I decided to cull together a list of the most essential and influential books I’ve ever read. Pretty daunting, I’ll admit, but it’s a task made easier by the fact that I’ve been keeping an annual list of the best books I’ve read each year since 2006. Between reading for work, school, and leisure, here are the best books I’ve read, my Book Hall of Fame:
Theology for the Community of God by Stanley J. Grenz
This is an easy choice for this list. I’ve read it three times: once in undergrad, another time for graduate school, and a third time just for myself. Grenz was something of a relational theologian and his emphasis upon the Triune God and our nature as image-bearing creatures in community has been more formative for my personal theology than I can even express. Outside of the Bible, this has probably been the most important book I’ve ever read — and one of the few I’ve read three times.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
My favorite piece of fiction ever. Admittedly, I don’t read very much fiction, but this one hits me in the heart. I gave my boys a copy of it a few years ago. It explains so much of what a father feels for his son. My 2008 Book of the Year.
Yeshua: The Life of the Messiah from a Messianic Jewish Perspective, Vols. 1-4 by Arnold Fruchtenbaum
There is a richness and a depth to Fruchtenbaum’s teachings about the Messiah that I find so compelling. I only wish I had been exposed to Messianic Jewish teachings earlier in my career.
The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
Hardly a week goes by that I don’t reference this book in conversation with someone. One of the really great books I read in 2020.
Paul: A Biography by N.T. Wright
I usually read this one once a year, just to reacquaint myself with the story of one of my heroes.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The best book on leadership I’ve ever read.
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
This book really hit me at the right time, just as the Enneagram was becoming super trendy. Actually, it’s probably a good thing I read this one when I did, because if someone gave me a copy AFTER the Enneagram became super trendy, I probably would’ve dismissed it outright. I mean, if it’s trendy, it can’t be good, right? Nevertheless, Cron and Stabile gave me some invaluable self-awareness and I’m healthier today as a result.
Armchair Mystic: How Contemplative Prayer Can Lead You Closer to God by Mark Thibodeaux
Not crazy about the title (sounds a little too hippie-dippie for my taste) but an excellent primer on the nature and practice of contemplative prayer. I’ve said it several times; contemplative prayer helped buoy me through the difficult days of COVID lockdown in 2020. A must-read for anyone seeking to grow in contemplative prayer.
The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal
I first read this book in 2007 and it’s still with me. I don’t want to give away anything (if you want to read a synopsis, you can find one here) but if you’ve read it, I’d love to talk with you about it sometime.
The Passage by Justin Cronin
This is my favorite book in my favorite fictional series of all-time.
The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way by Anonymous
Written by an anonymous 19th century Russian peasant, this book explores the biblical instruction to pray without ceasing, particularly the “Jesus Prayer.” I can assure you it will instantly become your favorite book written by an anonymous 19th century Russian peasant.
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown
I go back and read this one every couple of years. It’s just that good. There have been seasons in my life when Brene Brown’s teaching on vulnerability was really sort of “prophetic” in my life — in the sense that I really needed to hear it, no matter how much it hurt at the time. When she talks about the wilderness, I feel like she really gets me. I probably need to revisit this one again in early 2022.
On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts by James K.A. Smith
Another one of the stellar books I read in 2020 and I’ve recommended it to all of my friends this year.
The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus by Fleming Rutledge
This one was an absolute game-changer for me. I spent some time re-reading much of it in late 2021 as preparation for an upcoming teaching series. But this is the seminal book on atonement, in my opinion.
Managing Leadership Anxiety: Theirs and Yours by Steve Cuss
I just finished this one earlier in the month, but it deserves to be included on this list. To see what I wrote about this book, check out my 2021 Best Books post.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
I read this formative little book in the late 90s when I was an undergrad student.
The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Curt Thompson
I’ve mentioned how many good books I read in 2020, but 2018 was a great year as well, as this is the third entry from that year to make this list, alongside Wright’s Paul bio and Fruchtenbaum’s work. Per the recommendation of a trusted friend, I’m going to dive into Thompson’s latest work, The Soul of Desire.
The Drama of Scripture by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael Goheen
I’ve handed out several copies of this excellent piece on narrative theology.
What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancey
Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World by Lee C. Camp
Another one I’ve read multiple times and it is always a challenging read — but in the best kind of way. I so appreciate Camp’s dogged insistence on the way of Jesus as the heart of discipleship.
That’s twenty books for my initial Hall of Fame “class.” Probably a good place to stop. I welcome any comments or thoughts you have about any of these titles.