Christianity is the biggest religion in the world, having been founded over 2,000 years ago and now being followed by around one-third of the global population. That makes it a very good starting point for anyone who is interested in building a spiritual library, so today I will be discussing some of the most useful Christian books for spiritual seekers.
As with all of the posts in this series, my recommendations are based primarily on my own experience as a lifelong Seeker. There are thousands of Christian denominations and sects, and it would be impossible to recommend titles that reflect the teachings and ideas of every one of those. I have therefore highlighted what I consider to be the most essential texts that will give you access to the core teachings as shared by the majority of followers.
#1 – The Bible
The foundational book of Christianity is the Bible. This is actually a single-volume collection of multiple scriptures or “books”, with the Roman Catholic Bible having a total of 73 books and the Protestant Bible having a total of 66. Those scriptures were originally written in the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic languages. Fortunately, there are plenty of English translations to suit all types of readers, and if Christianity is one of your main interests it can be useful to have a range of translations in your library.
The most famous translation is the King James Version or KJV (also known as the Authorized Version or AV), which was first published in 1611. While the language of the KJV is beautiful, it uses lots of words that aren’t commonly used today, and that can make it a little more difficult, though by no means impossible, for modern readers to understand.
Later English translations of the Bible are much easier to read and also benefit from the findings of scriptural scholars over the last four centuries.
If you would like a translation that sticks as closely as possible to the original text (known as a word-for-word or literal translation) then I would recommend the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), and the New King James Version (NKJV).
If you would prefer a Bible translation that focuses more on conveying the meaning of the original scriptures rather than sticking to a rigid word-for-word approach, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New International Version (NIV), and the New English Translation (NET).
Those of you who would like a Bible that’s as easy as possible to understand might be best suited to the New Living Translation (NLT).
You’ll find that all the above translations are available in paperback, hardcover and leather editions. A hardcover or leather edition will tend to have a saddle-stitched binding, while the pages of a paperback are usually just glued to the spine. That means a hardcover or leather edition will remain in good shape for years, and possibly a lifetime, while a paperback volume could start falling apart after a year or two of regular use.
It is also possible to buy “journaling” Bibles which provide some room on each page for you to make notes as you read and reflect. Journaling Bibles can be very useful if you intend to study the Bible on a regular basis and always have your notes readily available for future reference.
Note that if you buy a Bible with 66 books instead of 73 and you want to know what the omitted books contain, you can obtain them separately as The Apocrypha. Again, various translations are available, including the KJV, NRSV and ESV.
#2 – Bible Commentaries
Bible commentaries are books that provide background information and explanations of the scriptures so that you get a fuller understanding of what is being said. These can be useful in giving you some insight into the cultures of the time, and will often reveal things that you won’t necessarily get from a simple reading of the Biblical text.
I should point out the fact that different commentaries can have quite different approaches. For example, the single-volume Oxford Bible Commentary takes a largely academic approach to the Biblical texts which often questions the validity of traditional interpretations. The MacArthur Bible Commentary, on the other hand, provides the personal interpretation of the Reformed Baptist pastor, John MacArthur.
All of this means that Bible commentaries can, and often are, biased in some way. This isn’t a problem if you bear that fact in mind and don’t take the content of commentaries to be authoritative.
Because I study the Bible for spiritual purposes rather than academic reasons, I prefer to use commentaries that maintain a traditional interpretation of scripture and emphasise how the text can be applied to everyday life. My personal favourite is the Wiersbe Bible Commentary, which is a two-volume set, although I have several others that I also refer to.
#3 – Knowing God by J. I. Packer
Knowing God is widely regarded as a classic because it provides a thorough introduction to the Christian faith. That makes it very useful to anyone who is new to Christianity and wants to gain a reliable overview of what the religion is all about. However, this book is also recommended to existing believers who would like to get a better understanding of theology and deepen their faith.
#4 – Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
This is another “Christian classic” that provides the content of a series of BBC broadcasts made by C. S. Lewis during the Second World War. Mere Christianity gives readers a complete introduction to the faith and is divided into four sections, as follows:
- Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe
- What Christians Believe
- Christian Behaviour
- Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity
C.S Lewis was an atheist for a long time before he eventually came “kicking and screaming” into Christianity, so this book is ideal for anyone who wants to take a good look at the faith from the perspective of logic and rationality.
#5 – Celebration of Discipline by Richard Forster
Celebration of Discipline is aimed at followers of the Christian path who want to deepen their spiritual lives by practising “classic disciplines”. These are the Inward Disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, and study; the Outward Disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service; and the Corporate Disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.
This book was first published to great acclaim in 1978 and it has been reprinted many times since then. The current Study Guide Edition is perfect for anyone who wants to actually practice Christian disciplines for ongoing spiritual development and formation.
The books discussed above are ones that I consider essential reading for anyone who is interested in the Christian path. Of course, there are many others that I could also recommend, so I may add a few of those here in the future for those of you who are interested. For now, start with the classics above and you will have started building your spiritual library in great style.