Book Review: 25 Books Every Christian Should Read

25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide To The Essential Spiritual Classics, selected by Renovarè and a specifically appointed editorial board, including Richard J. Foster, Dallas Willard, Phyllis Tickle, and Richard Rohr

When I first saw the title for this book, my thought was, “25 Books every Christian should read? Says who?” So, I investigated a bit and found out that Renovarè is an international ecumenical organization that seeks harmony among various Christian groups and a renovation of Christianity that involves a support of somewhat radical thinking on social justice and also has a strongly Catholic or Orthodox tendency towards supporting the monastic and contemplative life. Thus warned, I looked at this book as an attempt by people who consider themselves authorities on how Christians should behave to push a certain social agenda. Unsurprisingly, that is precisely what I found, and not only that, the editors of this work were entirely open about their approbation of certain radical tendencies to be found in the books within, and were candid about their lack of interest in a biblical theology and in their corresponding fascination with supporting an ascetic and rigorous form of Hellenistic Christianity like that of the desert fathers (whose reflections are one of the twenty-five books recommended here). It bears some emphasis that the Bible is not one of the twenty-five books included in this survey, which is not surprising when one considers how much of the thought endorsed here is contrary to scripture, and which bears a strong resemblance to what Paul spoke of when he condemned various heresies among the Colossians by saying in Colossians 2:23: “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”

The contents of this book are fairly straightforward. The book consists of about 370 or so pages of core material. Most of this consists of 25 books, organized in chronological order, that the editors view as essential reading for Christians [1]. Within each selection there is a consistent pattern of material as well. First there is a quote, in italics, from the material selected, along with a spotlight on a reason why the book was written and what makes it important, followed by a biography of the writer, where known, and a summary of the book chosen and its particular context. There is then a justification on why the work is essential, some advice on how to read the book, an excerpt from the work that is broken by a personal top 5 from someone who claims to have some kind of authority to give on the matter, and then a study guide with a few questions for someone who reads that particular book. After the twenty-five selections, all of which show this same internal organization, there is a listing of contemporary writers along with some selected works by those writers that also support various views of social justice and “discipline” that are endorsed by the book’s editors, none of whom have written any works that have reached my own attention.

This book is full of a certain amount of arrogance that presumes that these people are in a state to give advice and counsel on how other Christians should live and behave, which is unwarranted by their love of heathen traditions, and their ungodly adoption of radicalism. The supposedly essential books chosen for the list ignore vital aspects of doctrine. For example, while many of the books endorse asceticism and celibate monasticism, practices condemned in scripture, none of them discuss a godly view of the Sabbath, and only a few of them discuss the plan of God to turn humanity into members of the God family (notably C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and some of the works from the Eastern Orthodox tradition). On the contrary, many of the works contain dubious reflections on false conceptions of the Nature of God, like the Trinity, or seek to replace the corpus of biblical law with a man-made standard of behavior that emphasizes the importance of spiritual directors who alone are fit to interpret the Bible and these various uninspired texts to lay believers. The resulting collection is so full of error, and a dangerous predilection for the Inner Ring condemned by C.S. Lewis [2] that even the best of the works included below are tainted by association with the editors of this work. The best that can be said about the authors is that they have a love of history that seeks to relate to Christian tradition, and that they are honest and transparent about their radical aims. Little else here is worthy of praise from either God or men.

[1] The works chosen by the editors are listed below. Those marked in bold are ones that I have read, and below that are posts about the various books included here, including but not limited to book reviews. Please note that some of the books I have read on this series are from a period before I wrote and posted book reviews online on this blog:

On The Incarnation, St. Athanasias
Confessions, St. Augustine
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Various
The Rule of St. Benedict, St. Benedict
The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri
The Cloud of Unknowing, anonymous
Revelations of Divine Love (Showings), Julian of Norwich
The Imitations of Christ, Thomas á Kempis
Institutes of Christian Religion, John Calvin
The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila
Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross
Pensèes, Blaise Pascal
The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan

The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
A Series Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law
The Way of a Pilgrim, anonymous
The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton
The Poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins
The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
A Testament of Devotion, Thomas R. Kelly
The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton
Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri J.M. Nouwen

Posts about these books below:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/book-review-the-confessions-of-st-augustine/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/dark-night-of-the-soul/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/book-review-pilgrims-progress/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/book-review-c-s-lewis-mere-christianity/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/audiobook-review-c-s-lewis-at-war/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/ten-books-that-have-shaped-my-life/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/even-attempted-virtue-has-its-rewards/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/were-all-in-this-boat-together/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/on-the-trinity-and-logic/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/the-inner-ring/

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About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, Church of God, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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