It has been said that you will be in a year who you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read. If this be true, then what we read is of first importance.
The following list contains the ten most helpful books I’ve ever read. They may not be the best, the most technical, or the most scholarly, but each of these books I found to be the most HELPFUL at where I was at that particular point in time. This list is in no way comprehensive and contains only non-canonical books.
Desiring God by John Piper – Christian Hedonism – If the term Christian hedonism doesn’t mean anything to you, then you need to read this book. Aside from the Scripture, no single book has had a more profound impact on my life. Desiring God was my front door to the reformed tradition. Desiring God was my back door to the Dispensational-Fundamentalist morass of my childhood. The idea that my pursuit of pleasure and my faith were not at odds radically and fundamentally changed how I saw every aspect of the world, from the loftiest matters to the most mundane minutiae.
Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey – Worldview – Hands down the most clear summary of both the Christian worldview and the history of philosophy. Nancy’s writing is a brilliant, clear, and winsome.
Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray – The Atonement – Murray gives a crystal clear, text-driven, thorough, and eminently faithful play-by-play of what Jesus actually accomplished in the cross and resurrection and the precise mechanics of how that work actually gets applied to His church.
No Place for Truth by David Wells – Evangelicalism – Wells gives a clear and excellent history of evangelicals and examines some of our weaknesses as a group.
Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington – Foreign Policy – Huntington’s thesis is that the world is broken down into 9 different civilizations that each have a different main worldview/religion and that wars are most likely to occur where several civilizations come in close contact with each other – due to the friction created by mutually exclusive ideas. Huntington’s work has proved to be a solid predictor over the last 20 years.
The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek – Economics and Capitalism – If you are tired of the same old Keynesian, too big to fail, and central-planning type ideas, then Hayek’s book should come as a welcome counterpoint. Hayek presents a winsome defense of supply-side economics and capitalism.
Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper – Missions – Piper single-handedly and radically changed how I viewed other cultures, God’s heart for the nations, and our strategic obligation as the church. A notable honorable mention would be Operation World by Jason Mandryk which provides the most helpful prayer guide for the various peoples of the world.
Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley – Church History – Now in it’s fourth edition, Shelley has written a classic, readable, and simple, yet thorough, book on church history for everyone.
Holiness by J. C. Ryle – Devotional – I’ve never read a devotional book that was so challenging to the idols of my heart. An honorable mention would be The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer which had a similar impact as Holiness at a very critical time in my life.
Tactics by Greg Koukl – Evangelism – Koukl presents a very practical and helpful approach to having conversations about Jesus with the people already in your life.
When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert – Poverty – Corbett and Fikkert present a more Biblical and holistic approach to poverty that avoids the over-simplistic models presented by the current political polarities. Poverty is much more than a lack of resources, a lack of education, or lack of anything – poverty is about relationships that are broken and don’t work.
The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman – Discipleship – Coleman simply examines Jesus’ method for discipling his followers. The book is very helpful in giving categories with which to think about the disciple-making process. Justin Taylor has a solid review of the book here.
Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John Frame – Theory of Knowledge – Before you build a worldview it would be wise to understand how to lay a foundation, frame out the house, and lay the trusses. How you arrive at “knowledge” will largely determine what “knowledge” you affirm. Frame provides very helpful categories with which we might arrive at more responsible, true, and balanced beliefs.
Baptism and Fullness – John Stott – Holy Spirit – Stott examines what the Scripture has to say about the Holy Spirit and in the process helps untangle a lot of untrue and dangerous views on the Holy Spirit.
Social and Cultural Dynamics – Pitirim Sorokin – Sociology – I am constantly amazed at how few people, scholars included, have read this book or even know who of Pitirim Sorokin. He was a Russian thinker who founded Harvard’s sociology department. No one has more thoroughly studied the historical sociology of Western civilization. In it he outlines the pendulum swings of Western civilization back and forth from periods of idea-driven culture to sensate-driven culture.
Adopted for Life by Russell Moore – Adoption – Moore’s book kind of defies categories in many ways. It was as helpful devotionally as it was helpful in either developing a theology of spiritual adoption or legal adoption. The book expanded how I saw myself in relationship to God as Father and the priority of adoption for local churches.
Culture Making – Andy Crouch – Church and Culture – There are quite a few good books on the subject of Christ and culture and none of them are without their weaknesses. Crouch presents a fairly even-handed model for the church’s engagement with the world. Some other helpful works are Abraham Kuyper’s, Lectures on Calvinism and James Davison Hunter’s, To Change the World.
The Freedom of the Will – Jonathan Edwards – God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility – This is the most difficult book to read on this list but it is the most helpful if you can slog it through. Most other books on this subject (J. I. Packer’s included) falls deeply into over-simplified understandings of the mechanics of how God orchestrates all things yet in a manner than that doesn’t assail the will or take us off the hook for our actions.
Pensees by Blaise Pascal – Apologetics – This is another book that defies categories as it is equal parts apologetics, cultural analysis, philosophy, and devotional. The nice thing about the Pensees (French for “thoughts”) is that it isn’t a book you read from cover to cover. It is more a book that you read one paragraph at a time and then chew on that for awhile. I recommend reading it over a couple years versus a couple weeks.
The M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan – One Year Bible Reading Plan – For the majority of my Christian life I have used the M’Cheyne reading plan to read the OT once and the NT twice in the year. If you’ve never read the whole Bible before or never read it through in one year, I highly recommend this method.
There are quite a few categories that didn’t get covered here that are worth noting so I am listing for your benefit a few “Top 10” lists that I’ve written in the past: