Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Ecclesiastes 12:12
It has been nearly 3,000 years since the preacher of Ecclesiastes first made his assessment of book making and much study. Many books are still made whether they by ink on paper or pixel on screen. Some would say, though, that the study of them brings not so much weariness in our time mostly because we don’t study them all that much. We are a nation of text messages, tweets, and You Tube video clips, and often times convinced that our own experiences and personal conclusions are sufficient to settle the important questions of life and of our lives.
The definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding” is traditionally ascribed to Saint Anselm of Canterbury, an Eleventh Century monk and philosopher. One of Anselm’s many gifts to the millennia of Christians who have come after him is his reasoned understanding of the atonement, Christ’s redeeming work on the cross.
Seeking an understanding of their faith, Christians have always been thinking people and we are at our best when we think about our faith. Texts, tweets, and You Tube are a poor substitute for books when it comes to thinking well about our faith.
Recently The Church Times in the UK, which claims to be the world’s leading Anglican newspaper – and I am sure it is, compiled a list of the 100 Best Christian Books. Their impressive panel of judges has done a lot of work and a good job. I have heard of most but not all of the one hundred books. I have read around forty of them, but can speak intelligently of even fewer. So with those disclaimers, from those I have read and with which I am familiar enough to make comment, I have picked seven that I would recommend to someone ready to put down their smart phone (okay, there are probably Kindle versions of most of these), and to begin the journey of faith seeking understanding.
In order of their appearance on the 100 Best list:
#7 – Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan) You may have had to read this in some English class along the way. Read it again as you ponder your own journey as a Christian – both the challenges and the joys we may expect along the way.
# 20 Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis) This classic mid-Twentieth Century defense of “mere Christianity” no longer works for some people (see the comment on the linked page), but I find Lewis to be both persuasive and often prescient as he describes our faith to the modern mind.
#27 The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis) Some of us were introduced to Narnia as children (but, please, do not read the Narnia books to your children too soon). Read or re-read them all for yourself beginning with LWW. “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” So says a talking beaver of a Lion who is much like Christ. Just read it yourself.
#38 Orthodoxy (G.K. Chesterton) Written over a hundred years ago, this thin book is still an exhilarating defense of the faith to the modern mind. Chesterton, who is also known for his mystery series, was an adult convert to Catholicism whose love of orthodoxy transcends denominational boundaries.
#66 The Return of the Prodigal (Henri Nouwen) Nouwen’s little book is a meditation on the Parable of the Prodigal Son heard from the pages of Scripture and seen through Rembrandt’s amazing visual interpretation of the moment that the father embraces the prodigal. The book is autobiographical but speaks to the deep places of many of our lives.
#70 Gilead (Marylynne Robison) Robinson is a contemporary writer and this quiet novel, set in rural Iowa in the 1950s, is a picture of what life of faith looks like lived out in ordinary places. Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005 and is a marvelous example of what Christian fiction might look like.
#86 Basic Christianity (John R.W. Stott) Last on my list only because of its ranking on the Church Times list, Basic Christianity might be the first on my list for someone setting out on a journey of seeking to understand their faith. Faith must seek understanding and a well-understood faith shapes the contours of every inch of our lives. The subtitle of the book is “Who is Jesus? Why the Cross? Why is it Relevant Today?” Is your faith seeking understanding? Start here.
Who knows how many books have been made since the preacher of Ecclesiastes first observed that there seems to be no end of their making? Probably millions. Much study may still weary the flesh. But texts, tweets, You Tubes, and “well, I think” are poor substitutes for a well written, deeply read book.
Oh, and if you have any nominees for Best Christian Book, send me a text.