When I got this book — 25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics — in the mail, I was looking to pick a fight. There was no way I was going to agree with all 25, probably not even half. In fact, I’d say that the content of this book is right in my wheelhouse. I had to come up with just such a list for the first year of the D.Min. course I’m teaching at Fuller Seminary, though my list is closer to 50 books.
So I got the book, and opened the front cover, ready to argue with the choices, ready to point out the obvious and not-so-obvious theological biases that went into the compilation of the list.
But I’m happy to report that, as well as admiring the editorial board that compiled this list, I really like their list. Here it is:
That being said, allow me to quibble (cuz how much fun would it be if I didn’t?!?).
- There should be one reading prior to Athanasius and Augustine. In the running would have to be the Shepherd of Hermas and the Letters of Clement of Rome. But I’d recommend the Didache, for it gives a view into a pre-Augustinian, non-Pauline early church community. Augustine and Athanasius are great, but we have some good stuff in the 250 years between the Apostolic Age and them that this list ignores.
- Where’s Luther?!? The biggest oversight of this list, it seems to me, is the absence of Martin Luther. Every seminarian I know has to read something by him, like his Three Treatises. If there is anything that show theological bias on this list, it might be the lack of Luther.
- Dante’s Divine Comedy is not a spiritual classic. It is, to be sure, a classic of Western literature; I don’t think that every Christian should read it, I think that every human being should read it. In the foreword, Renovaré president Chris Webb writes, “Dante has helped me understand spiritual formation more fully through the pages of The Divine Comedy.” If that’s true, I’d like to have a long chat with Mr. Webb about Dante. (If you’re going to read The Divine Comedy, do yourself a favor and read the John Ciardi translation.)
- I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: C.S. Lewis is overrated. But as an archetype of a thoroughly modernistic apologetic of the Christian faith, I suppose Mere Christianity belongs on this list.
That said, this is a great book, and I’m quite sure that it will be added to many syllabi, particularly for undergraduates in survey courses. Kudos to Renovaré and HarperOne for its publication.