10 Books You Should Read in 2009

3 Jan

Reading is a powerful gift from God, both to those who are Christians and those who aren’t.

I think most of the people who read this site are avid readers, but sometimes being an avid reader is not enough. When I became a Christian I read like crazy, but most of the books I read had a lot of fluff and not much meat. We need to know the books we read are worth reading.

Ever since I started reading better books, I’ve appreciated other Christians recommending books for my attention. This is what I plan to do here, with my 10 Books You Should Read in 2009.

1. The Bible: Holy Spirit

Obvious but an essential number one spot. If you’re a Christian, you need to make sure that you plan what sections of scripture you are going to read and actually study them. (If you struggle with Bible study, give me a shout in the comments and I’ll post how I go about it for your benefit, as well as some helpful resources). If you’re not a Christian, this is where all Christian ideas come from so it’s the best place to start. Start with a Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) so you can find out about Jesus and maybe discuss it with a Christian friend. (Remember you don’t have to fork out for a Bible, you can always read it online. The most common reliable translations are the NIV and the ESV. Avoid paraphrases like the Message. Whilst they have some value, you won’t be reading the actually words of Scripture).

2. The Reason for God: Tim Keller

It’s often a bad idea to recommend books you haven’t read, but I’ve heard a lot of the content for this book online. This book is aimed at non-Christians (but Christians may find it rewarding too). I’ve found few books for non-Christians have been heartfelt, convincing and not shirking the difficult questions. I’m told this book is the answer to those problems. If you’re going to read a book looking into Christianity, you can’t really go wrong with Tim Killer.

3. Institutes of the Christian Religion: John Calvin

It’s his 500th birthday, come one give him a break! John Calvin was one of the most cross-centred theologians and despite being demonised by half of the Christian world is an amazingly influential and Godly man. Just read it. (For a reading schedule and an online translation)

4. Shadow of the Almighty: Elisabeth Elliot

The value of a biography for a Christian is immense.  It is important not only to find out truths but see them lived out. This book is the diary of murdered missionary John Elliot, tracing his life all the way through University right onto the mission field. It is an inspiration, especially if you’re still at Uni. (My review)

5. Pilgrim’s Progress: John Bunyan

Christian missionaries first translate the Bible and then translate Pilgrim’s Progress, it’s that good. It’s a novel, so is much easier to read than some of the doctrinal books, and it is a really challenging allegory of the Christian life. You will see yourself in Christian and Christiana and be challenged to live in a way that is glorifying to God. You can access it online here.

6. Knowing God: J.I. Packer

This is one of the best introductions to theology I’ve ever read. It will really warm your heart to the character of God, in many areas where you wouldn’t necessary expect to. The jealousy of God is something that was shown to be a real blessing to me through this book. If you haven’t read it I’d advise you do. However don’t bother with the study guide, it doesn’t add any value.

7. Death by Love: Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breashears

The slot for “cross book” has changed 3 times in my draft of this post. After having just read through Death by Love I can confirm that this is my favourite pastoral book on the cross at the moment. Mark Driscoll takes real people (non-Christian and Christian) that he’s had counselling sessions with and uses various doctrines of the cross to write a letter to their specific need. It is brilliant. I was worried that with the structure of this book it might undermine the centrality of substitution and justification; but none of the letters (as far as I remember) don’t go back to these core truths. Moreover at the end of each section Breshears answers some theological questions that arise. This is an easy read, very through and very practical. Christian or non-Christian, familiar with these doctrines or not, I think this is definitely a book you should read. A review will be forthcoming.

8. Bruised Reed: Richard Sibbes

This book had an incredible effect on my life. It is a warm pious book aimed particularly at those who are lacking assurance. Though it is an old book, the Puritan Paperback version has updated the language making this an easy book to read. Short and oh so sweet I would heartily advise you to read it. (My review)

9. God’s Big Picture: Vaughan Roberts

The entire Bible points us to Christ. If that idea is new to you, read this book.With helpful activies, it gives a good overall scope to the Bible and shows how it is fulfilled in Christ. I’ve heard of friends giving this to non-Christians, and if you are a non-Christian wanting to go further into scripture than the Gospels this will be an immense help in seemingly weird books (like Leviticus).

10. Christ-centered Preaching: Bryan Chapell

This is really one for preachers. Again one I haven’t read, but I have listened to the incredible lectures on Biblical Training. If you are going to preach this year make sure that you have either read this book or listened to the lectures. It features good practical approaches to preaching, as well as explaining how to make Christ the centre of all your sermons.

Special Mentions:

If you are looking for a commentary for a book on the Bible, buy Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey and D.A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey so you know exactly what your getting. The lists at Denver, Westminster, Desiring God and BestCommentaries are helpful too, but not as thorough as the books.

Over to You

So what about you? What books do you think I must read in 2009? (Even if you’re not a Christian I’d be interested to hear your suggestions)

(Picture “The Library by Here’s Kate under the Creative Commons Licence)

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14 Responses to “10 Books You Should Read in 2009”

  1. Richard January 3, 2009 at 8:25 pm #

    High up upon my list would be Mark Futato’s Interpreting the Psalms and keep a look out for his new commentary on the Psalms which will be out in 2009.

  2. ultimateparadox January 4, 2009 at 1:20 am #

    Hi Tim,

    Having had this conversation a couple of days ago, I’ve given it a fair bit of thought. My best (not inspired) books of 2008 were:

    The Reason for God by Tim Keller
    Communion with the Triune God (Kapic and Taylor Edition) by John Owen
    Humility: True Greatness by C J Mahaney
    The Larger Catechism by Martin Luther
    A Clear and Present Word by Mark D. Thompson.

    May post about this sometime soon.


  3. Eshu January 4, 2009 at 10:45 am #


    Excuse my tangent (again), but how do you tell if a book is inspired?

  4. ultimateparadox January 4, 2009 at 7:24 pm #


    I should tell you that I have severe issues with brevity, because I like to be comprehensive and answer any possible objections I can imagine when I present a position. It’s one of my New Year’s Resolutions to learn to be better at communicating breifly. To this end, I’m going to try to answer very specifically the question you asked. If you want a point clarified or substantiated, I’m happy to answer other specific questions. Hopefully this’ll be more efficient for both of us.

    To define terms and such, when I say a book is inspired, I mean that its writing was overseen by the Holy Spirit in such a way that it contains everything which he wished it to contain and nothing that it didn’t – that it puts forward precisely the message the Holy Spirit intends it to, to the extent that you could say that what the document says, the Holy Spirit also says. I consider the 39 Documents which make the protestant Old Testament and the 27 documents which make up the New Testament to be inspired.

    I believe the 39 documents of a protestant Old Testament are inspired because I think Jesus did so, and his opinion is the last authority as far as Christians are concerned because he is the full and final revelation of God, being himself divine. The New Testament consistently witnesses to Jesus’ belief in the inspiration of the Old Testament. Even if you don’t believe the NT is inspired, the fact that all the 1st century documentary evidence of Jesus’ ministry and the beliefs of the Christian movement, the fact that this was a conventional position in the day and any other position would have been certain to have drawn remark, and the fact that no such remark seems to exist anywhere render it very unlikely in my mind that he could have held any other position. It isn’t simply the testimony of one writer or (if you like historical criticism) of one layer of the tradition, but is the concerted witness of several writers at every level of the first century tradition.

    As for the NT itself, I believe that Jesus comissioned a group of people called the apostles (which basically means “envoys”) to bring his teaching to the whole world. As Jesus’ envoys, they carry his authority. I believe that the New Testament documents have the approval of the Apostles.

    Underlying all this is a belief that God speaks and that his purpose in creating the world is to reveal himself to mankind. Unlike any other God, the Christian God did not exist in dumb silence before the world existed – he has always lived in the perfect, joyful, loving fellowship that exists between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God *is* love, says the apostle John in 1 John 4:8. Unlike other Gods, it’s just part of the way he is for the God of the Bible to exist in relationships – as such I believe it is in his nature to desire a relationship with and a role in his creation. This belief renders the existence of inspired documents inherantly probable to me.

    What is more, the purpose of inspired documents is to act as part of the process by which God saves us from the everlasting death due for our sins. Part of this process is the Spirit’s work in bringing people to recognise the inspired documents in order to put their lifesaving teaching into action. The Bible teaches that those who trust in Christ will recognise his voice. That is why it carries particular weight for me that the Jews have always accepted the 39 books in a protestant Old Testament and to this day have rejected the apocrypha, and that Christians have from the earliest times accepted the four Gospels, Acts, the thirteen letters of Paul, 1 Peter and 1 John. The other books appear initially only to have been known to a relatively small number, being either very short (such as 2 or 3 John) or addressed to a specific minority group. Other documents (such as the Shepherd of Hermas or the Epistle of Barnabas) were only ever considered inspired by small numbers. Since I believe the Holy Spirit guides the people of God, and his aim is to communicate to them through the word, it seems improbable to me that he would lead us to embrace the wrong documents and discard the right ones.

    I realise that there are lots of places where this is incompletely argued – I am trying to strike a balance with brevity. Hopefully, the idea in a nutshell, centred around Jesus as the only way to know God and the mind of God, as well as the saving work of God in bringing non-believers to trust in Christ through his word, has come through.


  5. Richard January 5, 2009 at 6:42 pm #

    Eshu, I would go along way with Ed on this but I would want to (a) draw a distinction between inspiration and canonicity, and (b) note that I would allow for a wider canon than the MT allows, i.e. Jesus and the apostles used and quotes the LXX and to use the Jewish canon decided at the “council” of Jamania in AD90 seems somewhat arbitrary in my estimation.

  6. Tim Wilson January 6, 2009 at 5:30 pm #

    Wow I should leave you guys to these discussions more. Interesting stuff :)

  7. Eshu January 8, 2009 at 11:13 pm #

    Hi Ed,
    “issues with brevity” – hehe, I like that!

    Yes, by inspired I meant more broadly, “Influence by one or more supernatural beings”.

    Erm, none of this show, or even suggests that the Bible is inspired (which wasn’t quite what I asked, but let’s run with it for now). Much of what you’ve said is analogous to, “I believe X which makes it seem probable the Bible was inspired.”, “I believe Y…”.

    If I said, “I believe the moon is made of cheese, therefore it is probable there’s a very large cow out there somewhere.”, would that lend any credence to the suggestion of the existence of a very large cow? It’s easy to uncritically accept such flawed arguments when you already happen to believe what they seek to prove.

    Even if you don’t believe the NT is inspired, the fact that all the 1st century documentary evidence of Jesus’ ministry and the beliefs of the Christian movement, the fact that this was a conventional position in the day and any other position would have been certain to have drawn remark, and the fact that no such remark seems to exist anywhere render it very unlikely in my mind that he could have held any other position.

    Ah, now we may be getting somewhere. I don’t think it’s really fair to use quotes from the Bible to show that Jesus thought the Bible was inspired, that seems quite circular. If the Bible wasn’t inspired then why believe what it says about itself?

    You might as well say, “Well obviously God exists, because the Bible says he does, and since the Bible is the word of God and the Bible also says God never lies, then it must be true.”

    But if you have external contemporary sources that quote Jesus, let’s hear them. They would lend support to your belief that Jesus thought the OT was inspired.

    But even then we’re still falling into the “Some guy said it, I believe it, that settles it” line of reasoning.

    Actually, rather than a narrow discussion of what you believe about the Bible, I was hoping for a general objective method by which we may tell if a book (any book) is inspired by supernatural influence. If we could do that, then perhaps you could show why some alleged holy books are not in fact inspired by supernatural influence, whereas another is?

    Obviously if you say, “An inspired book must have a central character whose name begins with a J”, then I’ll be less than impressed! :-)

    (hmm, this “issue with brevity” may be catching!)

    cheers guys!

  8. ultimateparadox January 9, 2009 at 5:48 pm #

    Hi Eshu,

    Ok, This tests brevity to breaking point. Sometimes big questions, particularly if they englobe a collection of other questions, simply don’t have short or simple answers, not without being trite or facile. I really would like to respond, but I have exams all next week, and will be in Lille (I live in Brussels at the moment) the weekend after next week. I’ve sketched a draft answer, and I’d really hope to get it out by Monday 19th. Until then, I hope you’ll excuse the delay and not lose interest in the conversation.


  9. Richard January 9, 2009 at 6:36 pm #

    Eshu, I would suggest a read of How Can The Bible Be Authoritative? by N. T. Wright.

  10. Eshu January 9, 2009 at 6:44 pm #

    I’m happy to wait. Don’t ruin your study over it, mate. It’s only philosophy!

    Thanks, I’ll check that one out this weekend.

    Hope you all have a relaxing one.

  11. Demian Farnworth January 23, 2009 at 6:05 pm #

    Beautiful list. You can’t go wrong if you did this.

    I’ve actually got “Read all Tim Keller” as a to do for 2009. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Tim Wilson January 24, 2009 at 8:00 am #

    Demian, sounds a good aim. Isn’t it a shame that Keller has written so little up to now? He has so much insight, it needs to be captured by someone!

  13. Paul from Canada February 5, 2009 at 12:57 am #

    It’s a good list, but I’m hoping some of the top ten must read Christian books for 2009 are going to be released in 2009; therefore we don’t yet know their titles!

  14. Tim Wilson February 5, 2009 at 7:30 am #

    Yup very true! Thanks for coming Paul

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