Some Favorite Books
In a recent video devotional (Daily Milk, April 14, 2020), I encouraged us all to read more as we shelter at home. So, I thought I would discuss some books that I believe are very much worth your time.
1. STUDY BIBLES
Of course, I start with the Bible, but not just any Bible—a study Bible. Understanding the Bible is a lifelong venture that requires time in the Word and learning from those who devote their life to understanding the Scriptures.
Study Bibles have comments (commentary) at the bottom of each page from experts that help you understand especially the hard-to-understand passages. They also provide brief articles that address key theological concepts. And they introduce each book of the Bible with topics like author, date written, and important themes.
While there are many excellent study Bibles, here are my two favorites:
ESV Study Bible English Standard Version (2008): This is such a helpful study Bible. There are gifted, solid editors and contributors, perhaps more comments about the verses than any study Bible I’m aware of, and great articles like “Reading the Bible” (one of the best short writings on how to read the Bible I’ve ever seen).
NIV Spirit of the Reformation, edited by Richard Pratt, Jr (2003): Richard Pratt is one of my favorite people in the world. We met on a plane over the Atlantic Ocean. I was heading to Ukraine to teach; he was headed to some other part of the world to do the same thing. We were seated across the aisle from each other, and it looked like he was editing a book of some kind. So I asked him if that’s what he was doing, and he said, “Yes, it’s a study Bible. Do you know what that is?”
Richard was editing the NIV Spirit of the Reformation study Bible. I wish everyone could own a copy—it’s full of biblical wisdom understood from a Reformed perspective. But it’s out of print, and used copies are usually very expensive. If you find one for a reasonable price, get it. You won’t regret it.
I’ve used so many different devotional guides since becoming a follower of Christ in college, but this is what I’m doing now:
A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baillie (1936). Baillie has written a brief prayer for the morning and the evening. Outside the prayers of the Bible, these are my favorite to pray. They encourage, convict, stretch, and edify me.
Baillie, who was Professor of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh in the early part of the 20th century, is biblical and humble. There’s an authenticity to his prayers that you don’t normally see from those who wrote in that day.
God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller (2017). This devotional guide takes you through Proverbs. I’ve never seen more biblical wisdom packed into a small page than what’s contained on each page of this little book. I read it over and over.
2020 5 Day Bible Reading Program. This isn’t for everyone because it takes you through the Bible in one year, which means you’re reading a fair amount each day. Reading smaller chunks of Scripture and meditating on a few verses can be a better plan. But, reading through the Bible in a year helps you make connections in the Bible you might not see otherwise. It starts to become clear that, in spite of many different human authors, there is One who oversaw the entire project.
Since becoming a follower of Christ, I’ve enjoyed biographies of some of the great men and women of the faith—they inspire us to live more fully for Christ. Here are two of the best:
Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, by Eric Metaxas (2017). Metaxas is perhaps the best writer of biographies I have ever read. And his bio on Luther proves the point. It’s long, but you get to see that Luther, while probably the most important Christian since the day of the Apostles, was certainly the most interesting. I’ll warn you though. Luther was a very “earthy” man.
C.S. Lewis—A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, by Alister McGrath (2013). I love this biography. It’s an historically accurate, very accessible, warts-and-all account of a very important but deeply flawed man. And, somehow, especially in the later chapters, McGrath manages to capture the same sense of longing that C.S. Lewis wrote so well of in statements like this: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
The Keys of the Kingdom, by A.J. Cronin (1941). If I had to pick just one novel that I absolutely love, it’s this one. It’s one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read of a man trying to find his place in the world as he seeks to live for Christ. You won’t agree with the theology, but look past that to the soul of the main character, Francis Chisholm. You will admire his courage, his humility, his magnanimous spirit, his strength, and his goodness. And watch the movie—it’s one of Gregory Peck’s first and one of my top five favorite movies of all time.
The Classics. Our daughter, Mary Katherine, is listening to a lot of classic books during her stay-at-home time—Les Misérables, Robinson Crusoe, Jane Eyre, and Anne of Green Gables (maybe not as “classic” as the others, but a really good story). They’re free on Audible right now. Enjoy.
I could list hundreds of books in this category, but here are two I appreciate as much as anything I’ve ever read:
Chosen by God, by R. C. Sproul (1985). If you wrestle with, disagree with, hate, or love the doctrine of predestination, Sproul will help you see it in light of Scripture. He convinced me 30 years ago—I found his arguments biblically faithful, and I finished it feeling encouraged about a doctrine that had previously left me wondering about the “fairness” of God.
Heaven, by Randy Alcorn (2004). Although Alcorn can be a bit speculative at times, he has pulled together years and years of Reformed studies on heaven. In doing so, he has written a book that will leave you very hopeful and very excited about your ultimate future. You’ll forget all about your bucket list because you will realize that you have eternity to do all the good things God has put on your heart to do.
6. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: LEARNING TO LOVE GOD WITH ALL YOUR BEING
Again, there are so many that should be included in this list, but here are some of the ones I never tire of:
Knowing God, by J. I. Packer (1991). J.I. Packer is one of the most important evangelical Christians of the latter half of the twentieth century. It would be difficult to catalog his impact and his writings. But I believe this is his best. If you want to move past knowing about God to knowing God, this is the book to help you along that journey.
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Timothy Keller (2008). You might just be a hardcore Pharisee if, after reading this book, you don’t love God more. Keller does such a wonderful job of giving us a glimpse into the lavishly generous heart of God.
Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, Timothy Keller (2009). This is a paradigm shifter for those whose obedience has focused solely on doing or not doing. Keller gives masterful insight into what lies below the surface, in our hearts, that hinder us from gospel obedience. Reading this book is like having a wise, godly counselor diagnosing our hearts and then helping us honor God from the heart.
How Does Sanctification Work, David Powlison (2017). In 2019, we lost a great diagnostician of the human heart when David Powlison went home to be with his Savior. But he left us a number of helpful booklets and articles. This, one of his last, is also one of his best. In a very short book, he helps us see that there’s no one silver bullet when it comes to our sanctification. God will use any number of means to grow us up.
7. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: LEARNING TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF
These are three books I get excited about every time I think about them. Each, in its own way, encourages me to make a difference in the world by loving my neighbors well.
Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, Steven Garber (2014). Of the three, this is the “headiest.” You’ll have to work hard at understanding the journey Garber is taking you on. But be assured, it’s worth the effort. You’ll have a clearer picture of God’s call on your life and the encouragement to live it out.
If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat, John Ortberg (most recent paperback edition, 2014). This is very accessible, but don’t let it fool you. Ortberg is an expert at thinking deeply and writing at a level almost anyone can understand—he’s clear, he’s practical, and he’s one of the best story tellers I’ve ever read.
Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World, Bob Goff (2012). This book is just fun. Bob Goff is one of the most interesting people you will ever read about. Love Does is an inspiring collection of stories about the difference one man can make in the world. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry and you’ll want to sign up for God’s mission on this earth.
8. MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
Perhaps, stuck at home, you are just about ready for some help. Here are two very helpful books from the same author:
What Did You Expect: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage, Paul David Tripp (2015). Another author refers to the wedding day as the day “when two sinners say, “I do.” Tripp gets that at a profound level because of his own failures (and successes) in his marriage and because he has counseled couples for decades. Marriage is wonderful and difficult. Tripp can help you navigate the hard stuff.
Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, Paul David Tripp (2016). Decades ago, Tripp changed my understanding of parenting—it’s a lot more than raising obedient children; it requires raising children who obey from the heart. Children can outwardly obey you and inwardly hate you at the same time. You might be finding that out about now. Let Tripp help you win the hearts of your children.