25 Books Every Christian Should Read (Readers’ Results)

25 Books Every Christian Should Read (Readers’ Results) October 15, 2013

I invited my readers to contribute to a list of books they felt every Christian should read. Yes, the Bible is not on here, as I felt that one was kind of obvious and goes without saying. So if you’re a Christian and haven’t read the Bible, find a good companion study guide and start there. As for what to read next, this is a pretty strong list of contenders in the top 25, though painfully heavy on male writers. For the full list of 75 or so books, CLICK HERE. And no, I did not add my own memoir to this list. Thanks to those who did add it and vote for it, though.

  1. Love Wins: Rob Bell – Bestselling author Rob Bell returns with a provocative new book which gets to the heart of questions about life and death. His perspective, encapsulated by his famous slogan ‘love wins,’ will surprise and challenge both Christians and atheists, and will inspire people of all faiths and none.

  2. Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World: Henri Nouwen – A beautiful and sensitive book that reaches out to the believer. –Church and Synagogue Library AssociationAnyone who is searching for the Spirit of God in the world today will benefit from reading it. –HorizonsFor those unfamiliar with his work, this volume is a wonderful place to begin. Another significant achievement.

  3. The Ragamuffin Gospel: Brennan Manning – A Furious Love Is Hot on Your Trail! Many believers feel stunted in their Christian growth. We beat ourselves up over our failures and, in the process, pull away from God because we subconsciously believe He tallies our defects and hangs His head in disappointment.

  4. TheIrresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical: Shane Claiborne – If there is such a thing as a disarming radical, 30-year-old Claiborne is it. A former Tennessee Methodist and born-again, high school prom king, Claiborne is now a founding member of one of a growing number of radical faith communities. His is called the Simple Way, located in a destitute neighborhood of Philadelphia.

  5. The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith: Marcus Borg –  Borg follows up two of his previous releases about the Bible and Jesus with a volume that could easily have played on those titles, because this highly readable book is essentially about looking at Christianity again for the first time.

  6. Stranger in a Strange Land: Robert Heinlein – The epic saga of an earthling, Valentine Michael Smith, born and educated on Mars, who arrives on our planet with psi powers—telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, telekinesis, teleportation, pyrolysis, and the ability to take control of the minds of others—and complete innocence regarding the mores of man.

  7. A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey: Brian McLaren – McLaren, pastor and author of The Church on the Other Side, proposes that postmodernism is the road to take in order to move on from the current stalemate between conservative evangelical and liberal Christians. His books are part of his activist work to promote “innovation, entrepreneurial leadership and a desire to be on the leading edge of ministry.”

  8. Man’s Search for Meaning: Viktor Frankl – One of the great books of our time. -Harold S. Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People”One of the outstanding contributions to psychological thought in the last fifty years.”-Carl R. Rogers (1959)”An enduring work of survival literature.” -New York Times”An accessible edition of the enduring classic.

  9. The Jesus I Never Knew: Philip Yancey –  An old adage says, “God created man in His own image and man has been returning the favor ever since.” Philip Yancey realized that despite a lifetime attending Sunday school topped off by a Bible college education, he really had no idea who Jesus was.

  10. The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales: Peter Rollins – Don’t be fooled by the slender spine of this unusual book. Rollins, the Irish philosopher/po-mo theologian who has previously published How (Not) to Speak of God and The Fidelity of Betrayal, upends some of Christians’ most cherished platitudes about God in his newest outing.

  11. The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief: Peter Rollins – Rollins possesses the freshest theological voice of the emerging church movement. The leader of an ecclesial community called Ikon that meets in pubs in his native Northern Ireland came out of nowhere with his How (Not) to Speak of God in 2006, where he made the tools of postmodern philosophy accessible to nonspecialists.

  12. My Name Is Asher Lev: Chaim Potok  –  “A novel of finely articulated tragic power. . . . Little short of a work of genius.” –The New York Times Book Review “Memorable. . . . Profound in its vision of humanity, of religion, and of art.”–The Wall Street Journal”Such a feeling of freshness, of something brand-new. . .

  13. The Mystery of Christ . . . and Why We Don’t Get It: Robert Farrar Capon – Capon’s theme is the understanding of the Christian concept of grace through faith; he feels that this “mystery” is in this world, not some mystical experience of another realm. The popular idea that the goal of Christianity and the church is to make people “nonsinners” is replaced, in his argument, with the understanding that God’s grace makes people “sin-forgivers.”

  14. LtQ: The Book! | Living the Questions: David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy –  In “Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity” (HarperOne, 2012), United Methodist pastors David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy present a lively and stimulating tour of what it means to be a “progressive” Christian. Bringing together the voices of top Bible scholars, church leaders, and theological thinkers —including Marcus Borg, Diana Butler Bass, John Dominic Crossan, Brian McLaren, Helen Prejean, and John Shelby Spong— this “intro” to progressive Christianity explores theological and spiritual matters that many churches are afraid to address.

  15. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community:  Dietrich Bonhoeffer – “When I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, some words Gorky used of Tolstoy come into my mind–‘Look what a wonderful man is living on the earth.'”

  16. How (Not) to Speak of God: Peter Rollins – In the first half of this powerful but frustratingly opaque book, debut author Rollins summarizes some of the theological ideas that the so-called emerging church is currently exploring: the importance of doubt and silence, the limits of apologetics, and the idea that God is concealed even as God is revealed.

  17. Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Brian McLaren – McLaren uses the metaphor of great religious leaders crossing the road to converse about key matters of faith. Yet he seems to make the strongest case for fostering tolerance of other religions, while implementing Christian doctrine and maintaining Christian identity, through a single personal story.

  18. A Generous Orthodoxy: Brian McLaren –  this book will make you think. In a time when wee seem to be preaching intolerance in the name of God, McLaren’s book is a voice of reason.

  19. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint: Nadia Bolz-Weber – The Lutheran pastor of Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints, takes readers on the engaging and accessible journey with those she meets in bars, church conferences, at her local diner, and through breaking news of such events as Hurricane Katrina.

  20. Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects: Bertrand Russell, Paul Edwards – A brutal deconstruction of historic Christianity, and religion in general, that can lead the thoughtful reader to dig deeper into the Christian message and reconstruct a faith built on love and hope, not fear and control, as Russell posits.

  21. The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event: John Caputo – “… The Weakness of God is a bold attempt to reconfigure the terms of debate around the topic of divine omnipotence. Caputo has a gift for explaining Continental philosophy’s jargon succinctly and accurately, and despite technical and foreign terms, this book will engage upper-level undergraduates. Includes scriptural and general indexes….

  22. The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence: John Sanders – If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, can he in any way be vulnerable to his creation? Can God be in control of anything at all if he is not constantly in control of everything?

  23. PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude, and a Due Date: Christian Piatt – “Christian Piatt’s book is a bit like a baby itself: It’s surprising, funny, lovable, and just a little bit gross. The thing that makes reading Christian Piatt’s PregMANcy so enjoyable is that he just tells it like it is.”

  24. The Year of Living Biblically:  A.J. Jacobs –  Make no mistake: A.J. Jacobs is not a religious man. He describes himself as Jewish “in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant.” Yet his latest work, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, is an insightful and hilarious journey for readers of all faiths.

  25. A River Runs Through It and Other Stories: Norman McLean – “[Maclean] would go to his grave secure in the knowledge that anyone who’d fished with a fly in the Rockies and read his novella on the how and why of it believed it to be the best such manual on the art ever written–a remarkable feat for a piece of prose that also stands as a masterwork in the art of tragic writing.”

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  • Eric Posa

    Great list! A little heavier on 21st century books than I expected, but that’s a minor point. One note: Stranger in a Strange Land was written by Robert Heinlein, not by Huxley.

    • Christian Piatt

      yeah sorry. fixed.

  • debarca

    And for LMAO reading … it has to be Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Jesus’ Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore http://www.chrismoore.com/books/lamb/

  • John

    Where, o where, are the great lights on this list? Where is Lewis, or Chesterton, or Murray, or Tozer, or Stott, or Willard, or Volf (to name a few)?

    • Christian Piatt

      folks didn’t vote for them

      • John

        ‘Tis a shame and a point of concern. As Edmund Burke stated in his “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents” (1700) “We have hardly any landmarks from the wisdom of our ancestors to guide us.”

  • I’m struggling with this one, Christian. Only one book by a woman, and that one, while fabulous, perhaps too new to be considered a classic “must read” yet? I know you did a straightforward compilation of your readers’ suggestions, but might your readership skew toward 21st century male writers? And does that really make this a list of books “every Christian should read?” Or is it a list of books that progressive 21st century emerging church males like? The list is valuable, but I’m not convinced it is what it purports to be. (Still love you, brother, even when I disagree with you.)

    • Christian Piatt

      it is interesting, especially given that the majority of my readers are female. Not sure what to attribute this to.

      • That surprises me. May I ask how you know that? (That’s a real question, not a “pick a fight” question.”) I would assume, given your “homebrewed” vibe, that your readership skews male. But (obviously) I must be wrong about that.

        • And must also say: Asher Lev. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

        • Christian Piatt

          On homebrewed, possibly more men. But if you look through my followers on my author page, there are quite a few more women than men.

          • Gotcha. Hmmmm….I still have to wonder about how the readers who voted skewed. Of course part of the issue is that men have been theologizing in a public/major publisher way longer than women. But given how current this list is, I’m still very surprised not to see more women. And think perhaps the title should be “25 Books My Blog Readers Love” or something. The title makes it sound like it is a list of classics and I’m just not convinced it is such. OK. I’m done. Thanks for being congenial.

          • Christian Piatt

            I think it’s fair to say that at least most of these are books Christians today should read, though certainly not the ONLY ones they should read 🙂

      • Joris Heise

        I would add any number of “novels” and other fiction (e.g., O’Connor)whole whole core is the message of Jesus–Dostoyevsky, some of Tolstoy, C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, too, and some of the modern Christian writers (occasionally sappy, but occasionally very authentic), as well as T. S. Eliot and some of his productions.

    • Gwen Filipski

      A good female writer that could be added to the list is Flannery O’Connor. Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away are both great novels to start with.

      • Kimberly

        I agree wholeheartedly–Flannery O’Connor belongs on this list!

    • James Dorman

      A great book is “Lies Woman believe ” it’s by a woman author and confronts everyday lies woman are confronted with from culture about their appearance, being a Christian wife, their identity etc. very sound and biblical as well.

  • Craig

    I see a few that I shall add to my reading list. Once every couple of years I reread Flannery O’Connor’s short stories. I would add her to the must reads.

  • davidforeman

    WOW! Bell, McLaren, & Rollins. Three of my very favorite authors. It’s great to see such strong representation for this kind of “postmodern” or “progressive” or whatever you call it reading material.

  • rebekah

    Too much McLaren. McLaren generally repeats what mainline liberal protestants have believed for years as brand new stuff.

  • Matt

    So many white, male authors. Remember your article on white privilege and radical theology? If anything, this is telling sociological data on the target audience of your blog.

  • Alfredsparks

    If you’re a new Christian, please ignore this list or take it with extreme caution . This is a sad list, especially opening it up with someone who denies the gospel, our Lord Jesus’ purposeful mission, and the Christian faith publically with rob bell, who is a Universalist, I feel my ears being tickled just by reading the list. To keep great godly men like Spurgeon, Tozer, Calvin, RC Sproul, the puritans and their classics Etc out of this leaves this list as promoting a Christianity that is more self centered then Christ centered

    • Pubilius

      whoa! Signs I’ve left the Patheos Progressive Christian Portal!

    • Perceval

      (A) “If you’re a new Christian, please ignore this list…”Why all the
      fear, friend? Are new Christians to be treated like little children
      who can’t think for themselves? Allow them some dignity. (B) Rob Bell does NOT deny the gospel. He is NOT a universalist. Read the book. Besides, you say “universalist” like it’s a bad word. (C) “To keep great godly men … out of this” … did you read how the list was compiled? I think not.

      • Gustavo J

        Yes Perceval, All new Christians ought to be treated as little children of God, acording to Matthew 18:5-6, We ought to be careful in what we teach. And if Rob Bell teaches that hell does not exist, then his god is not God, and a false teacher cannot lead anyone to salvation.

        • Perceval

          (1) He does not teach that Hell does not exist. Read the book. (2) You’re proof-texting. The “little ones” of Mt 18 are ALL Christians who humbly put their faith in Christ, not just new believers. (3) Most importantly, Romans 10:9, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

          I don’t see in that verse “and believes in hell, and believes in the Trinity, and believes in justification by faith alone, and believes in the Immaculate Conception, and believes in heterosexual monogamous marriage, and believes in ….” and whatever else you want to glue to simple trust in Jesus so as to make Christian faith as incomprehensible and unpalatable as possible. It’s well-intentioned, patronizing “I’m not a little child in Christ but you are ” folks like you, Gustavo, who won’t even bother to read the books that you jump on the bandwagon to condemn, who place obstacles in front of those who are desperate for grace.

          If you want to see a false teacher, look in the mirror.

  • Kristin Elizabeth Barr

    man’s search for meaning is a great book. i got to meet Frankl and he was quite inspirational.

  • Bob Faser

    I personally think the list (in addition to being too male) is also far too “Protestant” (even realising the presence of Nouwen, Frankl, Russell, and Capon). I realise that many of the readers of this page are those who are participating in an “emergent” movement that tries to bring together the best of evangelical “Protestantism” with the best of liberal “Protestantism”. Still, I believe that, for many of us from “Protestant” backgrounds, whatever our particular theology or spirituality, there is a greater need to move from an overly cerebral “Protestantism” to a more holistic “post-Protestant” approach to Christian faith that draws an increasing amount of its spirituality from Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican sources.

  • Jayson Tanner

    I’d add “A History of God” by Karen Armstrong and just about anything by Elaine Pagels.

  • Schoolgirl2

    I am surprised no works chosen from Dr. Elaine Pagels or Bishop Dr. John Shelby Spong. These are the people that I look to for a progressive viewpoint on Christianity.

    • Pubilius

      at least in Spong’s case, there are Christians, like myself, who would prefer progressive, social justice-oriented books with a high Christology and mysticism.

  • Rev. Tom

    Lots of good suggestions, although I see several that I personally would not consider a “must read.” However, what I find so interesting is that what constitutes progressive, new, or even inspiring Christian thought is so dependent on one’s starting place. What seems like so much warmed-over post liberal trail mix to some of us impresses others as a deeply inspirational and refreshing meal; and what feels heretical and humanistic to some feels like obvious classic material to others. If it were my list, I would include some Process Thought, some Liberation Theology, more women and people of color, but then it would be MY list.

  • Joseph Powell

    No Anne Lamott?!

  • LaurieInSeattle

    “The Hole in Our Gospel” by Richard Stearns. Talk isn’t enough; we need to DO. Christ in our hearts isn’t enough; we need him in our hands and feet, too.

  • Andrew

    A bit skeptical of a list which has “Love Wins” at the top and books by Brian McLaren on it. Although with Bertrand Russel on here, I’m wondering if this is more of a “Test the mettle of your faith” kind of list. G.K. Chesterton reminds us to not be so open minded that our brains fall out. Everything with a grain of salt ladies and jellybeans.

  • Wix

    What I would find really interesting would be to contact some of the Authors and ask them to give a list of the 25 must read books for Christians. I was also disappointed that CS Lewis didn’t make the list, but lots of good books did. And if you want another female to add how about Teresa of Avila who wrote Interior Castles a classic dating back to 1577.