15 January 2017

fifty books

On the way to church today, I was talking with my kids today about simplification. I made the whimsical claim that someday, I intended to live in a small cabin with no television, a stockpile of art supplies, and 50 books. My daughter Grace quickly replied, "you could never survive with only 50 books." Recognizing my folly, I said, "alright, 5000."

Upon sharing this story, my good friend Mark, a missionary who knows the realities of trimming the excess, challenged me to write a blog post sharing my list of 50 books. I thought it was a wonderful idea and I accepted his challenge. Before sharing my list, I want to share a few relevant details about my reading life as well as a few guiding principles that I used when constructing my list.

First, the relevant details. I am an avid reader. My current library has somewhere between 4000 and 5000 books and occupies one level of our home. I typically read 100 or more books each year. Last year was light at 93, whereas 2015 was more productive at 144. So even on the light end, with only 50 books, most would be read twice.

Second, to the guiding principles. As I was walking through my library, I tried to keep a few things in mind. I wanted books that had staying power, in other words, that I would want to read them repeatedly, year after year. The intention in coming up with only 50 is that these would be THE 50 and that I couldn't exchange them out. I would be stuck with them. Also, as long as they were available in a single volume, that would count for me as a book. Some of you may think that is cheating, but I don't care: my list, my rules. I also wanted sufficient variety to keep myself interested. If I chose 50 books that all dealt with systematic theology, I would probably get bored quickly. In other words, I wanted a 50 book library that contained a variety I would want to read again and again.

So, without further ado, here are my 50.



 50. Letters of John Newton--Newton is best known for writing the hymn "Amazing Grace," but his amazing words didn't stop there. This book contains over 400 pages of encouraging correspondence from Newton, which is worth savoring again and again. (nonfiction, correspondence) 
49. Anatomy of the Soul--I wasn't sure I liked this book the first time I read it, but on each of the subsequent half-dozen times, I have liked it more and more. Written by Curt Thompson, who has since become a friend of mine, it explores the link between spirituality and interpersonal neurobiology. (nonfiction, science, relationships)
48. Beauty:The Invisible Embrace--John O'Donohue was an unmatched priest and poet. His ability to make words dance was phenomenal in all of his books that I have read and this one, on the subject of beauty, was no different. (nonfiction, poetic)
47. All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir--Brennan Manning is another one of those authors who I wasn't quite sure what to do with when I first read him. His view of grace is monumentally large and leaves his readers asking, "can this be true." All is Grace is a autobiographical memoir of his life.  (nonfiction, memoir)
46. Transforming Grace--I could have easily exchanged most of Jerry Bridges books for Transforming Grace. The majority are humble and wise and have a big picture of the gospel, but this one is as good as any. (nonfiction)  
45. Abba's Child--This is the second book on my list from Brennan Manning. I have read all of his books, some multiple times, and this is my favorite. In it, Manning writes about being accepted by God in spite of our flaws. (nonfiction)
44. Practice Resurrection--Eugene Peterson, one of my current favorite authors, wrote a wonderful 5 volume series on "spiritual theology." This book, the fifth volume, explores character formation especially through the lens of Paul's letter to the Ephesians. (nonfiction, spiritual theology)
43. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places--This book is the first book in Peterson's 5 volume spiritual theology series and helps to establish the idea of a spiritual theology and of living with God in view in all that we do.  (nonfiction, spiritual theology)
42. Becoming a True Spiritual Community--Those who know me know that I am huge fan of Larry Crabb. His writings have probably had as significant an impact upon my thinking as any. For a time, when people would ask me what my favorite Larry Crabb book was, I would tell them this one, which explores what church could truly be. (nonfiction, relationships, church)
41. Total Truth--Nancy Pearcey, a former student of Francis Schaeffer, wrote this exceptional book on the concept of truth from a decidedly Schaefferian perspective. It is a great primer on worldview engagement. (nonfiction, worldview, apologetics)
40. The Cost of Discipleship--I have only read a few of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's books, but this is one of my favorites. In this book is where I first encountered his phrase, "besides Jesus, nothing has significance. He alone matters." (nonfiction)
39. Desiring God--This book by John Piper was deeply influential upon me about seven years ago and I have picked it up a few times since then. Until John Piper comes out with a book of poetry, this will be my favorite from him.  (nonfiction)
38. Not the Way Its Supposed to Be--As soon as I read it, this book from Neal Plantinga found its way on to my "must read" list of books. It explores the concept of fallen creation and restoration of shalom.  (nonfiction, worldview)
37. Everybody's Normal Until You Get to Know Them--After I read this book by John Ortberg, I started buying used copies to give away. At one point, I think I owned 5 or 6 copies. Ortberg explores the concept of relational connection and boundary in this book.  (nonfiction, relationships)
36. World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down--I first encountered Christian McEwen in a writing class I took this summer and was immediately drawn to her poetic style. I ordered the book and it became a fast favorite, one I am sure to read again. (nonfiction, poetic)
35. The Chronicles of Narnia--This is the first place where I may be accused of cheating. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis are actually 7 books, but I have a single volume edition in my basement, thus one book.  (fiction)
34. This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems--I've actually not read this book, so perhaps you are wondering why I have it on my list. It is a book of poetry by Wendell Berry, who is one of my favorite authors. I am including it because I want some poetry on my list. (poetry)
33. The Practice of the Presence of God--This is a short little volume, probably not even 100 pages, but it is full of wisdom and insight about growing in living in God's presence. It was written by Brother Lawrence several hundred years ago. (nonfiction)
32. Mere Christianity--The basics of the Christian faith written in a thoughtful volume by the incomparable CS Lewis. I've probably read this 4 or 5 times and will no doubt do so again. (nonfiction, worldview)
31. The Prodigal God--I love a lot of books by Tim Keller and, frankly, this one is rather short and specialized, but I like it and I read it repeatedly. (nonfiction)
30. Confessions--The spiritual autobiography of St Augustine reveals a man's heart as well as anything I've ever read. When I first read it as a college freshman, I had no idea what a gem I held in my hands. (nonfiction, memoir)
29. Pilgrim's Progress--John Bunyan wrote this spiritual allegory while he was jailed for sharing the gospel. There is a reason this one of the most widely read books in history.  (fiction)
28. Renewing the Christian Mind--This book is an anthology of different works written by Dallas Willard covering a wide variety of topics. Although not his most well-known book, it provides substantial depth and breadth about Willard's areas of interest. (nonfiction, worldview)
27. The Pastor: A Memoir--This is the third book on my list from Eugene Peterson. It is my favorite book he has written as he explores themes related to faith throughout his life. (nonfiction, memoir)
26. Living in Christ's Presence--This book is a typed transcript of the last conference Dallas Willard (with John Ortberg) did before his death. I've read the book once and listened to the audio series probably 18 times at this point and I just keep listening. I can't get enough of it. (nonfiction, worldview)
25. Love Does--My friend Mark (the one who suggested I put together this list) first recommended Bob Goff's book to me a couple of years ago. Goff weaved together several principles for living with his whimsical life. (nonfiction, memoir)
24. Life Together--I mentioned earlier that I enjoy reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Although quite brief, Life Together is assuredly my favorite from him. Dallas Willard, in one of the books mentioned above, said something to the effect of, "how an egghead like Bonhoeffer came up with such an amazing book, I'll never understand." Anyone interested in church life should read this book. (nonfiction, church)
23. Conformed to His Image--This book by Ken Boa was assigned during the year I completed the Centurion Program through the Colson Center. We spent the entire year on this book, which deals with spiritual and character formation. One of the Centurions suggested this book might be inspired. I wouldn't go that far, but it is exceptional.  (nonfiction, spiritual formation)
18-22. Francis Schaeffer: Complete Works (5 volume)--This is another one of those that might be considered cheating. Crossway released a five-volume set that contained the complete works of Francis Schaeffer, who is a spiritual hero of mine. I spent one summer a few years ago reading through these five volumes, which are actually 30 some books, I think.  (nonfiction, worldview, apologetics)
17. Commentary on Galatians--You may be wondering why I would want to bring a commentary as one of my 50 books, but let me tell you, Luther's words here are pastoral, accessible, and devotional. I would strongly recommend it.  (nonfiction)
16. A Different Kind of Happiness--I had the opportunity to be a reviewer for this book before it went to publication. I am a fan of nearly everything Larry Crabb has written, but this book is his latest and best captures his current thinking on relational other-centeredness. (nonfiction, relationships) 
9-15. Harry Potter--I have read the 7 volumes of the Harry Potter series probably five times. It is a modern classic on the order of Lord of the Rings. Although the final book (the Deathly Hallows) is my favorite, I would want all 7 books.  (fiction)
8. Valley of Vision--This is a collection of puritan prayers and one of the best devotionals that I have ever read.  I can, and do, read it again and again. (nonfiction, prayer, poetic) 
7. 66 Love Letters--In this book, Larry Crabb explores each of the 66 books of the Bible in conversational style with God. It is a wonderful volume of relational theology. The Story that Everyone Needs to Hear, the Bible in 66 paragraphs, alone is worth the price of the book. (nonfiction, relationships)
6. The Great Divorce--This is one of CS Lewis's fictional books, and my favorite. In it, Lewis imagines a bus trip from hell/purgatory to heaven. After seeing a live performance of much of the book, it moved from a book I enjoyed to one of my favorites. (fiction, relationships)
2-5. The Wingfeather Saga--In these four books, Andrew Peterson follows the story of three children, Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby.  A wonderful epic tale with gospel themes, this series has become a fast favorite. I read through it twice in 2016 and we are listening to it now as a family.  (fiction)
1. Bible--This is the only book I read every day and have read through every year for several years. Not surprisingly, this would be the only must have for me, preferably an ESV Legacy by Crossway. (nonfiction, church, relationships)

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