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The Ten – works of faith and fiction that have influenced and moved me (plus a few runner ups)
Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis: Cliché? Sure, but no one so consistently gets to the heart of a matter and says it so memorably. Once finished, move right on to The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce.
Les Misérable – Victor Hugo: You’ve heard the musical or seen the movie, but you really must read the book. Yes, it’s long (1000+ pages). And yes, Hugo spends far too long on digressions like the construction of the Paris sewers. But there is no more inspiring and redemptive story in all of literature.
A Diary of Private Prayer – John Baillie: A short volume of beautifully written prayers. Recently reissued in an updated edition that retains much of the eloquence and directness of Baillie’s prose, but in modern accessible language. Runner up: Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, a book I read and heavily underlined my junior year of college.
The Scarlet Letter – Nathanial Hawthorne: Compelling and haunting tale of sin, guilt and redemption. The contrast between confessed and unconfessed sin in this story is unforgettable.
The Rise of Christianity – Rodney Stark: Asks a provocative question – Why did Christianity grow from a handful of believers in the days after Jesus into the dominate religious movement in the Roman Empire? History, Stark argues, reveals a people who cared for the poor and marginalized, who valued women and practiced an ethic of virtue that proved extremely attractive in contrast to the alternatives of that day.
Peace Like a River – Leif Enger: You’ll be skeptical when you hear the plot includes miracles, but soon you’ll be lost in this unforgettable story, both tragic and heroic and infused with faith.
The Life You Always Wanted – John Ortberg: For years Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines was on this list. But Orberg (who calls his book “Dallas for Dummies”) is a more accessible and practical writer. Runner up: For an irreverent (and wise) take on spiritual growth, see Larry Osborne’s Spirituality for the Rest of Us.
Adam Bede – George Eliot: Much less famous than Eliot’s Middlemarch, this work tells the story of a Methodist evangelist and her sizable influence on a small English village. Tragic and uplifting at the same time.
Making Sense of it All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life – Thomas V. Morris: An idiosyncratic choice. Each year I read a book of Christian apologetics. The delight of Morris’ book is the way he weaves insights from Blaise Pascal’s brilliant Pensées with his own reflections. Morris is also the author of Philosophy for Dummies, a surprisingly useful and readable introduction to philosophy in the Dummies series.
Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl: While not a Christian work, Frankl’s experience in a Nazi concentration camp led him to the conclusion that humans must have a purpose for living. Those who discover a moral purpose for living and develop compassion for others can endure nearly anything, even extreme suffering.
Oh, the books that had to be left out! For another day.