It’s been over half a millennium since Gutenberg changed the world with his movable type printing press. In the intervening years, over one hundred and twenty-five million books have been published. In my hubris, I am listing five books, less than .00000004% of the total output, that I believe are not only must-reads for Christians but are must-reads on a regular basis. However, I can’t define what “regular” means for others; for me, “regular” means once a year. But different life circumstances, speed reading ability, etc. will stretch or even shrink the definition of “regular.” I do believe, very strongly, that the books listed below are highly profitable and should be a part of the library of every Christian who is living in the West and, hence, drowning in the increasing tide of available books. The books that I’ve listed below offer a wealth of riches in areas that need to be interacted with frequently. If I were to make a list of books that I believe Christians should read at least once, this post would be much longer.
The following books are not ranked in order based on the value I believe they hold. They’re ranked in the order in which I had inadvertently stacked them on my desk. It’s also not a comprehensive list – not only will I be happy to hear suggestions for both additions and replacements, I want to hear suggestions. After all, there are over one hundred and twenty-five million books that I’ve never heard of, much less read; I need recommendations, too.
The astute reader will notice that the Bible is missing from the list. That’s because I’m operating under the assumption that the Bible is already on every Christian’s “must read on a regular basis” list; I doubt that my list will appeal to those for whom reading the Bible isn’t a priority.
The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
When it comes to sin, most of us struggle with ping-ponging back and forth between legalism and license. John Owen’s classic, although almost four hundred years old, is a refreshing reminder that sin is real and damaging but that the power to mortify sin is found solely in Christ. This is a book that blesses and encourages me every time I read it, and that sentiment is expressed by every person I know who has read it. The Mortification of Sin has as much resonance for Christians today as it did when first published.
God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughn Roberts
While God’s Big Picture probably won’t have any new “information” in it for most Christians, this relatively short book will helpfully challenge the self-centered/culturally-centered ways that many Christians view and read the Bible. And the reminder to read the Bible as one story – God’s story of who He is and how He’s redeeming a people unto Himself – is needed on a regular basis; it’s easy to fall back into the trap of viewing the Bible as a self-help book instead of God’s unified story. Vaughn Roberts’ book is an excellent corrective against the individualistic interpretations that our society engenders.
Hamlet by Shakespeare
There are two reasons why I’m including a play by Shakespeare – 1. Apart from the Bible, Hamlet is possibly the greatest piece of literature in the Western canon, and Christians need to learn to love God through the engagement of aesthetic excellence. 2. Shakespeare not only had a deep and poignant understanding of the human condition, he also had the talent necessary to impart truth in entertaining yet challenging ways. Pay attention, and you’ll see yourself in Hamlet – his struggle to do the right thing but ultimately succumbing to the desire to act apart from God.
Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky
In my opinion, Crime and Punishment is the greatest novel in the canon of Western literature. That opinion, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily why it’s included on this list. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have included it if it wasn’t an example of aesthetic virtuoso (see my comments under Hamlet); the reason why I believe that Christians should read Crime and Punishment on a regular basis is because Dostoevsky, like Shakespeare, had an otherworldly understanding of the human condition combined with immense artistry and storytelling ability. Specifically, Crime and Punishment is, apart from the Bible, the greatest depiction of fall, grace, and forgiveness in Western literature. It’s easy to divorce the ugliness of sin from the beauty of forgiveness and grace, but when we do that, and almost all of contemporary Christian “art” does, the awe-inspiring grace of God is sanitized to the point of being almost meaningless. Reading Dostoevsky is a stark yet beautiful reminder that we humans stand justly condemned before the throne of God, yet God in His grace has provided forgiveness and redemption. Although I’ve read the novel over a dozen times, I’m still brought to tears by Crime and Punishment.
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright
I hesitated to include N.T. Wright’s instant classic, but, since this is a book that I highly recommend when asked in person, I’m going to include it with one caveat that I hope doesn’t undermine my recommendation of The Resurrection of the Son of God – by no means does the inclusion of this book indicate my endorsement of N.T. Wright, nor an endorsement of most of his books. However, N.T. Wright’s historical and theological apologetic for the literal and physical resurrection of King Jesus is a must read. The book will fill your heart with praise and love and thankfulness for our great Savior and King Jesus Christ. I try to read this beautiful book every year around Easter.
Commentaries aren’t a book, I get it; that’s why this post’s title only mentions five books – adding “and a sixth floating recommendation” to the title didn’t really work. Hopefully this selection reflects the seriousness with which I believe Christians should engage the Bible. Contrary to much of the thinking in broader evangelicalism, the Bible isn’t an owner’s manual intended to help the reader live their best life now. Finding the verse that speaks to you to help make your day better shouldn’t be the point of your Bible reading. Reiterating what I wrote under God’s Big Picture by Vaughn Roberts, the Bible is God’s story of who He is and what He’s done and doing in history – how He is redeeming a people unto Himself. The Bible is a rich, dense book that requires more than thirty minutes a day of cursory reading; it requires toil, frustration, and prayer; the Bible requires thoughtful, intentional reading. But it’s also a book with immense rewards, mainly the reward of having God reveal Himself to you. As an aid to thoughtful, intentional reading, I’m of the almost set-in-stone opinion that Christians should regularly take the time to work in depth through specific books of the Bible. Commentaries are a great aid to diving deep into individual books of the Bible. Take a month or two out of every year to spend intense time of study in a book of the Bible and pair that study with a reputable, theologically solid commentary. As an aid, Ligonier Ministries has provided a list of what they believe are the top-five commentaries for every book of the Bible; that list can be found here.
 I halfway verified that number. Google states that a little less than 130 million books have been published in the world. I didn’t check to see how many of them were published post-Gutenberg; I’m assuming that vast majority of them.
 Although if the tag “classic” is tossed in the direction of any of Owen’s works the tag will stick.
 Although not entirely sure, I would put money on the Bible not being included in the Western canon. I mean, it was written thousands of years ago in the near-East.
 It’s the novel that I’m currently reading, assuming that you’re reading this within a week or two of me having published this post.
 This is a complicated topic; I am not a fan of censorship nor am I opposed to Christians reading books that challenge their belief(s) or flat-out contradict their beliefs. But I don’t want anyone to think that my ringing endorsement of one of N.T. Wright’s books means that I subscribe to his positions on things like the new perspective on Paul or on the historicity of Adam and Eve.