The Bookshelf - The Final 20

So, we have come to the conclusion of our bookshelf project - our search to find 20 books worth reading. 

Thanks so much to all who we invited to contribute and all of you who got involved through social media. Below is a list of the final 20 books with a few honourable mentions. Just a few comments on the list. This is not the best 20 books ever written, but rather 20 books worth having on your bookshelf and investing the time to read. We asked an equal number male and female contributors and invited responses on social media to try and draw in a wide variety of suggestions. The final list remains predominantly white, male and Western. This is not ideal, but we didn’t feel we could ignore the suggestions and nominations that had been made. Hopefully you have read some of the books on the list and will take the time to read some more. You can read more about the project and see people’s nominations here.


Christian Classics - Books that have stood the test of time

Mere Christianity, CS Lewis

The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis

Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Confessions, St Augustine

CS Lewis was the most popular author when it came recommendations across the board. Mere Christianity was the top  book in terms of the number of recommendations. It remains a personal favourite of mine - a concise explanation and defence of the Christian faith. It sets out the radical nature of following Jesus for those already on the journey and those who aren’t yet.

The Screwtape Letters is another classic by CS Lewis looking at spiritual warfare using letters between Screwtape, a devil high in the Infernal Civil Service, to his nephew Wormwood, a junior colleague.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together while teaching in an underground seminary in Nazi Germany. This book explores how to live as the body of Christ and build Christian community that is true enough to withstand a world set against it.

And finally, the Confessions by St Augustine. As Professor David Hilborn put it, this is a the tale of a north African lad, who struggled with errant behaviour, wrestled with sex and had a mistress. But through his struggles we have one of the most profound theological reflections you are ever likely to read - “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.”

Honourable mentions - Holiness by JC Ryle; My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers; The Pursuit of God by A W Tozer; The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence; The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee; and No Compromise by Melody Green.

Theological Foundations - Slightly deeper books that help us think theologically

Knowing God, J.I. Packer

The Cross of Christ, John Stott

Surprised by Hope, NT Wright

Generous Justice, Tim Keller

I had the privilege of studying under J.I. Packer at Regent College. In Knowing God, Packer sets out the basics of the faith in an accessible way but also to encourage us to know the God we worship better.

People seem to be struggling with the cross and why it is central to Christianity. In The Cross of Christ, John Stott sets out clearly and biblically why it matters and how we live in the light of it.

Tom Wright was suggested a number of times for the Bookshelf, but the most popular was Surprised by Hope. In this book, Wright looks at the present confusion about future hope in both church and world before explaining the importance of Jesus’ bodily resurrection and the biblical hope for 'new heavens and new earth’.

The final choice is Generous Justice by Tim Keller. Keller had the most books nominated and just missed out in a few categories. This book explores a life of justice empowered by an experience of grace: a generous, gracious justice.

Honourable mentions - Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey; The Reason for God by Tim Keller; Forgotten God by Francis Chan; and The Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge.

Discipleship and Development - Helping a person grow in their faith

Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster

Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard

How to Pray, Pete Grieg

Strengthen the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton

There were lots of great books suggested in this category leading to some tough choices. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster topped the list in terms of nominations. Foster unpacks a different spiritual discipline in each chapter giving practical and accessible advice. 

Dallas Willard got nominations for a number of his books but we have chosen Divine Conspiracy. In this book, Willard weaves biblical teaching, popular culture, science and scholarship together in a challenging call back to the true meaning of Christian discipleship.

Pete Grieg also had a number of books nominated. We have gone for How to Pray which is his newest book. It is written for normal people and is designed to be a simple guide to prayer from the founder of the 24/7 prayer movement. 

Finally, we decided on Strengthen the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton. This book is based on the life of Moses with lots of contemporary illustrations to help us guard and nourish our souls.

Honourable mentions - The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero; Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard; You Can Change by Tim Chester and Radical by David Platt.

Church and Mission - Books about Evangelism and/or Church

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Lesslie Newbigin

The Mission of God’s People, Chris Wright

Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson

Faithful Presence, David Fitch

When it comes to how Christians engage with culture, it is very difficult to look beyond Leslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Addressing the uniqueness of Christ, the impact of relativism, secularisation, and living in a multi-faith world, Newbigin calls for a confidence in the gospel of Jesus. I also loved Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth by Newbigin which some might find more accessible. 

Chris Wright's book The Mission of God got a number nominations and it is a great book showing that the typical Christian understanding of "missions" to too small. The Mission of God's People is more accessible and shows how God's big-picture plan directs the purpose of God's people, the church.

Eugene Peterson got a number of nominations but we have gone for Contemplative Pastor. Peterson is known as the ‘pastor’s pastor’ and while this book is aimed at church leaders there is great content for everyone on being unbusy and the language of prayer.

David Fitch writes Faithful Presence from his theological and pastoral experience to unpack seven dimensions of local church life and activity, reframing them in a way that leads us to reimagine the church as the embodiment of God's good news presence in the world. It helps us to explore how church communities can participate effectively in God's mission amidst our changing culture. 

Honourable mentions - The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter III; Centre Church by Tim Keller; The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson; The Recovery of Mission by Vinoth Ramachandra; Transforming Mission by David Bosch - this is the definitive textbook on mission. If you want to think a little more deeply about mission, this is the book for you.

Culture and Literature - A Book engaging in culture, or a classic work of literature

Culture Making, Andy Crouch 

A War of Loves, David Bennett

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

Culture Making by Andy Crouch is one of the books we give to our interns to read. Crouch encourages us away from the culture wars and from life as consumers, encouraging us to be the culture makers God designed us to be.

Tom Wright wrote the foreword for A War of Loves by David Bennett and the book is really the unexpected story of a gay activist discovering Jesus. In this cultural moment, I think it is the best book wrestling with sexuality and it does so in a very missional way.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is the long winding tale of Rev. John Ames writing to his son as he processes his life, ministry and death. As Stu Bothwell wrote, “After the slow burn, the final two pages of Gilead moved me like no other piece of fiction has.”

Lord of the Rings by JR Tolkien is a reminder of the influence good literature written by Christians can have on our culture. Tolkien was part of a group called the Inklings that included CS Lewis and Charles Williams and friends like Dorothy Sayers. All these authors are worth reading.

Honourable Mentions - My honourable mentions in this category could fill their own website, but are are a few - Perfectly Human by Sarah Williams; The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann; A Better Story by Glynn Harrison; Disappearing Church by Mark Sayers; The Complete Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis; On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior . . .