I am often asked to recommend books on topics ranging from apologetics to leadership. Here are the books I immediately suggest in 18 areas:
- Biblical Studies
- Church History
- Cultural Engagement
- Evangelism and Discipleship
- Higher Education
- Leadership and Management
- Life of the Mind
- Personal and Spiritual Growth
- Vocational Stewardship
- World Views
This list is in no way exhaustive. There are hundreds of good books available in each category, and more being published every month.
Nor is this necessarily a list of the “best” books. That is a matter of debate, and largely contingent on the criteria being used to define “best.”
Rather, it is a list of the books I take to be some of the best. They are the books that have most deeply impacted my life. They are books I often hear others find helpful. They are books I love to give to others. They are, quite simply, books I think are worth reading (or, if reference works, worth having on your shelf and consulting often).
I’ve added to each book a brief annotation explaining why I recommend it. I’ve also ranked each book in terms of difficulty to read, in my opinion. In each section I organized the books from Basic to Advanced, and then alphabetically.
- Basic (“B”)—These books are written for the general, educated population.
- Advanced (“A”)—These books are quite technical and very challenging.
- Intermediate (“I”)—These books stand somewhere between Basic and Advanced.
Though the Basic books are very helpful, don’t stop there! Reading is like weightlifting, running or any other activity we do in order to grow and develop. If we only lift what is light, only run short distances or only read what is easy, we will not develop much physical or mental muscle. Sometimes we just need to push ourselves. Furthermore, there are times others will ask us questions that require a more detailed response. For these reasons I list Intermediate and Advanced books in many categories.
Anthropology (Biblical and Philosophical)
A well-written book to give to someone wondering about what happens after we die. Written by two philosophers who have thought much about this, but written for the layperson who wants answers without the technical jargon.
It has become popular among some Christian thinkers to acquiesce to the contemporary intellectual climate and agree we are essential material beings, and even that Scripture teaches this. Cooper masterfully outlines and develops the robust biblical teaching on Anthropology and shows Scripture clearly teaches that we are a duality of body and soul (substance dualism).
Many contemporary academics completely reject the idea that we have souls, or are a duality of soul and body (substance dualism). This is a wonderful primer and defense of substance dualism. This is then applied to a wide range of issues in biomedical ethics that hinge on the existence and nature of the soul and the soul-body relation.
Moreland provides a sophisticated argument that the soul exists (as an immaterial, irreducible entity—a “substance”) and therefore Naturalism (the view that only material things exist) cannot be true. It is a very sophisticated argument against Naturalism.
This is a very helpful encyclopedia with short entries on a very wide range of apologetic topics. Kreeft and Tacelli are top-flight philosophers at Boston College.
This is a great apologetic primer, which has become a classic due to its accessibility yet breadth of discussions.
Similar to Smart Faith, this book is and apologetics primer written for high schools students. It weaves together robust arguments in a way that is still very understandable.
This is another apologetic primer written for high school students. It addressing a number of the same topics Moreland deals with in more depth elsewhere.
An encyclopedia worth having on your shelf to “dip into” when you or others have apologetics questions and you want the “next level” of reasoning on the subject.
This is the best intermediate apologetics text available. Craig is the leading Christian apologist writing today. Here he covers a wide range of issues.
This is the book that got me started thinking about apologetics. Moreland is excellent at identifying key issues, explaining nuances well, and responding to objections. In all his writings he structures chapters in clear outlines so it is easy to understand the main points, how the parts fit together, and the thread of argument.
This is the best booklet-level introduction to why we can trust the Scriptures. Unfortunately it is now out-of-print, but you can find used copies.
For those who are skeptical of the historicity of the Gospels, this book provides convincing extra-biblical proof that Jesus lived, and confirms a number of his sayings, from “secular” authors writing in the same period.
The best book-level introduction to why we can trust the Scriptures.
An encyclopedia with entries addressing a vast array of objections, alleged contradictions and alleged factual errors in the Scriptures.
Blomberg provides a very sophisticated analysis of this extremely important issue and topic of hot debate, essential for anyone in biblical studies at the university level or above.
Apologetics: The Problem of Evil
A popular-level book summarizing Paul’s Ph.D. dissertation, this book does a good job of providing defenses against the attack of many these days that God is not all good in light of His actions in the Old Testament. Copan supports his defense well exegetically, theologically and philosophically.
This is a great introductory discussion to this challenging issue. Written for the person who is searching for answers with a soul in anguish.
The book that changed the discussion in philosophy on this topic, making it again plausible to many to believe God exists even though true evil also exists.
Strobel follows his common modus operandi, approaching the question as an investigative reporter (his professional training). He interviews leading Christian thinkers who can address the various aspects of this issue, and records their responses. As an expert journalist he knows just what questions to ask, how to ask them and how to summarize the responses into very helpful chapters on each relevant issue.
A rather sophisticated summary and analysis of the history of the relationship between faith and science, and a defense of the importance of “thinking Christianly” about the scientific enterprise. It includes a valuable critique of the popular “methodological naturalism” that argues believers should approach scientific study from purely naturalistic assumptions and methods.
Moreland writes a tour de force of the core issues in the philosophy of science. His discussion is quite technical, but important to understand the range of issues that arise for the Christian seeking to integrate faith and scientific inquiry. Though a bit dated, it is still essential reading for any believer pursuing graduate studies or teaching in the sciences.
A dialogue on the scientific issues concerning the Big Bang cosmology, and the theological issues involved (if the Big Bang is the true account of the origin of time and space, God seems to be the only sufficient cause to explain such an event). This is a good resource to understand the finer points of the debate and the theological and philosophical issues at stake.
An eminent biblical scholar provides this introduction to the political, social, economic and religious context in which the New Testament was written. Also included are helpful outlines of the background of each book of the New Testament.
This is one of the best one-volume commentaries of the whole Bible. It is a wonderful resource to understand evangelical scholarship pertaining to each passage of Scripture.
A wonderful reference work to have on your shelf for those times you are studying the Bible or preparing to lead a bible study and have questions concerning a book in the New Testament.
This provides an outstanding background understanding of each book of the Old Testament. Whether you desire background information for your own study or to lead a bible study, you will find helpful information here. The authors did an outstanding job of involving the best evangelical scholars to contribute, making it a treasure-trove of helpful information.
See above, but for the New Testament.
In this very personal book Dr. Poplin shares her journey from a professor engaged in new-age spiritualism and Marxist ideology to a follower of Christ who sees in Him “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Appendices A and B are wonderful extras: “A Brief History of the University and Dominant Worldview” and “Toward a Twenty-First Century University.”
A very interesting survey of what led 11 top philosophers to come to faith in Christ. Each chapter is written autobiographically.
Similar in format to Philosophers Who Believe, but written by Christian professors in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology, Clinical Nutrition, Chemistry, Space Physics and Astronomy, Geosciences, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mathematics, Nursing, Economics, Education, Political Science, Journalism & Mass Communication, Geography, History, Law, Philosophy and English Literature.
Metaxas is an excellent writer, taking you into the lives and thought of seven men we would all do well to emulate: George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II and Charles Colson. (He recently came out with Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness, which I look forward to reading as well.)
A very influential book in my early years as a believer, this is the story of how Elizabeth Elliott’s husband Jim, along with his colleagues, were martyred in the South American jungle. It is an incredible story of faith and redemption.
Church history is extremely important to understand (“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”—George Santayana). But many believers don’t know our history, because it can sometimes be very dry. Not so in this book. It is a very helpful handbook that has become a classic church history text, worth having on your shelf.
With charts, pictures and illustrations this brings church history alive! As a publication of Oxford Press, it is also extremely well done and scholarly.
Another intermediate-level book on church history, yet still very accessible for those of us without a graduate degree in the field. A great companion text to the Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity.
This is a great companion to Postman’s Technopoly (below). In Amusing Ourselves he turns his attention to our culture’s growing inability to engage in healthy, honest and constructive public discussions as a result of the prevalence of entertainment as a dominate cultural reality.
The classic on this issue, offering five ways Christians have sought to engage culture (their communities, nations, universities, neighbors, etc.) Niehbour offers an outline of each, followed by critiques.
A must read for all Christians in order to think well about engaging culture in redemptive ways. Crouch is bit more nuanced than Niebuhr, and he writes from a more fully evangelical perspective.
Each movie we watch promotes various ideas of what is real, true, good, beautiful, good and valuable. These are the central issues in philosophy, and so each movie is essentially an argument in favor of certain philosophical point of view. Christian philosophers Geivett and Spiegel are able to help the non-philosopher understand these underlying themes for what they are—either truths we should embrace and promote, or errors we must critique and reject.
This is a great book to dip into or read through to understand the broad contours of Western thought that are embodied in the classics. Written by two very thoughtful Christians, Cowan and Guinness are able to bring out important themes that Christians should understand in the history of Western thought.
Turnau offers an extremely helpful treatment of how Christians should (and shouldn’t) engage popular culture. Chapter 4 alone is worth buying the book to read–it is a masterful summary of a biblical theology of cultural engagement. He includes a critique of Postman’s views in Amusing Ourselves to Death, so it is a good book to balance Postman’s negative assessment of popular culture.
Postman’s classic by one of the best observers of the influence and results of technology in culture. He traces the way culture has been taken over and subsumed by technology, and does a great job discussing the unanticipated and unwanted results of this capitulation.
This is a classic by Lewis, arguably one of his best. He provides an extremely insightful analysis of education, society and human nature.
Malik is the former President of the United Nations. In 1980 he delivered this address at the dedication of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He argues well that for the sake and cause of Christ Christians must be excellent thinkers and become thought leaders in our culture, in addition to the more widely understood and accepted responsibility of the Christian to proclaim the gospel.
Marsden does a masterful job of identifying the theological and cultural factors shaping contemporary Evangelicalism. It is a very helpful book to understand the underlying causes and motivations for much of contemporary Evangelicalism’s tendencies and excesses.
Many assume there is no place for religion in the public square, without much thought or reflection. This is where Audi and Wolterstorff really shine, providing rigorous and compelling arguments for the important role religion has and should continue to play in public discussions and decisions. As Christian professors of philosophy the University of Notre Dame and Yale University (emeritus) respectively they are able to provide powerful arguments in favor of the redemptive role religious belief can play.
This is a great book to read alongside Religion in the Public Square. Neuhaus draws on the rich Catholic intellectual tradition of cultural engagement. It is a bit dated, but still valuable.
This is certainly a groundbreaking book. After decades of research as a Sociology professor at the University of Virginia, Hunter argues against the widely-accepted view that cultures change “bottom up” as more and more come to shared values. Rather, he shows that cultures change “top down” as those in cultural institutions (education, media, etc.) influence all others. This is a helpful challenge to the “bottom-up” assumption on which most evangelicals have been raised.
Most books on ethics approach the topic through case studies. What is missed is first understanding the underlying assumptions used when approaching ethical issues—ethical systems (see my article here on this topic). Rae does a wonderful job of first outlining, explaining and discussing the pros and cons of each system. He then shows how to use these approaches to think well about a range of ethical issues, including abortion, reproductive technologies, genetic technologies and human cloning, physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, capital punishment, sexual ethics, the morality of war and legislating morality.
Not quite as up-to-date or helpful as Rae’s Moral Choices, but still worth reading. I suggest having it on hand to complement Moral Choices, as in some places Geisler provides more detail and nuance.
This is a book similar to Rae’s Moral Choices, but a bit more technical. If you read Rae and want more, you will enjoy reading Pojman!
Evangelism and Discipleship
A master communicator, Downs’ expertise is in helping us think about where common ground exists with others. By understanding this we can have enjoyable conversations about spiritual things, and not just monologues.
Growing up in a Jewish home, when Randy came to faith he discovered a Jesus who thought, spoke and engaged others in spiritual conversations just as he had learned to do—by asking good questions. This is an extraordinary book that will give you a whole new understanding of how to have enjoyable and effective conversations with others about the gospel. See his other books for more of the same.
The classic summary of how Jesus discipled his twelve to change the world, and how we can be effective in this as well, following the command of II Timothy 2:2.
I believe Wendell Berry to be the best Christian author of fiction today. You will be captured with his writing, both because of the story he draws you into, and the biblical themes he illustrates. You can’t go wrong with any of his novels, but I suggest beginning with Jayber Crow (immediately below; named after the lead character of the novel) and then read the sequel Hanna Coulter (this volume’s namesake). You won’t be disappointed!
See Hanna Coulter’s annotation above.
How can I not recommend several of Lewis’ fictional works? The Chronicles are certainly his best-know fiction, and for good reason. I read them to my boys when they were six and eight, and they loved them for the drama and masterful ways Lewis painted word pictures. And I enjoyed reading them again and seeing even deeper theological themes woven through the stories (which I was able to talk about with my boys as we read).
The Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) by C.S. Lewis (B)
A bit more nuanced than the Narnia series, these works of fiction are equally worth the read.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (B)
A final classic by Lewis, the elder demon (Screwtape) gives instructors to his apprentice (Wormwood) concerning ways to successfully thwart the spiritual growth of the Christian Wormwood is assigned to deter.
A “how to” guide explaining everything you need to know to be successful (but often no one will tell you). This book alone can make the difference between graduating and not graduating with your advanced degree! A must read before beginning your graduate studies.
Dr. Budziszewski is a long-time Christian professor at the University of Texas. From his years of experience he writes the best book available on growing as a Christian at a public university in America.
After forty years serving as an historian at the University of Florida, Dr. Sommerville provides extremely insightful observations on how the university has lost its bearing and how Christian academics can help the university find its way again.
After Marsden published The Soul of the American University (below) many academics argued vehemently against his mention of the importance of Christian ideas in the public university context. Many called this idea “outrageous.” In this book he outlines these objections and provides a robust response to each, defending the critical importance of Christian scholars integrating the biblical world view with the ideas in their academic disciplines. This is essential reading for all Christians entering graduate school or the professorate.
Marsden, a world-class historian at the University of Notre Dame (emeritus) surveys the secularization of some of the leading universities in the United States. A revealing, enlightening and sobering study for those interested in the state of American higher education today.
Leadership and Management
This is a modern classic in leadership literature, focusing on how to be the right type of leader and build the right type of organization. I especially appreciate how the principles are distilled from extensive empirical research, giving the results grounding in reality that is much preferable to great-sounding but unrealistic ideas. Interestingly, the principles are also biblical, though the authors came to these conclusions through General Revelation rather than Special Revelation!
Collin’s sequel to Built to Last, this book is for those who are in or leading companies that are already established—good companies that, alas, are not great. Collins provides a rigorous analysis of companies that went from “good to great” in comparison with other companies in the same industry that didn’t make the “leap.” From this he identifies six qualities of the leaders and companies that became great. (For those in leadership in the non-profit sector, see the companion monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors.)
Morris left a tenured philosophy professorship at Notre Dame to become a consultant to leading corporations, bringing the wisdom of philosophical thinking to corporate boardrooms. This is some of his best thinking, unpacking how the four “transcendentals” (properties that are true of all good things—truth, beauty, goodness and unity) can be applied by leaders to create great businesses, ministries or non-profits.
For those who must lead a process of change in their companies or organizations, Harvard Business School professor John Kotter provides a step-by-step and proven guide to this daunting task.
For those on boards transitioning to Policy Governance (as our board has recently done), as well as those already working under Policy Governance, these booklets are indispensable guides to implementing and developing expertise in this approach to governance.
Life of the Mind
Another modern classic, Adler explains well how to read a book in a way that it “stays with you” long after you put it down.
Short booklets on thinking Christianly about many academic disciplines. Quality varies volume to volume, but in general well-done introdcutions to the core issues where the biblical worldview and these disciplines connect. Volumes on: American Political Thought (George Carey), Classics (Bruce Thornton), Economics (Joseph Weglarz), History (John Lukas, International Relations (Angelo Codevilla), Law (Gerard Bradley), Liberal Learning (James Schall), Literature (R.V. Young), Music History (R.J. Stove), Natural Science (Stephen Barr), Philosophy (Ralph McInerny), Political Philosophy (Harvey Mansfield, Jr.), Psychology (Daniel Robinson), Religious Studies (D.G. Hart), The Core Curriculum (Mark Henrie) and U.S. History (Wilfred McClay).
Each volume is written by Christians working in the respective disciplines, outlining places the Christian worldview intersects with issues in the field of study. Wonderful for any Christian university student or academic working in these fields. Volumes are: Authentic Communication: Christian Speech Engaging Culture by Tim Muehlhoff and Todd Lewis, Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace by Kenman Wong and Scott Rae, Christianity and Literature: Philosophical Foundations and Critical Practice by David Lyle Jeffrey and George Maillet, Doing Philosophy as a Christian by Garrett DeWeese, Education for Human Flourishing: A Christian Perspective by Paul Spears and Steven Loomis, Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft by Francis Beckwith and Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology by John Coe and Todd Hall.
A must-read for all Christians seeking to follow Jesus’ greatest commandment to love God with all your mind (Matt 22:37). Covers why the Christian mind matters, how we lost it, what it looks like to find it, how the Christian mind helps us grow spiritually, how we can develop our minds, a primer on logic and understanding fallacious thinking, how this is all related to evangelism, apologetics, worship, fellowship, our professional lives, and how we can help our churches in this journey. Also included is a very helpful list of books and other resources.
The classic treatement of the descent of American’s engagement with ideas, and the resulting decay in our culture.
Richardson, an outstanding missiologist, discusses how cultures the world over, before ever hearing the gospel, have “seeds” of the gospel already in their cultural traditions.
This is the book that first sparked my understanding, interest and imagination concerning God’s heart for all peoples of the earth. Written by an outstanding missiologist, In the Gap is a wonderful introduction to the biblical call for all of us to be involved in “declar[ing] his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalm 96:3).
The definitive guide to praying for every nation in the world. Each country is described, along with its religious makeup, how the Church is growing in that country and specific prayer requests.
Borthwick charts a helpful path between the Scylla of “the West has no role” and the Charybdis of neocolonialism. He argues the Western church continues to have a role to play, but in true partnership with the Majority World. For more see my review in my artcile here.
This is the text used in the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course (regularly offered at churches near you, which I strongly encourage you to take when you have a chance!) It is an extremely helpful study of the biblical, historic, cultural and strategic perspectives on taking Christ to the nations.
Personal and Spiritual Growth
Dallas Willard’s more popular treatment (Renovation) and more detailed treatment (Conspiracy) are rich discussions of spiritual growth in ways both ancient yet contemporary, refreshing and relevant. One or the other is a must read!
This is a great companion to The Visionary Christian.
A classic, this very short book is packed with insights from the life of a man who walked day-by-day, minute-by-minute with God.
A compilation of Lewis’ quotes from his works of fiction, this is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the thought of Lewis.
My favorite devotional guide, This Morning with God provides stimulating questions for each passage of Scripture, helping you learn to study the text for yourself and draw insights to help you in your walk with God and ministry to others.
An extremely helpful discussion of why spiritual disciples (practices of the body such as fasting and solitude) have an effect on the soul. From this “theory” Willard moves to practice, discussing how a number of these disciplines specifically help us mature in our walks with Christ in various ways.
Wilkens provides an easy-to-read summary of the thought of 10 important philosophers and their ideas. Through this you will get a wonderful introduction to quite a few issues that come up in conversations regularly, such as why even ask why, if anything is worth dying for, if a just society is even possible, if happiness is really the goal of life, if God is responsible for evil, whether we can be certain of anything and how faith and ethics are related.
The best introduction to Christian thought available today. Moreland and DeWeese are outstanding philosophers and deeply committed Christians. They masterfully outline the core issues in Christian thought that every thoughtful believer should understand. I highly recommend this as a “must read.”
This is a comprehensive survey of thinkers in the history of thought, from the Pre-Socratics to modern philosophers. Not something most would want to read straight through, but a great reference to dip into when you want to better understand the thought of a specific thinker. Written by a leading Catholic philosopher, the survey is friendly to the Christian worldview.
A “must-have” on your shelf to pull down when questions arise concerning Christian thought. It is even better to take the time to read it through cover-to-cover. Each chapter is a fabulous introduction and analysis of core aspects of philosophy that every Christian should understand, such as ethics (how to think through moral issues), philosophy of science (the aims and limits of science) and epistemology (how we know what we know).
It seems to me the Christian worldview entails belief in abstract objects (metaphysical realism), and much is at stake if realism is rejected (including the incarnation and substitutionary atonement). But some disagree. Gould’s book is the best defense of Realism at the intermediate level. It both makes a case for Realism and responds convincingly to objections.
This is the best overview of principles of biblical interpretation (biblical hermeneutics) for one just beginning to study the Bible. Essential reading for any Christian who wants to be sure to understand what the text of Scripture says, not just what you or others might want it to say.
Little’s companion to Know Why You Believe is an equally important read. Again, it has become a modern classic due to its accessibility yet breadth of discussion.
A classic survey of all it means to know God and flourish in Him.
A classic on the importance of right beliefs about God, as well as extremely thoughtful replies to those who argue having a correct (orthodox) understanding of theology “misses the point.”
This is the best one-volume systematic theology text available, in my opinion. Though limited by only being one volume, it shines in truly being a “systematic” theology text—systematizing all knowledge. Ericson draws from Scripture as well as from what we know from other disciplines, and weaves this all into coherent discussions of many theological issues.
A dictionary all thoughtful Christians should have on their shelf (or Kindle). Each entry is from a world-class evangelical scholar and provides an excellent summary of a wide range of issues.
Kostenberger provides a masterful defense of biblical Christianity against the current cultural sentiment of religious pluralism.
This is one of the best treatments available on understanding all work as a calling from God. It is both theologically sound and very practical. Smith helps us understand what “calling” looks like in our lives now and during future “seasons” of our lives.
An incredibly influential book in my own life, Friesen argues that finding and following the will of God is much easier than many believe it to be. He argues that for many decisions there are a range of options which are all in God’s will, and in those cases where there is one choice God wants a person to make, He makes it abundantly clear!
Very helpful for anyone wrestling with what their calling is. The book is composed of 26 chapters of 7-10 pages each, perfect to read devotionally in one month.
The classic treatment of worldviews—Christian Theism, Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, Existentialism, Eastern Pantheistic Monism, New Age Spirituality, Postmodernism and Islamic Theism. This is certainly a must-read for any thoughtful believer.
An extremely insightful analysis and critique of postmodern thought and practice by a very wise Christian philosopher.