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BOOK REVIEW: Wesley’s advice inspires guide to essential books Mary Jacobs, Dec 27, 2011
By Mary Jacobs Staff Writer
25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics Renovaré HarperOne, 2011 Paperback, 416 pages
“It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading,” John Wesley wrote. “A reading people will always be a knowing people. A people who talk much will know little.”
With that in mind, Wesley recommended a list of dozens of books he believed every “serious” Christian should read. Wesley’s list seems a bit dated now, but his idea serves as the inspiration for this new book, 25 Books Every Christian Should Read.
The 25 books were selected by Renovaré, an organization that promotes Christian spiritual formation, and a specially appointed editorial board of 13 scholars and authors—including Richard J. Foster, Richard Rohr, Phyllis Tickle and Dallas Willard. The list aims to offer “an extraordinary distillation of wisdom about following Jesus written by some of our greatest saints, poets and thinkers over the last two thousand years.”
The recommended books span most of those 2,000 years—stretching back to the fourth century with The Sayings of the Desert Fathers and St. Augustine’s Confessions and continuing through the 20th century with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.
Many of these works, especially the earliest ones, could prove daunting for most readers, if tackled alone.
“There are no easy reads on this list,” the authors write. Some of the books “will bust your brains.”
With that in mind, 25 Books Every Christian Should Read serves as a helpful guidebook. For each book, a chapter provides a short summary, excerpts, an essay on why the book is “essential,” tips on how to read the book and a study guide with questions. The questions are designed so that they may be used by those who read each entire work, or just the excerpts. Small groups can use this book as an introduction and overview of the spiritual classics.
The introduction of each book includes a bit of historical context and makes each book a little more accessible and inviting. Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is described as a story that that tells how “God is not just found in our Bibles or our churches or our relationships with other Christians; God is everywhere in this messy and complicated life of ours.” Similarly, the theme of St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul is summarized as the time “when God moves us from a state of being spiritual beginners to a state of what he calls progressives.”
Intentionally, the authors did not include the Bible or any books by contemporary authors who are still alive. However, the authors do commend nine “Best Contemporary Authors,” including two authors from the book’s editorial board, Richard J. Foster and Dallas Willard, as well as Wendell Berry, Anne Lamott, Brian McLaren, Eugene Peterson, John Stott, Walter Wangerin and N.T. Wright. Each chapter also includes “My Personal Top 5”—a list of favorite books from editorial board members and other Christian authors.
This book will inspire avid readers to get started in exploring the spiritual classics. But don’t expect to plow through this list quickly. Most will require years, possibly even a lifetime, to digest all these books in their entirety.
“[The books] will not yield their rewards easily, yet there is an indescribable wealth in their pages, which no serious disciple of Christ, no devoted lover of Jesus, can possibly afford to miss,” the authors write.