For this enlightening post, I welcome a very special guest blogger—my daughter, Ginger Thompson Horton. Outside of her hero, Dr. Albert Mohler, I don’t know anyone who reads more books than Ginger. She’s not an avid reader. She’s not even a voracious reader. She’s a carnivorous reader. Last year she read 50 books. 50! Not romance novels. Not teeny-bopper books. Fifty books of the caliber that she lists below—that’s about one a week. Amazing!
A few months ago, Ginger called to ask for our input on a list that she was compiling of the top 25 Spiritual Classics Every Christian Should Read. We gave her our suggested titles, and I asked if she would provide me with an annotated list which I could publish as a guest blog on Know. Be. Do. (By the way, Ginger has a real blog—www.SweetIcedTea.net, one with hundreds of actual subscribers and readers, unlike my own pathetic, self-interested ramblings. Her blog is about the sweet, sophisticated Southern life. Check it out!)
She recently published her unannotated list on a second blog of hers, GingerLand, which included an introduction of why she embarked on creating the list. You can read that post in full here, but I’ve included a few pertinent paragraphs below by way of introduction to this annotated list. Her list itself is must-reading for every Christian. I‘ve read nine of the 25 books on the list, and recently started a tenth, but it is my intention to begin working my way through the entire list (although not as as quickly as Ginger, I’m sure!) So, without further ado, here is Ginger’s wonderful road map to reading your way through the spiritual classics. I know it was hard for her to limit the list to just 25 titles, so if there are books you would add, we would love to hear your comments!
When I was young, my spiritual birthday was always marked in my house. I got a cake with my favorite verse written in frosting, and a present of a book or some music (most often a CD by my favorite, Steven Curtis Chapman) or a new Bible. So this year, I’m marking my birthday with a project.
I am a reader. The way I learn best is often by reading what others wiser than me have written. I’ve spent the last month jotting down some of the spiritual classics—some I’ve read, many of which sadly I have not.
I plan to spend next year reading 25 of the Christian classics—one for every year I’ve been saved. There were so many more that could have been on this list. I brainstormed, perused my own shelves, asked my spiritual mentors, searched in other books, blogs, and for friends’ recommendations. At the end of the day, this was an extremely hard task. When there were cuts to be made, I erred on the side of cutting those I had already read, or had read recently, so this list is fairly personal to my year. But I truly feel that all 25 of these are classics and sure that they deserve a place on the shelf of any Christian’s library.
- A Celebration of Discipline by Richard C. Foster—We are called to be disciples of Christ. Discipleship takes discipline. This classic offers a look on the challenging ways in which we can foster discipline in our inward life (through meditation, prayer, and fasting), in our outward walk (simplicity, solitude, submission, and service), and in our corporate worship (confession, worship, guidance, and celebration).
- Confessions by St. Augustine—This classic by St. Augustine of Hippo is widely considered the first autobiography ever written in the Western world, so it is not only a Christian classic, but also influential in literature. Most of us most likely read City of God in high school, so I’m looking forward to learning more about the early life and conversion of this saint.
- The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer—Interest in the life of Bonhoeffer is enjoying a resurgence in popularity as of late due to the 2008 film Valkyrie and a recently published bestselling biography by Eric Metaxas (Comment from Larry: Recently finished this biography and highly recommend it.) Bonhoeffer has the authority to write on the cost of discipleship. As a German living during World War II, he was executed for his resistance to the Nazis.
- Desiring God by John Piper—I had enjoyed this Piper classic before, but it is worth another read. Piper advocates Christian hedonism, teaching that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
- Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe—Nothing is more inspiring than the stories of those who literally gave their very lives for the cause of Christ. How can we do any less?
- The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom—Another wonderful story of one who sacrificed much in the name of Jesus. Corrie Ten Boom hid Jews during the Nazi regime and was arrested and held in a concentration camp during World War II. Her forgiveness is astounding, and her story reads like an exciting spy novel.
- Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis—When I worked at my college bookstore, this was one of the most requested Christian classics. It’s been translated into more languages than any other book outside the Bible itself, so any book with staying power is one that deserves a place on my list.
- In His Steps by Charles Sheldon—Though published in 1897, this novel inspired the WWJD? bracelet trend of the 1990s. It’s rare to find a book over 100 years old that is so pragmatic for our daily lives today.
- The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey—Phillip Yancey never fails to make me think through my preconceived notions of canned Christianity. The Jesus of the Bible is much less like the Jesus of Sunday School felt boards. The real Jesus is complex, passionate, brilliant. Yancey takes us through Christ’s life on earth—from His Jewish roots, group of close friends, surrounding geography, spoken words, and evident personality to learn more about our incarnate God.
- Knowing God by J. I. Packer—J. I. Packer is a leading theologian of our day. My brilliant sister read this modern Christian classic in high school and said it made more difference in her life than most any other book. Enough said. It’s on the list.
- Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner—Frederick Buechner is hands-down my favorite living author. He has a fresh way of explaining things that makes the divine seem simple and the simple seem divine. Every time I read anything he has written, I think, laugh, sometimes cry, and always marvel at the beauty that words have when from the pen of a master. I’ve read almost everything Buechner has written, but this is one of his seminal works with the message that our Creator uses our own lives to speak to us.
- Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis—No real explanation is needed for Mere Christianity. Should be required reading, for Christians and non-believers. There is no more simple defense of our faith. Anything by Lewis is worth reading.
- My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers—The devotional classic by Oswald Chambers is designed to be read in short segments—one devotion for each day. A perfect way to start the morning reflecting on His Highest.
- On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius—Written in the fourth century, On the Incarnation is one of the enduring defenses of our faith, but timely for today when scholars are still debating the divine nature of Jesus Christ.
- Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton—Chesterton wrote many Christian classics, both fiction and non-fiction. Orthodoxy is his personal journey to faith and apologetics.
- Paradise Lost by John Milton—A classic piece of literature that most of us read in high school or college, but worth a revisit.
- Pensees by Blaise Pascal—Pascal’s thoughts have been quoted in many of my favorite Christian books—from John Eldredge to Phillip Yancey—so he is highly read. If you’ve ever heard of “Pascal’s Wager,” this is where the concept stems from.
- Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan—I remember my parents reading from Little Pilgrim’s Progress, a chapter a night when I was small. I was captivated. The original version is tough to slough through (pun intended), so make sure to get a good modern version. This Penguin Classic paperback comes highly recommended.
- Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence—The title says it all. We could all do well to learn the practices of this 17th century monk.
- Saint’s Everlasting Rest by Richard Baxter—I love meditating on heaven. Baxter wrote The Saint’s Everlasting Rest while severely ill, and it will make you look forward to heaven. I know it’s a great book when I have more portions underlined than not.
- The Saving Life of Christ by Major Ian Thomas—One of my spiritual heroes, Dr. Adrian Rogers, mentioned this book more than any other I recall. It was only recently that I finally got around to reading it, and I am only sad I waited so long. Revolutionary, in the truest sense of the word, in that it can change your perspective on the purpose of Christ’s life and death. But it’s so simple, and so foundational to what the Bible really teaches.
- The Search for Significance by Robert McGee—I, like so many Christians, suffer from the performance-based trap of spiritual self-worth. Either we see ourselves as a lowly worm of a sinner, or worse, we think we can bring something to God with our own righteousness. Our acceptance in the eyes of God is only found in Christ’s work, not our own accomplishments or the opinions of others.
- A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller—One of the most beloved Psalms, looked at through the eyes of a shepherd and his sheep. Keller, a former sheep rancher, shows us to trust and rest in the Good Shepherd.
- Six Hours One Friday by Max Lucado—I must admit, I went through a period of snobbery against Max Lucado. It wasn’t anything so wrong with his message, per se. Just how many people flocked to it and stayed only there, going no deeper. But I recently picked up another title of his (Come Thirsty), and was struck by how the message doesn’t need to be any “more intellectual.” Lucado always has a way of piercing the simple message of God’s love right to the heart. I’ve read quite a bit of Max Lucado (my favorite so far being And the Angels Were Silent), but my dad recommended this as his favorite classic. Since I’ve not read this one, subtitled Living in the Power of the Cross, it made the list.
- Through Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot—Once again, biographies often have the power to inspire like no sermon ever could. I’m familiar with the story of missionary Jim Elliot, killed by an Ecuadorian tribe, along with five other men. Elizabeth Elliot, Jim’s wife, wrote his story and continued to serve as a missionary among the Auca Indians after his death.
For more of Ginger’s book recommendations, check out this post: Top Ten Books, Selected Personally for Me.