they are 5 great ones.

"Systematic Theology" by Thomas Oden

"Celebration of Discipline" by Richard Foster

"The Master Plan of Evangelism" by Robert E Coleman

"The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoevsky

"Predestination Calmly Considered" by John Wesley

I'm so glad someone posted that book!  I was blessed to be discipled by a missionary and that book was a part of his process.  I have since used it in my own discipleship program, and it is fantastic.  There are so many great books that it didn't make my top 5, but it deserves to be mentioned as a book that can serve to provide foundation and proper persepctive for every believer.

If I thought about it for more than a couple minutes, I'd probably list other books, but here's my highly subjective list at the time of posing this comment.  All the books address something basic and vital to the Faith and have most probably impacted my faith, ministry, and practice:

Since C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity has been mentioned prominently already, I won't mention it again (although I just did).

Frances Schaeffer's The God Who is There and/or Escape from Reason

John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress

 Charles Spurgeon's All of Grace

John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion

Thomas a Kempis' Imitiation of Christ

I must say that I got a chuckle from two selections...1 mentioned by you, and one mentioned on a comment.

1] Evidence that demands a verdict

a whole book about "evidence", but none of it admissible in a court of law. curious how low some people's standards of evidence drop when seeking confirmation.

2] The case for christ

This is truly awful argumentation at its best. It's full of Kent Hovind style "evidence", and is hardly deserving of serious consideration. Magnificent example of "stacking the deck", "fixing the game", "straw-manning the opposition", "intellectual dishonesty", "confirmation bias", and quite simply "omission" all rolled into one. Although I can personally shred much of Lee's argument, Robert Price actually dignified him w/ a full length book in response aptly titled, the case against the case for christ...or try Earl Doherty's "Challenging the Verdict".

Not that any of you will take your fingers out of your ears and quit repeating "i can't hear you", but you should check one out. Or just listen to Price talk for awhile here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dxh0pC6CT7Q.

And no Steve, no book led me to atheism, let alone 5...physical evidence does. If there is any book that contributed to my rejection of your god, it is the Bible...but only because of the narrow minded fundamentalist way in which i've often seen its words "literally" interpreted. That's just icing though, hardly a reason of substance. To really understand what led me to atheism, you need to understand what led you to validly reject every other god save one. Unfortunately, I don't think you have validly rejected any gods, nor do you even understand what I mean by that.

and one last thing: “The discerning person acquires knowledge, and the wise person seeks knowledge” (Proverbs 18:15).

They definitely weren't referring to those two books. My guess is that they weren't referring to any book on any of your lists, but i've only read those two and parts of mere christianity. what a stupid verse anyway...really, considering knowledge isn't defined. typical of the bible, applicable to anything...so it means nothing.

perhaps go w/ proverbs 18:17...then you might understand what's wrong w/ the books i mentioned.

"The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him."

Stephen J. Drain's picture

"None of it admissable in a court of law" would be completely incorrect. Perhaps you should read Simon Greenleaf's "The Testimony of the Evangelists, The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence" by one of the former foremost law scholars.

The problem is that these things would be allowed in a court of law. Who were the witnesses? What do the witnesses say? Is there any corroborating evidence? Is the same treatment given to their evidence that is given to the evidence in other cases?

Of course, if a Christian would give evidence admissible in a court of law then you would say, as you have said to me in the past: "That's ridiculous. Everyone knows that people can rarely recall correctly what they've seen. You take ten different people and they will tell you ten different stories."

So criticize evidence that, by your account, would not be admissible but if it is evidence that would be admissible you dismiss it for some other reason.

As for your atheistic/agnostic/materialistic assertions, I think Proverbs 18:17 works for those positions as well.

All belief systems are faith systems. We just admit it.

Love, your friend, Steve

c'mon steve, that evidence IS NOT ADMISSABLE. you seem to forget that it's now 2000yrs later. lol. what you have left is a collection of books, written after the fact. even generous estimates place the earliest gospel some 30years after the crucifixion[as you know the earliest preserved copies come much later]. so these "facts" were preserved orally by a small group of rebel jews. is there any wonder jesus is deified in them? really steve. what speaks more is the fact that the jewish religion survived. early christians[who were jews] were "all in", they had "seen" their messiah. jews for the most part didn't take that plunge. why? yeah, that's right...they didn't recognize all of those prophecies being fulfilled right in front of their eyes. you seem to think them awfully dense. something doesn't smell right. then time passes, the "facts" are obfuscated, and paul recruits gentiles. this is important because they have no knowledge of the jewish scriptures. now he goes on and on about how the meek shall inherit the earth, and the poor are rich, and you'll have eternal life, and heaven is a wonderful place, and it's all a free gift. pfft, little wonder christianity exploded. get real.

your verdict is quite simple. the case is thrown out because of insufficient evidence.

as far as eyewitness testimony goes, although it is compelling, it has been shown to be largely inaccurate many times over, especially as time goes by. i'll take forensics any day, over someone's recollection. there are many published studies documenting this. not sure why you think this relevant though. do you know some eyewitnesses?

you misunderstand the agnostic atheist position steve. we don't all need faith. you do because you are starting w/ the conclusion and working backwards. i'm gathering evidence and drawing informed conclusions that are subject to change as more is discovered. how does this require faith? and i don't see the point of bringing up the subjective human condition. it effects us all equally so it isn't really relevant. it's worse for you regardless...you're assuming that not only are your senses accurate, but that you can identify absolutes. that's amusing.

at least you left lee strobel out of it. that book is awful.

Stephen J. Drain's picture

Nate.

Question: Did you ever read "Evidence That demands a Verdict"?

Also, "Evidence..." gives solid rebuyttal evidence against the attacks on the Bible. We're back to your Proverbs verse now. Mcdowell does a good job in providing "reasonable doubt" in the atheists' prosecutory case.

You write: "what you have left is a collection of books, written after the fact"... Hard to write any historical accounts before the fact... How about writing about evolutionists writing about things, what? 300 billion years after the fact? Hmmmm... I will also ask you to provide me some eyewitnesses.

You write that the Gentiles "have no knowledge of the jewish scriptures..." Are you sure about that? I'm not making a statement either way, but you throw out opinions as though they were facts.

Lastly, EVERYONE needs faith, You speak of Science Science Science and the Five Senses and the Scientific Method, but how do you know that is the only way to know something. We come back to me asking you to prove to me that you are thinking... How can you do it? Yet you know you are thinking.

You said I am assuming aboslutes... No, I am speaking of my beliefs... and so are you.

Steve,

The reason for my title is that I would recommend quite a few of the books above. I too would suggest Calvin's "Institutes," Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," Spurgeon's "All of Grace," Whitcomb and Morris's "Genesis Flood" and Augustine's "City of God." But, why give the same options as others? The standard I have used for choosing this list of five is that each must deal with a different aspect of Christian and each must challenge us to grow both spiritually, intellectually and theologically.

"The History of the Reformation" - by J H Merle d'Aubigne. If you think that history is dull and boring then this is a must read. I first ran into it in the Banner of Truth version and it changed my view of history forever. d'Aubigne manages to convince us that history is made by ordinary people and opens the door to a more balanced view of other history books - like THL Parker's "Life of Calvin."

"Holiness" - by J C Ryle. The aim of God for the Christian's life is being Christ-like. J C Ryle's book is sadly neglected today but it is the basis of a sound and reasonable approach to the subject. In reality much of the puritan writings cannot be understood properly with realizing that they (as Ryle who followed them) were striving to serve God in every area of life.

"Introduction to Apologetics" - by Cornelius Van Til. This is a mind-stretcher. The first time I read it I thought - this is profound but I'm not sure what he is telling me. I had to re-read it through "I understand what he is saying" and "I understand what he means" until I reached "Finally I understand what he is saying and why he says it that way." Only then did I think I had mastered what he was attempting to teach me.

"The Economy of the Covenants" - by Herman Witsius. One of the most challenging studies of covenant theology I have read. He is as thorough as you can wish and is (in many ways) a forerunner to Geerhadus Vos's "Biblical Theology."

"Sermons of Robert Murray McCheyne" - by the author. One of the godliest preachers of his era, McCheyne encourages us in both godliness and understanding of the Scriptures. This is another of those books which challenges and make us grow.

DanR's inclusion of The Brothers Karamazov got me thinking about the best 5 fictional works written by Christians with deep Christian themes. I would include also include it on such a list. Others I would include:

  • Milton, Paradise Lost
  • Endo, Silence
  • Dante, The Divine Comedy

I'm not sure about the last. Maybe Bernanos's, Diary of a Country Priest, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, or Lewis's Til We Have Faces, which are all among my personal all-time favorites.

Not neccessarily the top 5 since certain one's like Augustine's Confessions and Lewis' Mere Christianity...but 5 good additions

 

Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace

Thomas aKempis The Imitation of Christ

G.K. Chesterton Orthodoxy

Francis Schaeffer How Then Shall We Live?

God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams  by David Wells

Pensees by Blaise Pascal

1. The Pursuit of God - A.W. Tozer

2. The Screwtape Letters - C.S. Lewis

3. The Autobiography of Hudson Taylor

4. Daring to Draw Near - John White

5. The Hole in Our Gospel - Richard Stearns

Stephen J. Drain's picture

Interesting list Elijah... I cannot say I know much about the last three. Please feel free to enlighten me (us).

And thanks for joining the conversation.

-Steve

1. knowledge of the Holy- A.W. Tozer

2. Radical- David Platt

3.Not a fan- Kyle Idleman

4. Forgotten God- Francis Chan

5. Confessions of a Pastor- Craig Groeschel

These are my 5 favorites. Other great ones include: the Christian Athiest-Craig Groeschel, The Pursuit of God-A.W. Tozer, Radical Together-David Platt, Crazy love and Erasing Hell- both by Francis Chan, and the Screwtape Letters-C.S. Lewis. Thanks.

Five (or so) Christian books that affected me deeply:

THE STRUGGLE TO BELIEVE INTELLECTUALLY

The God Who Is There by Schaeffer (and the rest of his books): but his work was emotionally unbalanced and not as good for that struggle, better to use to understand culture given some other source of faith

Later on, Faith and Rationality, ed. Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Warranted Christian Belief by Plantinga: more modest and emotionally stable, definitely the most satisfying approach to apologetics to me

AS A WRITER

Pensees and Confessions are both good genres of writing.

RELATING TO GOD

I would say Desiring God, by John Piper, but I never got past the first chapter or two.  What I really needed was to hear of certain Bible verses and the basic idea of enjoying God.

Whatever hymnbook they've used at the churches I've attended (containing hymns, "gospel songs" and the post-1960s stuff).

Those are all great books, Stephen. Here is my list, not in order:
1. Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis
2. Bondage of the Will   Martin Luther
3. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination   Lorraine Boettner
4. Institutes of the Christian Religion   John Calvin
5. The second epilogue in "War and Peace"   Leo Tolstoy

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