We love to read and to recommend good reading. I (Bryan) have listed some good reading under a number of different categories below. Have a look and let me know if you’d like to dialogue with me about any of these books—especially if you’re looking for something good to read!
The Most Influential Books in My Life
1. The Bible. If you’re looking for an excellent study Bible, I cannot recommend the ESV Study Bible highly enough. Its study notes are excellent, as are the many brief and accessible theological articles strewn throughout.
2a. Desiring God, by John Piper. This has certainly been the most influential and impacting book in my life outside of the Bible. It is a beautiful meditation on what it means to find our deepest delight and satisfaction in God. Piper’s refrain is that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
2b. The Pleasures of God, by John Piper. This is a marvelous extended meditation on God’s delight in being God. It is a difficult book, but I cannot imagine reading a more worshipful book. I have read it three times now, and every time I read it I find myself setting it down so that I can take time to worship.
3. The Life of God in the Soul of Man, by Henry Scougal. This was one of the first books I read as a Christian, and it changed my life entirely because it defines so clearly what true biblical Christianity is, as opposed to the works-oriented, self-justifying religion of my youth. Scougal was an 18th century pastor and professor who believed that “the worth of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.”
4. Systematic Theology, by Wayne Grudem. I know this one sounds incredibly boring, but I simply cannot fathom a more comprehensive introduction to the teaching of Scripture and the doctrine of the Christian faith. What is distinctive about Grudem’s Systematic is its emphasis on application and worship. While each chapter tackles a given doctrine with exegetical rigor and biblical depth, each also concludes with application questions as well as a hymn and memory verse that ties in to the subject matter of the chapter. ST is also accessible enough to be an excellent tool for discipleship.
5. The Weight of Glory, by C. S. Lewis. My blog’s namesake is actually a collection of essays by the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. The title essay, “The Weight of Glory,” is more than worth the price of the book, but what I found so valuable about this book is the way it models clear, mature, common-sensical Christian thinking. The essay on “Learning in Wartime” is a particularly noteworthy example of this.
6. The Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards. This book came to my rescue between my second and third year of seminary, while I was walking through a time of deep spiritual deadness. Edwards’s treatise on the nature and marks of genuine revival and conversion was a formative and much-needed remedy during my time in the valley.
7. The Holiness of God, by R. C. Sproul. To be quite honest, I read this book because it has attained “classic” status in the ranks of Christian literature and I felt obligated. I had no suspicions that God would use it to drive me to my knees like never before in view of the awesome and unspeakable holiness and power of God. I read it during a series of flights from Athens to Chicago, and spent the last two hours of the last flight with my face buried in my hands. Because it is also so accessible, it is probably the first book I would have a newer believer read after they had completed the five on the list below.
8. The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians, by D. A. Carson. This book is by far the most important and formative book I have read for pastoral ministry. But while it is intended primarily for pastors, it is a book I wish every elder, church leader, and aspiring church leader would read because of its unflinching insistence on the centrality of the cross of Christ in all Christian ministry. Attention also needs to be drawn to the fact that Carson models, better than anyone I’ve ever read, how to move from careful study of the biblical text to thoughtful application to practical matters. Carson listens closely to the text and only then moves to application, which is somewhat rare in evangelical circles.
9. The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God, by G.E. Ladd. This book radically transformed and filled-out my understanding of the gospel and the message of Jesus. I’ve never read a book that had quite this effect on me in that it drove me back into the Scriptures and made me feel as though was discovering the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for the first time. It made everything in the gospels feel brand new and fresh because I was no longer reading them through my understanding of Paul’s writings, but was trying to understand what the gospel authors themselves were trying to say. There is probably no other book that single handedly strengthened my grasp of the message of Scripture so markedly.
10a, b, and c. Simply Christian, Surprised By Hope, and After You Believe, by N.T. Wright. In my years since seminary, no books (they are a trilogy) have so enlightened by reading of Scripture and my understanding of the ancient Christian faith than these. Wright has an incredible gift for making difficult things simple. He also has a knack for brilliantly pointing out things in the text that were always there, right in front of us, and yet some how we never saw them. In so doing he puts a floodlight on the biblical text and allows you see it clearly and plainly. This is theology that dances. Serious biblical thought culminating in serious real-world application.
Highly Recommended Reading for New Believers or Those Just Beginning to Read Substantive Christian Books
Living the Cross Centered Life, by C.J. Mahaney. Mahaney, with characteristic passion, genuineness and wit, is able to explain what is at the center of the genuine Christian life more simply (yet compellingly) than absolutely anyone. I do whatever I can to give this book to anyone who doesn’t have it.
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, by Francis Chan. Crazy Love is now one of two books (together with Living the Cross Centered Life) that I insist that new believers read. Chan is brilliant at painting a portrait of a massive God, making it clear that following Jesus demands our everything, and crushing the “armchair Christianity” so prevalent in America that talks a good game but doesn’t live it out. One of Chan’s greatest strengths is that he’s a normal dude. Crazy Love has a God as big as Piper’s The Pleasures of God, but Chan is able to show us this God with very simple words and concepts. It serves as an unparalleled introduction to the radical nature of the Christian life for new believers, and will rock the world of those who thought they had the Christian life all figured out.
The Dangerous Duty of Delight, John Piper. Dangerous Duty is essentially Desiring God lite. Piper’s vision of the glorified God in the satisfied soul desperately needs to be caught by every believer, in my opinion, but not everyone will be able to handle the depth and rigor of Desiring God. This book is must-read material for anyone who isn’t quite ready for the deep end (though Dangerous Duty is should not be thought of as a substitute for Desiring God). I also think that the former would be an excellent primer that might facilitate a better first reading of the latter by acquainting the reader with the main themes in a shorter and simpler form.
The Truth of the Cross, R.C. Sproul. I was astonished by this book. I have never read a book that takes the reader right to the heart of what happened on the cross so quickly, powerfully, and understandably. This book paired with Living the Cross Centered Life will give the novice theology reader an understanding of the cross that surpasses most veteran Christians.
Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, John Piper. Piper’s beautiful meditation on the person and work of Jesus Christ is a half step more difficult than the above three books, but the effort invested in it will be repaid a hundred fold. Seeing and Savoring combines Piper’s theological depth, pastoral heart, and infectious passion for God’s beauty and glory.
Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with the People of God, Joshua Harris. This may seem an odd book to have on this list, but it’s one I try to give to as many younger believers as possible because its message is so badly needed. Harris makes a compelling case for the fact that Christian life is community life. Disciples of Christ cannot grow and mature apart from the local church, as God’s appointed means for the cultivation of strong, disciple-making believers. Harris also has excellent things to say about the importance of theological reading, expository preaching, and what sorts of things are important to look for in a local church.