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25 Books Every Christian Should Read

25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics

This is not a book review. I don’t own this book – I will think about buying it. I was asked by an e-friend, in relation to this list of 25 books every Christian should read: how many have I read, or on my shelves with the intention to read it? I replied: 22. I was then asked if that included the Dostoevsky. Yes.

The Cloud of Unknowing and The Rule of St. Benedict are regular companions in my life. Many of the understandings in Revelations of Divine Love are very important to me. Thomas Merton is also very significant, but if I had to choose only one of his books, it would not be The Seven Storey Mountain. So that’s my top three or four. What would be your top three or four from this list? What would you add to this list?

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


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45 Responses to 25 Books Every Christian Should Read

  1. Judith Crossett says:

    leaving aside how many of these I haven’t read (allowing myself a “yet”)–which work of Thomas Merton would you put in the list instead?

  2. Brian Poidevin says:

    I have read or in some cases browsed in 19 0f these books. Have very many people read all of Pascal, indeed today all of the Divine Commedy? And yes I have read “The Brothers Karamazov”. The attachment to Julian of Norwich is understandable but “All shall be well. all manner of things shall be well” is wishful thinking when you glance at human affairs. I join it with such sentimental invented stories as Francis and the wolf, an insult to that tough but trauma struck saint. But knowing many members of his third order I am astonished at how he is sentimentalized. Well, the RCs did it with the remarkable Therese of Liseux who certainly should be in any such list. when I look at numbers 21 to 25 I am not impressed. I find Merton irrelevant in his grasp of the trendy.\ I would rather see Christians struggling with Simone Weil, Camus and Gillian Rose for example or a number of the scholars who have confronted our understanding of the Bible.

    • Bosco Peters says:

      Thanks, Brian. It is good to have your additions to the list.

      I will strongly disagree with you in your response to Julian of Norwich. This is not saccharine, romantic wishful thinking. This expresses the heart of the Christian hope. In the midst of sin and suffering we can hold on to God and know that all, in the end, shall be well.

      I will also strongly disagree with your discarding Merton; I’m not even sure what you mean by your reasoning for his removal.

      Thérèse of Lisieux, in her authentic teaching, rather than as filtered through her sister, I agree, may also hold an important message for our times.

      Blessings.

  3. Brian Poidevin says:

    Further to my comment about “All shall be well…” I find the following by George Steiner more realistic.
    “We know that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning.”
    George Steiner

  4. Brian Poidevin says:

    Thank you for your comments, Bosco. I think Julian is a significant figure in the Christian tradition , but we will no doubt continue to disagree on “All shall be well…” It makes me think of that piece often added during intercessions that God will do what he knows is best for us. When we have beliefs like that I wonder how many of us look at life. And like Jesus we live in this world. Winning lotteries in the hereafter!!!.
    Merton would take much time and discussion. Trying to finish a non-religious thesis at moment limits my time . But I have sympathy with the remark by DR. Zilborg recorded in Meron’s diary “You …like to be famous, you want to be a bigshot”. this is not to deny his intelligence and sometimes oerception. I find it amussing that the rule of Benedict and Merton are on same list. The Cistercians follow the rule which includes” Let all follow the Rule as master, nor let anyone rashly depart from it.  Let no one in the monastery follow the will of his own heart; nor let anyone presume to contend impudently with his Abbot…”. Merton? However, seeing your recommendation I have ordered “Seeds of Contemplation”.
    In passing George Herbert as well as Manley Hopkins on such a list . Prater, the church’s banquet… someting understood’ means more than many tomes.
    And blessings also.

    • Bosco Peters says:

      I am not at all sure, Brian, what you are trying to imply about Merton – concluding “Merton” with a question mark. Merton is no plaster-cast saint; he is a real flesh and blood human being like you and me. He had an adult relationship with his abbot – maybe not the childish obedience that some fantasise monastic relationships are, or should be, like. The abbot made Merton Novice Master, and Master of the Scholastics – entrusting him with the formation of new monks in an incredibly rapidly-growing monastery. He used Merton as his own Father Confessor, a further huge sign of trust. Blessings.

  5. Brian Poidevin says:

    Prater is bad typing. as you would be well aware prayer.

  6. Claudia says:

    Sigh. I’ve been a Christian for two decades now and only read two of these. Does it count that I’ve read extracts of about three others?

    One on this list that is on my reading wishlist is GK Chesterton’s Everlasting Man – unfortunately I have yet to get my hands on a copy.

    One I do have a copy of that I come back to regularly is The Great Divorce by CS Lewis.

  7. Julian says:

    This is a great list. I can see I need to read more St. Augustine. Many of the others books are constant kind companions on the journey.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Julian.

  8. Mike Crowl says:

    Well, I’d be lucky if I made a dozen out of this list, and some of those might only be partly read. I know of all these titles, and it strikes me as a list that’s more contemplative than practical, which is fine, but it’s not a particular representative list in terms of the Christian life. Still, limiting yourself to 25 titles is bound to push you into a focus rather than give you a spread. And I’d say that for most Christians, even those who have time to read widely, some of these titles would be a bit of a tough go. However, it might be worth considering trying some of them out (again) to see how I fare….

  9. Caro says:

    I’m showing some bias here, as it changed my life, but I think ‘The True Wilderness’ by H A Williams is a really good read.

  10. James says:

    A heavy bias toward the Catholic contemplative here! Where is Luther’s Tischreden here? or his ‘Simple Guide to Prayer’? – worth reading several times for the profound lessons it teaches. I don’t know that I would include Calvin’s Institutes here, superlative work of theology that it is, perhaps because I think of ‘spiritual writing’ as more like preaching to the soul, rather than expository theology. John Stott’s ‘The Cross of Christ’ crosses the boundaries here.

    Claudia: search on the internet for a site called Libra Vox (or something similar) and you can download for free spoken versions of The Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy (in most un-Chestertonian American accents).

    James

  11. Elinor says:

    Interesting that you neglect the Bible ( Old and New Testaments )- and , C.S. Lewis.
    Without the first, one would not have a clue to Christianity, and without the second, one would not be able to practice such.

  12. By my count, 14 out of the 25 were written by celibates (mostly monastics), 9 by married people, 2 we don’t know because they were anonymous. WHat percentage of Christians are actually celibates or monastics?

    I think there is a serious problem in Christian spirituality when most of the classic texts were written by celibates for celibates. What happens then is that married people with families are confronted with a celibate spirituality ‘lightly made over’ for family life, rather than something that grows naturally out of domestic life.

    I don’t wish to dismiss the Christian classics, but it does seem to me that we need more writing on practical discipleship and spirituality that grows naturally out of family life, which is the situation of the vast majority of Christians in the world today.

    • Bosco Peters says:

      I strongly agree with you, Tim. That is a whole, huge, complex area. And needs much more than a blog post. You will realise my love for monastic spirituality. So I have seen many who want to play monk (and I’m sure there’s been a thread of that in my life). Monasticism lite. I am interested in translating the monastic authentically to the domestic, and have a post in mind around that idea (and much bigger ideas for the future). But you are also pointing to a project that is much bigger again. It is time now to be producing such classics for the future. Blessings.

  13. Bosco, this book by Stephen Cottrell is a great example of a book about prayer that takes family life seriously:

    http://www.chpublishing.co.uk/product.asp?id=2395748

    • Bosco Peters says:

      Thanks, Tim. I will get it. Might I just add that a lot of people spend a lot of time watching TV type things. 10 or 20 minutes (or longer) praying instead/as well seems to me to be not out of reach of any context. Blessings.

      • I entirely agree, Bosco. for me, it’s more to do with how you see your family – are they competition for your prayer life, or are they your praying community? So do you take your 20 minutes and sneak off to the least noisy room in the house – or do you start with the assumption ‘This is my praying community – I need to find a way of praying that works for us as a family’?

        Far too many Anglican priests I know spend their time struggling to pray with the non-existent community they wish they were praying with, rather than the actual community God has given them.

        It seems to me that celibate/monastic spirituality is based on the assumption that a person will have ready access to solitude and silence at any time. Family life is not that sort of atmosphere, so we need to find a way of discipleship/spirituality that grows naturally out of that environment.

  14. James says:

    Tim, I think Bonhoeffer’s little classic ‘Life Together’ may address sone of the questions you raise.

  15. Brian Poidevin says:

    A book has but one voice, but it does not instruct everyone alike.”
    ― Thomas à Kempis

  16. James says:

    Tim, try it, you’ll like it! Bonhoeffer’s addresses to the Confessing Church seminary in Finkelwalde says some really penetrating things about life in a community of God’s choosing (not ours), the activity of the Spirit in establishing bonds of love, the role of mutual confession of sin, and the primacy of prayer (not politics or charismatic personality) in changing others and ourselves.

    High up on any list of Reformed spirituality should be J I Packer’s ‘Knowing God’.

    Chesterton’s ‘Orthodoxy’ (GK’s, not Tim’s!) and ‘The Everlasting Man’ still make a very stimulating read (or Libri Vox listen), not least for those (like me) who enjoy his paradoxes, and for the role they played in converting C S Lewis and shaping his thought.

  17. Tracy Pace says:

    Hildegard of Bingen is noticeably missing from the list for me, especially since some comments refer to a lack of Christian commentary on human relationships and marriage, and she wrote on that topic. I don’t know of any single ‘complete writings’ book source for her though, it would be large!

    I think the book which had the most formative effect on my faith-life is a ( probably long-forgotten ) English little book called ‘The Roadmender’, about simplicity, relationships, and the path of life; the author, pen-name Michael Fairless, Margaret Fairless Barber, died shortly after she finished writing it and it was published the following year, 1902. The book ends:

    “beyond the white gate and the trail of woodbine
    falls the silence greater than speech, darkness greater than light, a pause of “a little while”; and then the touch of that healing garment as we pass to the King in His beauty, in a land from which there is no return.

    At the gateway then I cry you farewell.”

    It’s a beautiful book about patience and the human condition.

  18. Tracy Pace says:

    You too dear loving intelligent capable man; I hope in centuries to come it is also ‘The Writings of Bosco Peters’ people are relying on for for illumination and consideration.

    Keep serving our world Bosco, as long as you ever can, we need you and your kind(ness!)

    *Blessed are the peacemakers…those who mourn…the meek…they who search for righteousness…the pure in heart.
    Etc.
    ‘Deep calleth unto deep’.*

  19. James says:

    Read what ‘The Anglican Curmudgeon’ has to say about Chesterton’s ‘The Everlasting Man’ and how it has strengthened him in his Anglican identity amidst the death throes of the Episcopal Church:

    http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/

  20. Julian says:

    Let’s not forget Abbot John Chapman’s “Spiritual Letters” with forward by ABC Rowan Williams.

    A Spiritual Classic!

    Cheers,

    Julian

  21. Tom Osborne says:

    Calvin’s Institutes but not Aquinas’s Summa? If you’re going to have the great Protestant work you should have the Catholic, and vice-versa. Maybe they should count together as one selection?

  22. James says:

    The Summa isn’t a book, it’s a library. Calvin’s Institutes fit into two handy volumes.

  23. Caleb says:

    The Politics of Jesus by Yoder

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Rev. Bosco Peters Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.