Well, Happy Reformation Day 2023. In honor of the festivities, here are 24 books recommended for all Christians but Christian leaders in particular for the work of Reformation in 2024 that is before us.
I honestly believe that God is on the move. A real awakening and renewal is happening that is not just momentary emotions, but there are millions of Christians repenting of personal and familial and political sins, and recommitting themselves to the basics of following Jesus: worshipping God every Lord’s Day, getting married, being faithful, raising a small army of children to love Jesus, and building businesses, schools, and other public institutions in obedience to God’s Word for a Christendom 2.0. So I’ll be lifting some kind of dark German stout to that cause today. Cheers to Christendom 2.0, and cheers to the King.
There are of course many other books well worth your time, but here are my suggestions today, in no particular order, just how it tumbled out of my brain.
- Escape From Reason, Schaeffer
This is a short, blunt overview of western philosophy, tracing how we arrived at this place. If you want to understand the philosophical roots of postmodernism, I don’t know a better introduction.
- Mere Christianity, Lewis
This classic work is both apologetic, tracing Lewis’s own autobiographical struggle with theism and then on to an explicitly Christian theism, but it is also a fine introduction to Christian ethics. When you finish go on to Abolition of Man. You’ll need to read/re-read both of these multiple times.
- Institutes, Calvin
John Calvin is the Godfather of Reformation Theology. His monumental work established the longterm impact of Reformation theology on politics, economics, and culture. Read his commentaries too; they are consistently better than any modern ones.
- By This Standard, Bahnsen
It’s not enough to embrace Christianity philosophically or merely as a theoretical theology, it must be grounded in the concrete word of God (all of it). The continuing relevance of the Old Testament law — it’s “general equity” — is perhaps one of the greatest needs of our day.
- Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesteron
Chesterton was a Papist, but he was so happy and insightful, we’re making him an honorary Calvinist. He would not have approved while he was living, but he approves now. His grasp of the significance of Christianity goes deep and wide and can’t help but leave you with a grateful and defiant grin on your face.
- Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, N.D. Wilson
Apologetics, philosophy, and a playful punch to the gut: Chesterton meets Calvin and incarnates as a happy worldview college ninja dismantling modern ideological idols.
- Leave It To Psmith, Wodehouse
If you’re going to make a difference in the world you need to learn to laugh at the antics and tangles and foibles of people. It will also accustom you to the joy of using words to paint the sort of garish pictures God is painting every day. Read this, re-read it, and then move on to the rest of the Wodehouse collection. It’ll make your heart happy and everyone around you.
- Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan
Speaking of garish pictures, John Bunyan wrote the first part of this story while in prison for preaching the gospel. Despite the fact that this kind of allegory has fallen out of favor with all the cool kids, this should be required reading in all counseling courses. The real world is far more like a dangerous journey to the celestial city than a pseudo-scientific glossary of materialistic pathologies.
- “Reformed” is Not Enough, Douglas Wilson
No one seems to notice the scare quotes around the word “Reformed,” but they are there. I checked. In other words, this is not a departure from confessional Reformed theology at all. Rather, this is a pastoral deep dive into Reformed theology, and taking the covenant seriously. But beware, if you’re seen in public with this, there might be riots or at least concerned letters sent to your presbytery.
- Men and Marriage, Gilder
I believe Gilder was in the process of becoming a Christian as he wrote this book. So this is common sense on fire about the way God made the world, about the inherent cultural realities of sexuality, and our maleness and femaleness and potency of monogamous marriage. You can’t stop underlining.
- Christianity and Liberalism, Machen
Machen saw cultural liberalism rushing into the so-called “conservative” denominations in early 20th century, and he was duly defrocked for being a trouble maker. Now everyone sings his praises for being so prescient, but if you actually try to imitate Machen, you’ll get the same treatment. After this, read his Education, Christianity, and the State.
- Beowulf, Unknown
The Bible is the epic story about a world made for feasting interrupted and enslaved by the ravages of a monster, until our Hero came. And not only did our Hero kill the monster of our sin and restore feasting to our world, He also slayed the dragon and plundered his horde.
- Prince Caspian, Lewis
Of course you should read and re-read all the Chronicles of Narnia — and why wouldn’t you? But I specifically recommend this one because of our current cultural moment. Godless powers largely run our land, but there are many who remember “old Narnia” and we’re busy telling our children the old stories, in sure hope that Aslan is on the move. Close runner up for our cultural moment would be The Silver Chair.
- Planet Narnia, Ward
Speaking of Narnia, I had this book on my shelf for several years, but when Doug Wilson asked to borrow my copy at one point and I casually noted that I hadn’t actually read it yet, he gave me a kind but distraught look that made me repent on the spot. This is one part literary analysis, one part Lewis biography, and one part theology/devotional. You’ve never read a literary analysis that will warm your heart with worship.
- Politics of Guilt & Pity, Rushdoony
Rousas Rushdoony was one of those voracious Christian readers and thinkers who simply has to be reckoned with. If you want to think deeply about the whole victim-culture phenomenon, read this. We need more of this deeply theological analysis of culture and politics.
- The Puritan Hope, Murray
This is a heartwarming overview of Puritan eschatology, but it’s far more than that. Murray connects the dots between an optimistic outlook for the success of the gospel in history with practical piety, evangelistic zeal, and God’s blessing of true, gospel revival, particularly among the Jews. We need this.
- City of God, Augustine
Next to the Bible, this is arguably the foundational work of western Christian Civilization. It’s fat and thick and meandering, but there are many gems, and we simply cannot begin the work of building Mere Christendom 2.0 apart from standing on this giant’s shoulders.
- A House for My Name, Leithart
This book is a wonderful introduction to reading the Old Testament (and the whole Bible for that matter). No Christian leader can lead apart from being immersed in the stories, types, and motifs of Scripture.
- The Household and the War for the Cosmos, Wiley
It’s really hard to decide whether to put Wiley’s Man of the House here or The Household and the War for the Cosmos, but I think War for the Cosmos only slightly edges out MOTH for its bigger, more expansive worldview. The real gut punch is the connection between Ephesians 5 and Ephesians 6.
- The Principle of Protestantism, Schaff
Schaff argues forcefully here that Protestantism is the true and faithful continuation of the “catholic” and apostolic church. Sola fide and Sola Scriptura in particular but most all the Reformational distinctives can be found in the early church fathers. It was the papists who turned away from biblical orthodoxy in the later Middle Ages.
- The Conservative Mind, Kirk
I read this one a few years ago, and while it is something of a slog, it is not tedious, and I don’t think we can understand where we are today and what “conservatism” really is or has been apart from a work like this, carefully, methodically documenting key themes, convictions, trends, thinkers and players in the development of conservative thought.
- Idols for Destruction, Schlossberg
To be honest, this is an even more thorough deconstruction of modern idols than Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Trueman. Both are good and helpful, but if you could only take one into the tolerance gulags with you, I would recommend Schlossberg every day of the week.
- Lectures on Calvinism (The Stone Lectures), Kuyper
Abraham Kuyper sketches a vision for the Lordship of Christ over every sphere of life: family, church, state, science, arts, etc. Even where a few minor correctives are necessary, the vision is sound. We need a renewal of Kuyperian Calvinism in our day.
- Dabney on Fire, Dabney (ed. Garris)
Like Chesterton, Lewis, and Machen, Dabney was calling prophetic shots a hundred years in advance. When an older Christian brother does that sort of thing, we really should sit up and listen. If we want to be prophetic in our day, we need to study men like Dabney who saw the Leftist egalitarian crusade for what it was in 1890.