Recently, I took up the challenge of considering the top five books that I would recommend for new, and renewed, followers of Jesus. If you’ve recently begun to follow Jesus, or are coming back to him, where do you start? What are the best books to get you “up-and-running” and heading in a solid, well-rounded direction? Here are my suggestions.
ESV Study Bible
I’m not counting this among my top five, but this particular bible is a must-have. Put simply, the ESV Study Bible is the best study bible currently available. You can also access it online and with apps on your phone. It has commentary from the best scholarship of our day, massive cross-referencing, extensive introductions to every book of the Bible and over 50 articles on important topics in theology and biblical teaching. If you’re new to the Bible it can be hard to understand how everything fits together, let alone grasp new terms and tackle difficult passages. You need help. That’s where a study bible comes in. I wish this was around when I first began to follow Jesus.
#1 The Walk, by Stephen Smallman
This is a super accessible and important book for those just starting out or looking to start afresh. Walking through books of the bible (e.g. Gospel of Mark, Romans, Acts and more), Smallman covers the basics. In Part I he walks through, “What is a disciple?”, “Do I have to go to church?” and “Learning to Read the Bible and Pray”. In Part II he unpacks the gospel and its implications in our every day lives. Along the way he introduces important theological terms and influential thinkers throughout church history, all through a solidly gospel-grounded framework.
#2 A Reason for God, by Tim Keller
This is the best modern day apologetic for the general populace, much like how CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity and GK Chesterton’s Everlasting Man served in their day. This is an important read for new followers of Jesus because Keller addresses many of the big questions you likely have and don’t know how to answer, such as “How could a good God allow suffering?” or “How can a loving God send people to hell?” In the second half, Keller builds a compelling argument for God’s existence by examining an array of evidences or, as he calls them, “clues”.
#3 A Praying Life, Paul Miller
As you begin to follow Jesus, you’ll likely experience questions and frustrations when it comes to prayer (i.e. talking to God). What is prayer? Why is it so hard? Is this normal? Do I have to do this? Should I pray even when I don’t feel like it? Given the essential nature of prayer to your ongoing relationship with Jesus, this should go in the top five. Miller has written the best book on prayer currently available – humble, helpful and hopeful. More often than not, books on prayer leave you feeling guilty for not praying more. Not this one. You’ll actually want to pray after you’ve read it.
#4 God’s Big Picture, by Vaughan Roberts
In this book, Roberts, traces the story-line of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I know this may not immediately sound compelling. However, understanding the overall flow of the Bible will grow your understanding of God’s unfolding story and enrich your reading of the Bible. Even more, you will come to better grasp your place within God’s story today. You should read this book with a friend or two because it’s mind-blowing – and you want your mind to be blown with others. And, its super short.
#5 You Can Change, by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
This book is important because it will introduce you to dynamics of personal change. Jesus not only came to forgive us (justification) but to make us new people (sanctification). So, what does that process look like? Do people have problems like me? How do I go about changing? What’s my role and what’s God’s role? Why do certain sins seem to have such a hold on me? This book addresses these and many more by pointing us back to the biblical truths that God is good, great, gracious and glorious – and how Jesus is the supreme demonstration of each. While there are a number of solid books available that deal with this topic, this is the most accessible. By the time you’re done working through it, you’ll think, “I can change”. You’ll get the most out of this book, and your personal change project, if you work through it with others.
What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert Gilbert helpfully and articulately clarifies the gospel – what it is and isn’t – and why it matters.
Prodigal God, Tim Keller
Using the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), Keller insightfully demonstrates how we can run from God by being really bad (like the younger brother) and by being really good (like the elder brother).
Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller
Keller devotes this book to unpacking the topic of idolatry, particularly when it comes to money, sex and power (three of the biggest idols in our culture). Even better, he walks through how Jesus supplants these, and other, idols in our life.
Living the Cross-Centered Life, CJ Mahaney
Mahaney’s big idea in this book is how to keep the gospel the main thing in our life and how subjectivism, legalism and condemnation all threaten our experience of God’s grace.