It’s that time of year again: school is out, the nights are getting longer, the days are getting warmer. It’s finally summer.
Summer brings so much excitement, so much joy, and for many, so much free time. One of the things that we have responsibility for, as Christians, is using that free time wisely. Reading is a great way to do just that. For many, myself included, there is not a natural proclivity to pick up a book and read. For many, myself included, reading comes slowly. But cultivating an interest and an ability is incredibly important for the life of the Christian; without reading, we miss so much knowledge, experience, and wisdom that has been shared and handed down. Some of us are forced to learn how to read in bulk (seminary is kicking my butt right now); for others, the step has to be willingly taken.
So this is my encouragement to you: use your free time wisely this summer by reading! Invest an hour or so a day. Instead of just listening to music while you’re at the pool, bring a book with you! And if I may, I would love to suggest one of the following. These books have been incredibly helpful to me and I would encourage you to check them out and see if they may be as helpful for you.
Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis (1952)
Simply put, this is one of the most important books in the history of Christian literature. In it, C.S. Lewis, a theological and philosophical giant, defends Christianity as true. He makes his case in the first several chapters, arguing first for the existence of God by appealing to the “moral law” of humans. The second half of the book is concerned with the Christian life and Christian behavior. If you haven’t read this book yet, let it be the next one you read. Better yet – go ahead and read as much Lewis as you can.
The Mortification of Sin, John Owen (1656)
I started you off with one of the sexiest books on the list; I followed it up with the least sexy book on the list. There is nothing fluffy in Mortification. Owen was a Puritan; he wasn’t aiming for fluff. Nor was he aiming for entertainment. In this book, John Owen aims for the heart – and he hits the bull’s eye. I read this book last summer, and it has been one of the most helpful, important, and convicting books I’ve read to date. It’s less than 100 pages, but give it a few good weeks. It’s well worth your time.
Desiring God, John Piper (1986)
John Piper has been as helpful to me, if not more so, than any other theologian. I was introduced to him when I read this book in the summer of 2012. Not only his books, but his sermons, his daily “Ask Pastor John” podcast, and several other resources – almost all of which (including this book) are available for free on desiringgod.org – are Gospel-centered, intentional, thoughtful, and incredibly helpful. Piper founds this book upon the belief that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” and he attempts to show us how that truth manifests itself in various aspects of life.
Written in the midst of World War II and the world of Nazism, Fromm, a German-born psychologist, explores the history of individual freedom. I read this book just a few months ago, but it has had a profound impact on the way I see culture, humanity, the global Church, and the local church. Fromm was not a believer, but, as we affirm that all truth is God’s truth, this book can be incredibly helpful to those of us who are believers. It will shock you and, at times, seriously offend you. It will cause you to question and doubt. But if it has the same affect on you that it had on me, it will push you towards a more selfless commitment to the Lord and to your local church and it will help you more passionately reject consumerism and the lie of autonomous or individual authority.
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
Crime and Punishment is one of the books that I’m most proud of having read. Without a doubt, it took me longer to finish than any other book I’ve ever not quit on! It’s dense and it’s complicated. It’s deep and it touches almost every area of human life and human emotion. It’s no exaggeration to say that Dostoyevsky was a true genius. He displays that irrefutably in what must be at least one of his best novels (I haven’t read any of his other works…yet!).
Miracles, C.S. Lewis (1947)
Miracles is another one of Lewis’s great works. I read this book this past November, and I was floored by his treatment of naturalism vs. supernaturalism. He destroys any supposed foundation for the naturalistic worldview, easily explaining how it doubles back on itself, removing its own foundation and leaving itself with no ground to stand upon. This book isn’t long, but you might want to take your time with it. Chew on it and make sure you understand each section well before moving on to the next.
The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, Jonathan Leeman (2010)
Like The Mortification of Sin, this book doesn’t sound enticing, and it’s content matter is not all that popular. Jonathan Leeman, one of the chief authors for 9 Marks, an ecclesial organization based out of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, sheds meaningful light on the topics of church membership and church discipline. I read this book in the summer of 2013 and it crushed my individualistic, selfish understanding of what the local church is and what it does, and it pushed me towards not only a greater understanding of the local church, but greater love for and involvement in the church as well.
Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin (1961)
One can’t describe Griffin’s courage or the impact of his actions and life in a paragraph. Not only was I blown away by his actions and his diary of them, which is this book, but I was convicted and moved by his interactions in the Deep South in the 1960s. I firmly believe that we are all inherently racist – we are all inherently self-serving and self-serving people are, by definition, racist. When I read this book in the summer of 2013, I was convicted as I was faced with this truth, and it has led me to pursue continued growth ever since.
Sex, Economy, Community, and Freedom, Wendell Berry (1993)
This collection of essays by Wendell Berry was assigned reading for a Christian ethics class in which I am currently enrolled. I just finished reading it, and, like every good book should, it caused me to search myself and to change a course of action as a result. Berry provides a profound perspective on life and will doubtless challenge you with this short book if you take the time to read it.
Crazy Love, Francis Chan (2010)
Every year it seems that there is an “it” book in Christian culture. From 2010-12, this was that “it” book. I read it in the spring of 2011, and it has stayed with me. Francis’s ministry in general has stayed with me. In a convicting and prophetic tone, Chan calls us to a deeper understanding of the wonderful love of God and a deeper devotion to that loving God. In particular, his “profile of the lukewarm” is chilling, even haunting, but encouraging. Probably no singular book has been used to change me in the same way Crazy Love has, and if you haven’t read it, I strongly encourage you to take some time and do so this summer!