25 books every Christian should read(?)

That is, according to a book recently published by Harper under the auspices of Renovare, the evangelical-ish spiritual renewal movement. (Actually, since this book has the list, aren’t there 26 books every Christian should read? Seems like some sort of paradox there…)

In any event, here’s the list, with titles I’ve read in bold. An asterisk means I’ve read at least selections.

1. On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius
2. Confessions, St. Augustine
3. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Various
4. The Rule of St. Benedict, St. Benedict
5. The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri*
6. The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous
7. Revelations of Divine Love (Showings), Julian of Norwich
8. The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis
9. The Philokalia, Various
10. Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin*
11. The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila
12. Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross
13. Pensees, Blaise Pascal
14. The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan
15. The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
16. A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law
17. The Way of a Pilgrim, Unknown Author
18. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
19. Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton
20. The Poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins*
21. The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
22. A Testament of Devotion, Thomas R. Kelly
23. The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton
24. Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
25. The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri J.M. Nouwen

Of the ones I haven’t read, I most feel like I should read Benedict and Julian. One glaring omission that jumps out at me is Martin Luther. If I were adding something it would probably be his On Christian Liberty.

Anyone care to suggest other titles they’d add to (or subtract from) the list?

UPDATE: Tony Jones offers an alternative list he and some friends came up with here. It includes some good additions like Origen, Anselm, Wesley, and Luther, as well as some worthy books from more recent times (Barth, Gutierrez).

8 thoughts on “25 books every Christian should read(?)

  1. You’d like Julian, I think. I’m actually surprised that you haven’t read Pilgrim’s Progress, and I’d recommend that, too — it’s surprisingly good in parts.

    I wouldn’t have put the Philokalia on the list; it’s excellent, but it’s not really the sort of book anyone reads in an ordinary sense — it’s really for taking a page at a time, or for looking things up in, and I know some Orthodox who would insist vehemently that most people should not read it — it has become a common view that it gets into topics that people should not study (in detail, that is) without the assistance of more than a book, and only at a certain stage of their spiritual life. I’d also substitute the Life for Teresa’s Interior Castle. I don’t know anything about Kelly, and I don’t like Merton. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to a Devout Life is a good candidate — in fact, there was a time when it was so popular that there were Protestant publishing houses publishing de-Catholicized versions for Protestant devotions.

    They’re not read much, but I think there’s an argument for saying that every Christian should read Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, which are widely recognized in both East and West as one of the best theological works directed specifically toward catechumens — and what’s suitable for catechumens, of course, is suitable for everyone. Likewise, I think Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul has a good claim to be on the list — very accessible, and while parts of very, very Catholic, a lot of it consists of comments everyone can benefit from. And I’m a fan of IV Maccabees; although most of the major Maccabean works are worth reading, in order to get some of the background to the New Testament if nothing else.

  2. I was hoping you’d comment on this post. πŸ™‚

    I have a copy of Julian on my shelf and have been meaning to read it for a while. Maybe it’s time I moved her to the top of the pile.

    1. Gene Callahan

      Butterfield’s _Christianity and History_ is great — I don’t know if it would be out many on the list, however, as I’ve only read a few of them.

  3. Andy

    It’s not a bad list. I agree that the Philokalia isn’t really something every Christian needs to read (or would even understand). I can’t make any sense at all of most of what St. Maximos wrote, for instance. I’m also not sure about St. John of the Cross and John Calvin (for very different reasons).

    A couple of books that I’d like to see on the list that aren’t: St. Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul and The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi. Although it’s no where near the classic stature of most of these others, I’d like to see something like Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World on here. You do more justice to the Eastern tradition by having a book that takes seriously the liturgy as theology than you do including an esoteric work like the Philokalia.

  4. I’ve read Augustine’s Confessions, read a little of Bonhoeffer, read The Divine Comedy, read most of Hopkins’ poems, and I liked Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle – medieval mysticism πŸ™‚ Similar and also interesting is The Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross. I liked some of The Cloud of Unknowing too, though that’s more about centering prayer and I like imaginative prayer … I’d choose something instead by Ignatius of Loyola: his autobiography or the Spiritual Exercises, although the latter really isn’t for reading but more a manual for retreat. Maybe I’ll post about this too tomorrow πŸ™‚

  5. I will also put a plug in for Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo–not that every Christian should necessarily read it (I’m not sure any book fits that bill, actually, other than the Bible), but because it’s really good and because it’s been subject to a lot of misrepresentation in current discussions of the Atonement.

  6. I would likely include Bonhoeffer on such a list, but almost certainly a different book. The bulk of the list seems to be inner directed.

    I do like what I’ve read of Julian. She is often listed as a mystic, but I don’t like what most mystics are about, but find that what she is about makes all kinds of sense to me. Her meditations seem to begin from a text, rather than whatever we might find inside. (I’m not so convinced that what we find inside will be bad. I’m just more inclined to see that less religiously. I don’t want to go calling my own mind God.)

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