my 10 most essential books for christians (+ 20 more)

Nearly every week, someone asks me about my recommendations about what books Christians should be reading.  In essence, “what are the must reads?”  And so couple weeks ago, I asked YOU for your recommendations and there were some fascinating contributions.  In a comical way, it also spurred on a spontaneous and hilarious post about Christian books that should NOT be published.

There are so many excellent books that it’s really difficult to condense it into a list of 10.  My recommendations are created with an attempt towards the  larger picture of Christian discipleship – meaning that I want to balance my list with theology, discipleship, spirituality, bibilical studies, etc.

Let me also say that nothing is more important than reading, studying, and loving the Scriptures. The Bible is important – especially in a cultural context where so many are prone to sound bytes, podcasts, RSS feeds, and video stimulation.  Read your Bible.  Having said that, I would recommend these versions:  TNIV, NIV, and ESV.  In addition to these versions, I would also highly recommend reading The Message by Eugene Peterson to accompany the reading of your Bible.  Also, a solid Bible dictionary and a set of Bible commentaries [even a single or 2 volume set] are very important for any and every Christian.

Okay, here’s my List of the 10 Essential Books I’d Recommend every Christian to Read [in no particular order]:

  • Testament of Hope – Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton
  • Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster
  • Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis
  • Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger – Ron Sider
  • Wounded Healer or Return of the Prodigal Son – Henri Nouwen
  • Dogmatics – Karl Barth [13 volumes but there are 1 vol. summaries]
  • The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society – Leslie Newbiggen
  • The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • The Politics of Jesus – John Howard Yoder

Okay. Because I can’t stop at just 10, here’s my Next 10 that I think are also essential reads for all Christians.

  • Knowing God – J.I. Packer
  • Theology of Hope – Jurgen Moltmann
  • Old Testament Theology – Gerhard von Rad
  • The Moral Vision of the New Testament – Richard B. Hays
  • A Theology of Liberation – Gustavo Gutierrez
  • Irresistable Revolution – Shane Claiborne
  • Transforming Missions – David Bosch
  • The Jesus I Never Knew or What’s so Amazing About Grace – Phillip Yancey
  • Christ and Culture – H. Richard Niebuhr
  • Moral Man & Immoral Society – Reinhold Neibuhr

Honorable Mention:

  • The Hiding Place [Corrie ten Boom]
  • Confession [Augustine]
  • Summa Theologica [Aquinas]
  • The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind [Mark Noll]
  • Let Justice Roll Down [John Perkins]
  • The Prophetic Imagination [Walter Brueggemann]
  • any one of Francis Shaeffer’s trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings Trilogy [Tolkien]
  • Surprised by Hope [N.T. Wright]
  • Silence [Shusaku Endo]
  • Traveling Mercies [Anne Lamott]
  • The Brothers Karamazov [Dostoyevsky]
  • Life Together [Bonhoeffer]

I can’t stop listing so I better stop.

Your thoughts?

71 Replies to “my 10 most essential books for christians (+ 20 more)”

  1. I love that you included Silence, thats an amazing book.

    Be careful with A Theology of Liberation, you never know when you can become a radical left wing Catholic communist. But who says thats a bad thing? I don’t

  2. I would highly recommend accompanying Transforming Mission (just check, it’s a singular) with Believing in the Future by David Bosch. The little book published some years after his death, which he planned to publish. Ons of his friends always said that this was the first attempt to just address some of the critique on Transforming Mission, and for those of us in the Western world, this was Bosch’s spesific attempt at addressing mission issues for the West.

  3. Geez.. I have my reading list for the next two years! I think I’m just going to ask for gift cards or something, so at least it’s not such an expensive proposition to read those books, or make friends with my local librarian. Wowie.

  4. Very much heartened to see “Rich Christians” up there, and “Irresistible Revolution”. Saw Ron Sider speaking in London, UK, recently and am currently making my way through Jesus for President, having read Revolution over a year ago and now lost it!
    I wonder if maybe “The Powers that be” by Walter Wink might also make the grade?

  5. Nice list. I have read about 1/3 of the books you listed and they were a blessing. However, I like to read christian material that is not too commerical/safe in opinion or commentary. Like for example:

    One Blood by Ken Ham (refutes Darwin’s racial ideologies projected on the American culture, which harvested and still is embedded in christian churches across the world)

    Why Christian Men hate Women by Maraget Rinck (conrolling men in the “church”)

  6. ChurchNext by Eddie Gibbs is brilliant on so many levels. It is the predecessor to his book that features your faith community, so it carries a lot of similar ideas, but I prefer the way it is presented in ChurchNext.

  7. Great list. One thing I’ve been wondering about recently is the inclusion of Mere Christianity on all these sorts of lists. I know its classic, everyone has read it, and I love Lewis – but last time I read it, it struck me as being very time-sensitive. It was a great book for post-WW2 era and dealt with the cultural issues/arguments of its day. How significant is it really for our world today? Not that reading “old” books is in anyway bad, this one just seems so particular. I sometimes wonder if people have read it recently, or are just remembering it fondly from college 20 years ago. Is this just me or have others seen this as well?

    1. All I know is that Mere Christianity was instrumental in my coming to faith just a few years ago. I agree that there is some time-sensitive stuff, but there’s also a lot of timeless truth in there as well that had a huge impact on me and I know continues to have a big impact on others.

    2. I see your point about the time-sensitive answers that Lewis gave to the questions his culture was asking, but in M.C. I see a quality of thinking and a pattern for analyzing particular cultural assumptions/values that we can still learn from today. Plus I suspect some of his apologetic arguments will be relevant for a long long time.

  8. Good stuff–personally, I would throw in a little more N.T. Wright: in particular, the second section of ‘The New Testament and the People of God’ where he talks about his theory of critical realism. In this section, he acknowledges the post-modern challenge to the idea of the ‘plain truth’ or ‘historical accuracy’ of the biblical text, but then goes on to insist that we can approach an understanding of texts, and a certain amount of historical knowledge, without claiming absolute certainty. I feel like his framework is an important way forward from some of the postmodern/reformed skirmishes going on today.

  9. Really good list. I’ll add a few of those to my list of books to read.

    I would add these:

    Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
    The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

  10. i have this weird thing about including people that are still alive on my “most essential lists.”

    shane claiborne: if you’re reading this, big comps to you. now you can live in peace knowing you’re on my list.

    re: don miller – enjoyed the book. still miffed he hasn’t returned my emails so i’ll need time to recover from that.

  11. Great list!

    I would add: To Hear the Word and For the Nations by John Howard Yoder. Also, if you don’t have time to read the whole dogmatics I would suggest Word of God Word of Man by Barth and Evangelical Theology by Barth.

  12. A little surprised at the writers on your list if sliced by gender or race. Am interested in how you decided on your top ten, Eugene.

  13. disapppointed that there are no Church Fathers on the list, to whose legacy every author you did mention owes a great deal, as do all of us.

  14. I would add a few that teach about the Jewish roots of Christianity. A couple that I have really liked is,

    Our Father Abraham, by Marvin Wilson
    Jesus the Jewish Theologian, by Brad Young

  15. @karen: good question. i wanted so hard to make my list diverse in gender and race and i simply couldn’t since i don’t just want to be elevating dead german theologians. but hopefully, this will change generations from now.

    @twitch: hmm. me too. i thought i had augustine and aquinas on my HM list.

  16. Great list! Foster’s Celebration of Discipline has always been the most transformative book in my life. Highly recommended.

    I would add a book that I put on peer-level with Foster’s… and it is written by a Seattle pastor!

    O2: Breathing New Life Into Faith by Richard Dahlstrom

    Great book!

  17. I’m some what surprised at your list…in a good way. I can’t remember the last time I read Barth’s dogmatics, hmm, maybe I never did read it in the first place…
    I like that you listed both the “heavy” theologians from the past like Niebuhr and von Rad and some contemporary folks like Ann Lamott and Yancy. I gotta say, I think Endo’s “Silence” should be in your first top ten list. Thanks!

  18. Eugene,
    Indeed they are on the HM list, which, assuming I am a careful reader, would indicate that my disappointment lies in that a Church Father did not make the top 10, the list to which I was referring. Sorry for being unclear 🙂

  19. Sounds like a good list…I’m bookmarking it in my “To-Do” list. The couple I know of are fantastic – Irresistible Revolution and Traveling Mercies are indeed both incredible and essential. And I’ve at least partially read Confessions and Brothers K.

    For Christians who struggle with their faith and science, or think theistic evolutionists are a bunch of heathens, I would add “Language of God” by Francis Collins for a reverent and rigorous look at science and theology. I’m also tempted to add “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Villa and its sequel, but I’ve only read part of the first one, so I can’t quite recommend them yet, I guess. 😛

  20. I know you probably don’t know me but I believe I saw you at the idea camp. My name is Laura and I got to Christ Outreach for Armenian Church in Glendale. You might know my pastor Artur Asaduriyan. Thanx for the post. I really enjoy reading and I hope to get started on your list soon. =]

  21. Great list, PE! I’m looking for some new literature so I’ll be picking some of these up. One comment though, I’d actually recommend the 4th edition of “Rich Christians” as opposed to the current 5th edition. The C-Group I was in a couple years ago went through and we had a mixture of 4th and 5th editions of the book. One thing we noticed without a doubt is that the 5th has a MUCH stronger bias than the 4th with many important qualifying statements (even entire paragraphs) removed. It’s still a great book, nonetheless.

  22. Glad to see Moltmann’s Theology of Hope and Newbigin’s Gospel in a Pluralistic Society.

    A highly recommended book on leadership is Erwin Mcmanus – An Unstoppable Force.

  23. I know I mention it way, way too often, but Binding the Strong Man by Ched Myers had an incredibly strong impact on me (even though he kind of disses Kierkegaard and Barth in the first chapter, he more than makes up for it in the rest of his discourse on the Gospel of St Mark).

  24. I know that in monoglot America sometimes people resent questions like this, but I’m going to pose it anyway.

    Is there a not-too-expensive online bookstore where one can buy theological books (Bonhoeffer, Barth, Moltmann, etc.) in the original German?

    Some of us have gone to a great deal of effort to learn the language of Goethe and would love to be able to read these writers in the original.

    Thanks in advance for any help.

  25. I also agree with Matthew about Ched Myers political theology of Mark–the best commentary of a gospel I have read–using it heavily this year

  26. I wrote about your list here:

    How do people do the whole trackback thing?

    Anyhow, most of your list was already on my “must read” list, and it struck me as a very unique compilation! I too LOVE Endo. JI Packer was too dry for me. I absolutely do not agree with the above comment that suggested Blue Like Jazz should be on this list, though I did like the book.

  27. “Blue Like Jazz’ absolute must in top 10, agree with many already mentioned… also like: “The Language of God’ by Collins, “Present Future” by McNeal, “Total Money Makeover”, Ramsey, Castaway Kid by r. b. Mitchell, “Devotional Classics” by Richard Foster, “Between Two Truths” by Snodgrass, “My Year Inside Radical Islam” by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “No Perfect People Allowed” by John Burke

  28. Trevors….I’ve read Dawkins, Darwin by Niles Eldridge and more recently “Love, Poverty and War” by Hitchens. You should read “The Language of God” by Francis Collins. He headed the Human Genome Project and is one of the world’s leading geneticists. He was an atheist who had his eyes opened through science.

  29. I’m a new “reply”er to this blog. I do keep up with it as much as I can though.

    Thanks for the post. I’ll be reading this stuff for sure!

  30. I am only disturb at one thing about your list, “The Prophetic imagination not at the top of the list other than that we had so many books in common I am glad that I have found such commonality with one from an entirely different region…lol if you were where I’m from this would be very meaningful…

    Good list!!

  31. Thanks for the list(s). I would also give an honorable mention to “The Gospel According to Judas” by Ray Anderson. Totally blew my mind as a young seminary student.

  32. Sorry for jumping into this discussion so late.

    Those curious as to what Christian philosophers are up to should check out these books.

    Perceiving God, by William Alston
    Reasonable Faith, by William Lane Craig
    The Divine Attributes, by Joshua Hoffman & Gary Rosenkrantz
    Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil, by Peter van Inwagen
    The Problem of Hell, by Jonathan Kvanig
    Warranted Christian Belief, by Alvin Plantinga
    World Without Design, by Michael Rea
    Aquinas, by Eleonore Stump
    The Christian God, by Richard Swinburne
    Divine Discourse, by Nicholas Wolterstorff
    The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge, by Linda Zagzebski

  33. Eugene,
    I’ve read some of the more popular or less technical books on your list but others seem too “heavy” for readers of this blog. They seem to be required reading for someone in an MDiv program. Works like the Summa, Church Dogmatics, OT Theology by Von Rad, and moral Vision of the NT. Most comments seemed to be focused on the more “readable” books. I guess we should all aspire to read the denser works.

  34. A book I discovered 30 years ago and have completely worn out because I’ve loaned it to so many people and read it so many times:
    “Beginning to Pray” by Anthony Bloom
    My spiritual and theological life is intellectual exercise without prayer.

  35. To Whom It May concern,

    This is Rev. Robert Wright, Editor for which is a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians, to directly fulfill Christian’s needs. has many great features aside from the obvious like christian TV, prayer request or even find a church/receive advice and to offer the ENTIRE christian community an outlet to join together. We have emailed you because we have interest in collaborating with you and your blog to help us spread the good word. I look forward for your response regarding the matter,


    God Bless

    |Rev.Robert Wright||
    |1 International Blvd.|Mahwah, NJ 07495|

  36. Time to start reading “seminal” women theologians : Ruether, McFague, Johnson…..many women have changed the core and face of Christianity and have brought us closer to the Gospel, not to mention God. They are essential to the health and vitality of the faith.

  37. Solid list. Two authors I didn’t see here I’d include in my own recommendations:

    – Stanley Hauerwas (“Hauerwas Reader” is a good start, very broad)

    – Alister McGrath (“Christian Theology: An Intro” – great for background of the faith)

  38. Christ plays in 10,000 places by eugene peterson! (or pretty much any book by Eugene!). 🙂
    love the 10 books that should not be published list! 🙂

  39. Oh man…these blog authors really need to stop posting awesome book recommendations. My Amazon wishlist is already far too long…time to go add some more! 🙂

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