25 Books Every Christian Should Read (and I Agree!)

25 Books Every Christian Should Read (and I Agree!) November 17, 2011

This is a sponsored post and part of the Patheos Book Club. Check out the Book Club for more posts on this book and for responses from the editors.

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?!?).

My quibbles:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.

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  • Oddly enough, having attending both a small baptist seminary and a very large, mainline seminary, I was never assigned anything by Luther. Of course, I read this sort of stuff for fun so I’ve read a good bit of Luther but I was never required to read anything written by him in either seminary or as a undergraduate religion major. Weird.

  • Why are the “Institutes” not listed? I would think Calvin should be on this list (but Luther wasn’t, so why should Calvin) Or Turretin? I’m happy to see Pilgrims Progress on the list, but nothing from Owen? “Death of Death in the Death of Christ”, “Mortification of Sin” or “Communion With God” I would think might be on the list. Or Edwards “Religious Affections?”It doesn’t seem to have much Puritan Influence. It would be difficult for me to see a full survey of Christanity without these kind of Reformed Writers represented.

    • Good point, Ryan. At one point, The Marrow of Theology by William Ames was the one book other than the Bible that every student at Harvard had to read.

      • And why no longer? Fantastic book!

        • Mary

          Ryan – #10 is by Calvin…it’s not highlighted in blue but it is on the list!

  • I, too, thought the list was great. And I was surprised how many of them I had actually read. Most lists like this humiliate me. Eugene Peterson’s list of books to read brought me into the “I never read these books in seminary” world. I am listening to lectures on The Divine Comedy produced by the Teaching Company and also reading it. A great experience.

  • And, BTW, I am trying to figure out why I like your stuff. I am a fairly typical Evangelical. People in my camp think you are the enemy. Actually I get more ideas for reading from your blog than most any other place. I guess I just like people who stake out a position and the press it a bit. Maybe that’s why I am such a Hitchen’s fan. I just really like that guy.

    • Don, you just made my day. Thanks! 🙂

  • Zach Lind

    What? No Joyce Meyer? WTF?

  • Isaac Bubna

    While attending Whitworth University (as an undergrad) I was required to read at least parts of or the whole of 16 books on that list. I’ve also been required to read a fair bit of Luther, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Letters of Clement, and the Didache.

    I think the list is also missing something from Kierkegaard… maybe ‘Attack on Christendom’ or ‘Training in Christianity’??

    • Ooooh, good point Isaac! More Kierkegaard.

      Someone might also say that Barth should be on the list. He could take CS Lewis’s spot.

      • Isaac Bubna

        I agree Barth should be on the list rather than C.S. Lewis… maybe replace ‘Mere Christianity’ with ‘Evangelical Theology’ or ‘Church Dogmatics in Outline.’

        Some how I have been lucky enough to have read more Barth at Whitworth than Lewis… which I am very thankful for!

  • Justin F

    I’d be really interested to know why they chose the books that they did. Does this book go into the editorial board’s decision making process? Or is it just summaries of the works cited?

    • Justin, no real justification of the list. Just lots of apologies that any list in imperfect and incomplete.

  • Alan K

    Just to affirm what has been said already: add Luther, Kierkegaard and Barth. But then the question is what from Karl Barth should every Christian read? Church Dogmatics would be largely inaccessible and probably too large! Perhaps “The Humanity of God” or “Evangelical Theology”?

    • Isaac Bubna

      ‘Church Domatics in Outline’ is a short book and a good place to start before diving into the larger volume of ‘Church Dogmatics.’

      • Isaac Bubna

        Correction the title is actually just ‘Dogmatics in Outline’

  • Patrick


    Have you shared your list of 50 books somewhere online? I’d love to know how the two lists differ.

  • jcarlgregg

    @Justin, the book’s editorial board says that, “This book is not the list of the best Christian books ever written or a list of the top twenty-five devotional books; it isn’t even the list of the top twenty-five classics, although we believe all of the books on the list are or will be considered classics of their respective genres. The books we have chosen to include are, instead, the books that the board judges served as the best guides for living life with God. Cumulatively, these books embody a rich treasure of wisdom and counsel for how to live the Christian life” (x).

    And on C.S. Lewis, I have no desire generally to hate on Lewis, but I do feel it is necessary to push back against the perplexing and unjustified fetischization of Lewis. There are so many other better evangelical authors.

  • Josh Man

    Personally, while the books on this list are fine, I think now in a post-modern, growing more post-colonial, age, there needs to be voices other than the primarily European/Male voices that this list contains.

    • Todd

      Augustine was African, Teresa of Avila was a woman, and Nouwen was gay. Happy?

      • Todd

        And Athanasius was also African.

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  • Marilyn Melzian

    I think this is a great list! Some comments:
    1. I would agree that something from Luther would be important as well (although I am not sure what I would choose).
    2. I do think Dante’s Divine Comedy is a spiritual classic, not just a literary classic: it tracks the journey from the realization of the destructiveness of sin, through repentence and and cleansing from sin, and the journey in love to the ultimate vision of God. It also emphasizes the centrality of God in the universe.
    3. How is C. S. overrated? Why do you say he is a modernist? He is certainly responding to a modernist culture, and he is speaking to a general audience, not all of whom are Christian.