There are some classic books out there that you won’t find on my list. Books like Augustine’s Confessions, Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, or Lewis’s Mere Christianity—these are Christian classics and, in any objective ranking, are going to rank higher than the books you’ll find here. But the books you’ll find here are books that I recommend. By design, they are books that may not show up on other recommendation lists, but that I’d like to introduce you to—if you’ve not met them already. I’ve also tried to offer some variety: across centuries, genres, and the spectrum of difficulty. My explanations should give you an idea of what you’re getting into—listed alphabetically by title.
Begotten or Made? | Oliver O’Donovan
A published set of lectures O’Donovan gave in 1983, this short book shows of O’Donovan’s considerable foresight, wisdom, and prophetic abilities. He dives into ethical questions raised by reproduction technologies (like IVF). It’s intended for an academic audience, so it’s not exactly a breezy read, but it’s accessible as far as academic works go.
Brideshead Revisited | Evelyn Waugh
This fictional story set in early 20th-century England is an excellent read, and one of my favorite fiction works of all time. Waugh’s prose is virtually unmatched, as far as I’m concerned, and this is one of the most deeply religious novels I’ve ever read. It’s a few hundred pages, but a fairly easy read. But don’t rush it: enjoy the reading.
The Brothers Karamozov | Fyodor Dostoevsky
This fictional story is set in early 19th-century Russia and is one of my favorite fiction works of all time. Dostoevsky weaves intricate webs and characters that can be difficult to follow, if you’ve never read Russian literature. It’s also quite long, so it’s a commitment. But, if you can stick with it… what a payoff.
The Code of the Woosters | P. G. Wodehouse
What ho! Sometimes a good book of theology is what the doctor ordered. Sometimes, you just need a bit of fun. Wodehouse is a master of the English language and this is one of the few books I’ve ever laughed out loud at. Any Wodehouse is sure to delight, but this one is my favorite.
Gaudy Night | Dorothy Sayers
I’m not much for detective fiction…until I find myself reading it. There are many excellent detectives out there: Father Brown and Sherlock Holmes are some personal favorites. But Lord Peter Wimsey—from Dorothy Sayers—may be my favorite. Gaudy Night is actually not a Wimsey story (though he does make an appearance), but is a haunting tale set in Oxford and, well, I’ll leave the rest for you to discover.
Glittering Vices | Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung
One of the best books I’ve read on spiritual formation. This book is an in-depth look at a group of vices we typically call the “seven deadly sins.” While it’s easy to poke fun at these “sins,” DeYoung shows their true character and why each of us ought to take great care to avoid them.
The Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes | Gregory of Nyssa
I had to include something from Gregory of Nyssa (I wrote my dissertation on him). There’s a lot from Gregory worth reading, but this is a nice introduction. This is a collection of sermons on—you guessed it—the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes. Gregory thinks very differently from us today, but his advice is nonetheless worth paying careful attention to.
Love in Action | Simon Cuff
This is a short summary of Catholic Social Teaching. Catholic Social Teaching is, as the name suggests, teaching about Roman Catholic Social thought. Whether you’re a Roman Catholic or not, this body of teachings is worth carefully considering, since it remains extremely important and relevant today. Cuff’s book is a good introduction.
Monologion and Proslogion | Anselm
Anselm is one of the greats, but he’s often forgotten by the more famous medieval giant, Thomas Aquinas. Yet it’s hard to top Anselm’s Monologion and Proslogion. Both are exemplary pieces of theology, not least because both are prayers.
Paul: A Biography | N. T. Wright
Wright has written a whole lot, but this may be my favorite thing he’s written. It’s a biography on the Apostle Paul. He weaves Paul’s thoughts and movements together in a way that brings him to life, so that he’s not longer just a character on a page or a defender of my pet theological view. It’s a long book, but accessible and a relatively easy read.
Prayer in the Night | Tish Harrison Warren
Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary is the more famous book—and it is indeed excellent. But this book is perfect for anyone that suffers. And that’s all of us. She offers reasons for hope even in the middle of great despair.
The Theology of the Book of Revelation | Richard Bauckham
This is a short book but it packs a punch. A friend of mine said it well, “it was like adding a book to my canon.” And it’s true. Revelation feels so foreign and distant. But this book opens it up. He takes it out of the darkness, and shines light on it. No book that I’m aware of will help you understand the book of Revelation more than this one.
Till We Have Faces | C. S. Lewis
Did I save the best for last? It wasn’t intentional, but perhaps. This fictional retelling of an ancient myth is not only a well-written story, but deals with many religious themes—especially divine hiddenness. It is my favorite work of Lewis.