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Lots of people, and particularly college students, ask me for reading recommendations. Often these are topical requests related to some certain doctrine or theological issue, but how does one go about learning to like reading books about theology in the first place? With Christmas gifts and New Year’s resolutions just around the corner, here is my suggested reading list for those who know they ought to study, but haven’t got a clue where to start.
For the record, I fall in the camp that believes that one should read more old books than new books (see C.S. Lewis’ short essay “On the Reading of Old Books”), but I also realize that for those who aren’t already in the habit of reading lots of books, newer works may be more accessible. Thus, my list will alternate new (written within the last decade) and “old” (though still staying mainly in the 20th century) books. Books made this list based on their accessibility for inexperienced readers; if you set yourself a goal of reading, say, one book a month in 2012, none of these should present an obstacle!
The ESV Study Bible — Before I get into any other books, let’s get one thing straight: There is no better book on theology than the Bible! The biggest mistake that many Christians make (and of which I have frequently been guilty) is reading lots of books about the Bible, but neglecting to read God’s own Word. Don’t make this mistake! No matter how much reading you do, make sure you are spending time in the Bible every day. That being said, I do think there is much to be gained by having access to a good study Bible. This one is by far my favorite! In addition to the study notes, this Bible contains a lot of very detailed maps and illustrations, and several essays and articles on various topics that are great to have for reference. The $25 you pay for the Hardcover version is worth just based on the “free” access you get to the online version, which I use in my personal study far more than anything else. The Kindle version is also great, and is under $10! You can get this Bible here.
Don’t Waste Your Life, by John Piper
If you need motivation, start here! I can honestly say that this book changed my life. It woke me up to the fact that my life was a waste if I wasn’t living every moment for Christ. It fostered in me a desire to know my Savior better, and started me on a journey of reading and learning from which I hope never to return!
The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer
Aiden Wilson Tozer had no formal theological training, but his books are so wonderfully steeped in the deep things of God that he has become one of the most influential pastors of the 20th century. His passion for chasing after God is palpable and contagious. It’s only 80 brilliant pages long, so it’s one to keep handy for reading again and again.
Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters, by Joshua Harris
It’s always helpful to have examples to follow, and that’s why I love this book so much (and why I’ve bought so many copies to give away). Joshua Harris writes about his own experience in learning to love theology, and puts a lot of really deep concepts in easy-to-understand language. It serves as a great first introduction to big theological words like “expiation” and “soteriology” without sounding overly academic.
The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges
My favorite part of Dug Down Deep is the final chapter, called “Humble Orthodoxy”, which connects a proper understanding of theology with holy living. This book by Jerry Bridges is a perfect way to follow that up, as it shows us the practical side of living out this faith that grows as we learn more about God. Our church’s worship ministry just finished a study of this book, so there are lots of folks in our congregation who can now attest to how wonderful this book is!
The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by Timothy Keller
This is another book that I tend to buy in bulk and give away. It’s so good! In fact, I’m going through it with a group of SSBC college students right now. Keller patiently and graciously walks through a list of common objections which skeptics raise about Christianity. He then lays a foundation for a reasonable, intellectual faith in the God of the Bible.
Buy this book here.
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by J.I. Packer
While Keller addresses skeptics’ questions, Packer addresses what is probably the biggest “in-house” debate among Christians: Is God sovereign, or does man have free will? This book shows better than any other I’ve read that this is a false dilemma, and explains how God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom work together. Far from making evangelism pointless, faith in God’s total control and perfect grace is the only thing that sustains true evangelism!
What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert
This is a tiny book (it weighs just six ounces!) but gives a great summary of the answer to one of the most important questions a person can ask. We Christians talk all the time about sharing “the gospel”, but how many of us can quickly and easily explain what “the gospel” is? Too often I think we take the gospel for granted. This book will help solve that problem.
The Attributes of God, by Arthur W. Pink
One of the most important parts of a study of theology is learning about the God we serve. What is He like? What does He do? How does He relate to man? There are many books about God’s attributes, but few state them as succinctly and clearly as A.W. Pink did in 1930. You can read it for free online here. I refer to it frequently, so it’s one of the few Kindle books that I bought (for less than a buck) for the Kindle app on my phone.
Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, by Mark Driscoll
By now you’re ready to start digging deeper into particular doctrines of the faith. Of the books on this list, this one is by far the longest (well over 400 pages), but it’s remarkably easy to read. It’s not as in-depth as a systematic theology textbook, but Driscoll does thoroughly cover the basic and essential doctrines which all Christians should believe. I also highly recommend checking out the sermon series on which this book is based, which you can watch or listen to for free online here.
Buy this book here.
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
I would be remiss if I failed to mention this book on this list! Based on a series of radio broadcasts from the 1940’s, Lewis’ classic defense of orthodoxy is as close to a must-read book as anything else on this list (besides the Bible, of course). He was one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, and had a way of phrasing things that makes his books a veritable gold mine of pithy quotes! I often find myself quoting Lewis without even thinking about it, simply because so much of my understanding of things comes from Lewis’ ability to make stuff stick in my brain.
Buy this book here.
The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions
If you really want to see me get excited about reading, give me something from the Puritans! I love the way they thought and wrote, and even love the quaint writing style of centuries gone by. Still, I understand that many people are intimidated by 17th and 18th century writings. This book of short prayers and devotions is a great way to introduce yourself to the Puritans, because you can take it in smaller chunks. Plus, it is an invaluable way to learn how to pray! I read through this book in its entirety for the first time this year, and it has been revolutionizing my prayer life. I only wish I’d read it years ago!
The People Who Know Their God Shall Be Strong (Daniel 11:32)
I hope that this list has been helpful to you! Obviously there are many other great books that could easily have made this list, but as a starting point, I think anyone could read these books in this order and be tremendously blessed… and have a hunger to learn more and more about our great God!
So now, tolle lege! Take up and read!