Discover the 30 must-read books every Christian should read recommended by Chad Harrington, in perfect reading order for maximum impact.
I was the guy who read every page of every book ever assigned in school, so the fact I’m now a book publisher at HIM Publications should be no surprise. My book list contains my top thirty personal recommendations of vital books Christians should read as soon as possible—and in this order.
I understand that’s a lot of books to read, but what can I say? I love books!
The below list is not my greatest-books-of-all-time list, but books I believe every Christian should read. I encountered some of them recently and some when I was younger.
The order is not necessarily ranked best to lowest on the list. I’ve listed them in the order I suggest you read them. It moves, generally, from pre-gospel to gospel to spiritual formation.
These are the most valuable and important books in my eyes for Christians in North America (and beyond) to read.
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1. A book of the Bible in one sitting without chapter or verse divisions
I’m often surprised by the scriptural illiteracy I witness among many Christians. So if you find yourself disengaged with Scripture, here’s my recommendation to add fuel to your fire. Start by reading one book of the Bible straight through in one sitting—and read it without headers or chapter or verse divisions, just straight text. You can do this with the book of Ephesians through Bible Gateway here, for example. Just click on the gear icon, and deselect “Verse Numbers” and “Headings.” I remember the first time I did this with Paul’s letter to the Romans. As a result, I was able to see his main point more clearly than ever.
2. A book from The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
After reengaging the Bible, I suggest jumping into gospel fiction because it grabs the heart like nothing else. While it was written for kids, I was twenty years old when I started reading The Chronicles of Narnia, and while the characters are childlike, the message of the books is certainly not. Read at least one book from The Chronicles of Narnia to get your passions for God stirred. For instance, The Horse and His Boy offers an engaging story and a unique parallel of how God is with us even when we don’t feel his presence.
3. Confessions by Saint Augustine
Augustine’s Confessions is a classic Christian autobiography. Encounter God by reading how a saint from antiquity found God after a life of sin. Gain perspective through this book with a story that has stood the test of time. I read this entire book on a silent retreat, and Augustine’s story helped me connect better with my story from sin to salvation. I believe it can for you too.
4. The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen
Having read this book in college when I needed a fresh experience of God’s love, this went on my must-read list for others who want to go deeper in encountering God. Nouwen guides readers in The Return of the Prodigal Son through his reflections on Rembrandt’s famous painting of the prodigal son from Luke 15 to deliver a masterpiece about encountering God. Go deeper into God’s compassionate love through the eyes of a compassionate man, Henri Nouwen.
5. The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
Most Christians go through a doubting phase, and this can be an important part of our journey. Instead of suppressing your doubts about God, though, I believe we should go deeper into them to find the objective reasons for God’s existence and goodness. Keller helps readers do that through his compelling and convincing The Reason for God.
6. The Most Reluctant Convert by David C. Downing
Before you read Mere Christianity, you must know C.S. Lewis’s story. Helpful and encouraging, Downing writes a simple story about how C.S. Lewis went from atheism to pantheism to theism to Christ. Get an inside scoop into how the Inklings were a part of Lewis’s conversion to Christ in The Most Reluctant Convert, and even how mythology helped Lewis become a Christian.
7. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
This modern classic apologetics book covers basic arguments in an artful and compelling way. In Mere Christianity Lewis offers the written form of his WWII radio show talks that he delivered while Britain was involved in war and spiritually desperate for God. When people reference Lewis’s arguments for believing in Christ—like the “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” argument—you’ll want to have read it from Lewis himself.
8. The Gospel Precisely by Matthew W. Bates
Christians are debating the nature of the biblical gospel today. Are you confused about what the gospel is? Read Matthew Bates’s short book The Gospel Precisely for a helpful reorientation toward the Bible’s definition of the gospel. Let Bates challenge your preconceived notions and sprint toward truth as you read this quick yet profound and important little book.
9. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
Chesterton has been vital for my spiritual development so I must include his Orthodoxy. For me, he lays out the basics of the gospel in this book, and he lands in a refreshing place about the role of beauty and mirth in the life of a Christian. Journey with Chesterton, a friend and mentor of sorts for C.S. Lewis, as you read this intriguing book.
10. I and Thou by Martin Buber
While I was writing my master’s thesis at Asbury Theological Seminary, a trusted friend of mine told me to read Buber’s book so I could write well. I asked how this was applicable to my thesis, and he responded, “It’s applicable to all of life.” He was right, so I recommend it to you. While Buber himself was Jewish and not a Christian, his book I and Thou can serve Christians to help us see people, events, and opportunities through the lens of love instead of how we might subconsciously be treating them as an “it” instead of a “you.”
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11. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Get ready for a challenging read with Bonhoeffer’s in-your-face The Cost of Discipleship. Originally titled Nachfolge in German, which translates simply as “discipleship” or “following,” this book is the main work for which Bonhoeffer’s remembered. Leading up to WWII, Bonhoeffer saw a watered-down version of Christianity displayed around him, so he wrote this book to call disciples in Europe and beyond back to discipleship.
12. The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright
I read this when I was in college, and it was one of the first books by Wright I read that helped shape my mind around the vitality of the kingdom of God to the Christian faith. The Challenge of Jesus introduces some of N.T. Wright’s core thinking about the historical person of Jesus. While more eager readers could read the academic version of this book, Jesus and the Victory of God, I recommend this one for most Christians.
13. The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
When you’re ready for this one, it could change your life. I say “when you’re ready” because I was not ready the first time that I tried to read it. The Divine Conspiracy introduces readers to the “conspiracy” that we can actually experience the kingdom of God here on earth—through the life, person, and teachings of Jesus. Willard takes readers through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and beyond for a refreshing look at the person of Jesus and how his ways can change our very lives here and now.
14. Desiring God’s Will by David G. Benner
While I don’t agree with all of Benner’s writings, I must say this title, Desiring God’s Will, which he wrote earlier in his career, was vital for the journey from my head to my heart in my discipleship journey. Benner is a Christian and clinical psychologist who makes the case that desire plays a vital role in our discipleship journey. Without his clear, convincing, and encouraging articulation of this truth, I don’t know where my heart would be!
15. The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan
When I was a senior in college, I had to preach on the topic of Sabbath, so I found this book on Sabbath by Buchanan. After reading the entire book the week before I preached on the topic, I was convinced the commandment from God to rest still applies in principle today: we need to restore our souls as Christians by restoring some form of 24-hour Sabbath. I’ll let you read the details in The Rest of God, but let me say this: the way this book shed light on the biblical concept of rest literally changed my life, and I’ve taken one day off every week since I preached on this topic in college.
16. Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
A short classic on Christian community, Life Together provides the basics of how we must live together as disciples of Jesus. This little book serves as a sort of handbook to get you ready to enter into a deeper life of fellowship with other Christians. Bonhoeffer wrote this from the perspective of a member of the underground church in Nazi Germany, but his principles still translate well to our lives today.
17. Real-Life Discipleship by Jim Putman
I’ve spent time with Jim Putman at his church in Post Falls, Idaho, where the story of Real-Life Discipleship took shape, so I can tell you Jim and his stories are the real deal. He’d be the first to tell you their church is not perfect (and it’s not). But one thing’s for sure: the people are real. This book lays out the basic, vital premise for Jim’s message for the modern church: discipleship requires relationship. Jim also lays out the pathway for living a life of relational discipleship.
18. Revival Starts Here by Dave Clayton
In 2019, over 400 churches gathered to pray and fast for the lost in the city of Nashville by name. It was called Awaken Nashville, and God used Dave Clayton, author of this book, to help Christians in Nashville cover in prayer every household by name as they prayed and fasted together in some fashion for 30 days. It was remarkable. Then, in 2020, members of over 700 churches prayed and fasted for eight people by name whom they knew—for 30 days of prayer. Dave’s book Revival Starts Here equipped those tens of thousands of Christians to be inspired and know how to pray and fast together.
19. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala
Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, recounts the story of what God did in the hearts and lives of the people at his church to bring, indeed, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire to his church through the Holy Spirit. Be inspired to pray with your church to do something special as you read the story of one church that experienced a revival among its people through prayer.
20. When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett
This is a must-read for North Americans and Christians who come from wealthy countries. Based on their experiences and their understanding of Scripture, the authors warn Christians about their methods of helping the poor. Often, they argue, we can actually hurt people when we seek to help them, so When Helping Hurts offers a clarifying framework for understanding appropriate “help” for those who are materially poor. Don’t consistently help the materially poor without reading this book. A good friend gave me this warning, and I’m so glad I followed his advice.
21. The Attributes of God by A.W. Tozer
I wouldn’t have as deep in the recesses of my heart an understanding of such concepts as the immanence of God without Tozer’s The Attributes of God. I didn’t know that simply understanding and gazing at his qualities would foster my affections for him until I read this book. Tozer left an indelible impression of who God is by articulating his attributes, and this gift is worth the read.
22. Humility by Andrew Murray
I’ve written in detail about my struggle with pride, and Murray’s book Humility has been salve for my self-wounded heart. This short, punchy book will liberate the heart who is ready to see their need for humility. Formative for me, this book can point you in the right direction so you can avoid the pains of pride. With his light and inviting tone, Murray grabbed my heart without force as he inspired and further converted my heart to Jesus’ way of humility.
23. A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards
I read this in my early twenties and again in my late twenties with a totally new perspective. Any Christian, especially those in leadership, must read this book about brokenness. It’s a fictional retelling of the biblical stories of King David, King Saul, and Absalom. Navigate the dynamics of authority and submission through A Tale of Three Kings, and learn God’s heart for a broken heart of humility that does not take a shot at the “Lord’s anointed,” even when every human reason exists to do so.
24. Hearing God by Dallas Willard
In 2013, the year Dallas Willard passed on to the next life, I read every book he wrote, and this was the most impactful book for me. In Hearing God, Willard helps Christians discern how to cultivate a conversational relationship with God. I had never heard anyone articulate with such clarity, conviction, and practical sense how this can be done. My life is forever changed because of what God did in me as a result of reading this book.
25. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Stretching back in time and place to the monastery in which the man called “Brother Lawrence” lived, The Practice of the Presence of God transports readers into the heart of a Christian mystic (which I’m defining here as one who experiences God in the mundane). Eavesdrop on the meditations of a humble saint who found satisfaction and joy with God in the everyday experiences of his life in the monastery. It can inspire you to be at rest with God in the mundane experiences of your life as well.
26. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
This is one of the best primers on core spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. Mentored by Dallas Willard, Richard Foster offers a modern classic on how to activate your faith through formation practices. His writing balances both the practical and theological to give everyday Christians an introduction into important disciplines of the faith. Celebration of Discipline helps Christians enjoy encountering God through practices that often involve sacrifice, even pain. Encountering God is indeed worth celebrating, and Foster helps readers do just that.
27. Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard
In this book, Dallas Willard describes who we are as humans. Unlike any other resource, Renovation of the Heart offers an interpretation of the biblical notions of human personhood in an intensely helpful way. If you want to understand the difference between “heart” and “soul,” for example, Willard guides you through the differences through a responsible and refreshing interpretation of biblical texts and practices. Understand how spiritual formation works by understanding how God renovates the human heart.
28. Anchors for the Soul by John Mark Hicks
Life comes quickly, which can involve great pain and heartache. John Mark Hicks tells his stories of loss, pain, and heartache in Anchors for the Soul. This makes my list because the book will be relevant and vital for most Christians at one point or another. It just so happened that within a year of publishing this book for Dr. Hicks, I experienced a tragedy of my own when our daughter Katharine was stillborn. This resource, along with its accompanying video course, helped me navigate my family through the pain of loss. This resource also equips Christians to love others who are currently experiencing any form of loss.
29. The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller
I read this when I was single and again when I was engaged, and it has been a source of direction and life for me as I embrace the biblical meaning of marriage. Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage provided incredible perspective for me as I prepared for and now experience the joys and challenges of marriage. This is a must-read for those who want a lasting, biblical, and Christ-centered marriage.
30. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
I could receive some flak for this one, but I found it profound and deeply inspiring. Now, I tried not to read it in public because of the cover, but I’m glad I read it. Rivers’s Redeeming Love is a novel inspired by the biblical story of Hosea and framed in a more modern perspective. Set in the 1850s gold rush era of California’s history, the book introduces readers to a man’s undying love for his unfaithful wife.
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Thoughts on These Thirty Christian Books
That’s my list! Again, it’s not comprehensive, but it covers thirty books I believe all Christians should read as soon as possible and in that order.
I often hear Christians saying something like, “I can’t find someone to disciple me.” These books can disciple you when you have a hard time finding someone to help with precisely what you need during a particular season of your life.
If you feel overwhelmed by the whole list, search your heart and pray about one book you can begin reading now. Then get started!
These are many of the books that were precisely what the doctor had ordered when I read them. I hope at least a few of them will be that for you as you determine the next book to help you along your discipleship journey.
Originally published on Renew.org (November 2021).