Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

25 Books Every Christian Should Read

  • Dr. James Emery White

    James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theologyand culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he…

  • 2011 Oct 20

HarperOne has recently published 25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics, selected by Renovare and a “specially appointed editorial board,” including Richard J. Foster, Dallas Willard and Phyllis Tickle.

Renovare has had great success with previous compendiums, such as Devotional Classics and Spiritual Classics.  Their format, followed here as well, is to list the “classic” and then offer an excerpt, accompanied by reflection questions.

In the foreword, Chris Webb, the President of Renovare, admits this particular listing is a huge claim.  After all, are there really any definitive books every Christian should read, other than the Bible itself, and are these those books?

Having compiled a few reading lists myself, most notably in A Mind for God (InterVarsity Press), I found the list interesting:

On the Incarnation- St. Athanasius

Confessions- St. Augustine

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers- Various

The Rule of St. Benedict- St. Benedict

The Divine Comedy- Dante Alighieri

The Cloud of Unknowing- Anonymous

Revelations of Divine Love(Showings) - Julian of Norwich

The Imitation of Christ- Thomas a Kempis

The Philokalia- Various

Institutes of the Christian Religion- John Calvin

The Interior Castle- St. Teresa of Avila

Dark Night of the Soul- St. John of the Cross

Pensees- Blaise Pascal

The Pilgrim’s Progress- John Bunyan

The Practice of the Presence of God- Brother Lawrence

A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life- William Law

The Way of a Pilgrim- Unknown Author

The Brothers Karamazov- Fyodor Dostoevsky

Orthodoxy- G.K. Chesterton

The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Cost of Discipleship- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A Testament of Devotion- Thomas R. Kelly

The Seven Storey Mountain- Thomas Merton

Mere Christianity- C.S. Lewis

The Return of the Prodigal Son- Henri J.M. Nouwen

The list is obviously tilted toward devotional and spiritual classics, as opposed to theological works, and is a weakness.   Considering Renovare’s emphasis, this wasn’t a surprise.  But accepting their emphasis, how could one have Nouwen on such a short list, but not Francis de Sales?  Or in poetry, Hopkins over Blake?  Such choices smell a little trendy.

Of greater issue was their list of highlighted contemporary authors – the “future” required reading, if you will.  Wendell Berry, okay.  But Brian McLaren?  Really?  And isn’t Anne Lamott another trendy choice, but far from a substantive one?  (And I like reading her as much as anyone).

But I welcome any and all such listings, if for no other reason than the ensuing conversation about which books deserve to be on the list.

For a sampling, would any of the following deserve inclusion?

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church; The Small Catechism

John Milton, Paradise Lost

William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience

John Henry Newman, Apologia pro vita sua

Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets; Murder in the Cathedral

Simone Weil, Waiting for God

Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait

Solzhenitsyn, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich; The Gulag Archipelago

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Of course they would.  And more.  But then again, it wouldn’t be a list of 25.

And perhaps that’s the problem.

Twenty-five books could never begin to reflect what every Christian should read.

But giving credit where credit is due, you could have worse starts.

James Emery White


25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics, edited by Julia L. Roller (HarperOne).

James Emery White, A Mind for God (InterVarsity Press).

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