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100 best Christian books: 11-50

03 October 2014

The countdown continues . . .

11. Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot

“Four Quartets draws into itself the whole Christian mystical tradition, from The Cloud of Unknowing onwards, and it is unrelenting in what is required of us in the way of self-knowledge.” Richard Harries


12. Apologia Pro Vita Sua by John Henry Newman

“This (with Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain) is one of the two greatest spiritual autobiographies in the English language. Newman’s work is a sublime piece of English prose, sometimes so touching as to make you howl.” John Pridmore 


13. Church Dogmatics, 31 volumes by Karl Barth

“He reaches the absolute heights of theology and expression. As you read The Doctrine of Reconciliation you can hear him preaching it. Five minutes with Barth and your faith is increased.” Toby Hole 


14. The Dark Night of the Soul by St John of the Cross

“This classic is written from experience; so we who find ourselves in darkness can often find words of wisdom to address our own experience.” Anne Spalding 


15. Centuries of Meditations by Thomas Traherne

“Essential reading. This classic of spirituality from the 17th century, discovered at the turn of the 20th, inspired such writers as C. S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Sayers, and Annie Dillard. Lewis called it ‘almost the most beautiful book written in the English language’.” Denise Inge 


16. Paradise Lost by John Milton

“A riveting account of the creation and the Fall, culminating in an almost cinematographic summary of biblical history. . . Its stately diction and wealth of classical and scriptural allusion do not make it easy reading for modern audiences, but it is remarkable and vivid narrative.” Bridget Nichols 


17. Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works by Gerard Manley Hopkins

“His prosody, imagery, and theological innovation that think and shift around in metaphors and rhythm makes for a breathless dive into the deep.” Mark Oakley 


18. The Cloud of Unknowing Anon

“I read [The Cloud of Unknowing and Revelations of Divine Love] over and over again because of their extraordinary language and mystic ‘purpose’.” Ronald Blythe 


19. Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr

“Taking a typological approach, this still topical study explores how Christian truth claims can accommodate diversity, and modernity, without colluding with relativism or reductionism.” John Saxbee 


20. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

“A graceful reaffirmation of the intrinsic reasonableness of faith, which continues to engage and enthral. Based on a series of BBC wartime talks, this book shows Lewis’s apologetic skills at their best.” Alister McGrath


21. Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede

“Bede was a monk and a genius. This not only tells us . . . about a period that we would otherwise struggle to understand, but also encourages anyone who wants to combine a life of faith with the life of the mind.” William Whyte 


22. Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“His call to Christians to be more humble, his suspicion of those who can think theologically but not live as Christians, and his passion ‘to not just bandage victims under the wheel but put a spoke in the wheel itself’ are as timely for us all as ever.” Mark Oakley


23. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Just as Schubert with his ‘Unfinished Symphony’ produced a perfect work of art, so Dostoevsky, with this truncated torso, wrote the best Christian novel ever, one which reads the reader like the word of God itself.” John Arnold 


24. The Spiritual Exercises by St Ignatius of Loyola

“A short, sinewy book, which demands not to be read but to be put into practice. Ignatius’s insight is rigorous discipline and a creative imagination which can work together in prayer to profound effect.” Alec Ryrie


25. Interior Castle by St Teresa of Avila

“A classic of spiritual writing, which can still guide those seeking to enrich their inner life.” Jenny Monds 


26. The Philokalia Anon

A collection of texts written between the fourth and 15th centuries by spiritual masters of the Orthodox Christian tradition. “An inexhaustible treasury of spiritual wisdom. . . At its heart are very powerful and simple insights into the quest for God in the Eastern tradition. Nick Papadopulos 


27. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis 

“The Narnia stories are not allegorical. Rather, they reflect the truth at the heart of things, ‘the deeper magic from before the dawn of time’, that sacrificial love atones, by whatever name we give to those who love like that.” John Pridmore 


28. The Holy Sonnets by John Donne

“I know that Donne’s brain can sometimes go to his head, but The Holy Sonnets are beautiful, compelling, restless hymns from a riddle of a man to a God who can see exactly whom he’s dealing with.” Mark Oakley 


29. The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

“It is psychologically acute and insightful, especially about how human relationships. . . Its most important message is that only God can makes real and lasting pleasures.” Gwen Adshead 


30. Waiting for God by Simone Weil

“Simone Weil teaches us ‘to face the terror of God’s reality and the awful burden of his love’. So long as the Church remains hungry for power, so long we shall need the testimony of this wraith of a woman.” John Pridmore 


31. Collected Poems by R. S. Thomas

“I’m not sure I would have survived ordained life so far without the poems of R. S. Thomas. You can never paraphrase a poem, nor faith in God. Thomas’s God, like an enormous owl that brushes him with his wing in the dark, is not to be played with.” Mark Oakley 


32. Moral Man and Immoral Society by Reinhold Niebuhr

“I took to heart the basic thesis of the book: that while we might learn to be unselfish in our individual lives, confronting the selfishness of the groups to which we belong . . . was infinitely more difficult. In these cases, power had to be met with power. I have been a Niebuhrian Christian realist ever since.” Alan Billings 


33. A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutiérrez

“Gutiérrez reconsiders the great themes of Christian faith — especially salvation — and an approach to the Bible, from the perspective of the poor and the oppressed.” David Atkinson 


34. In Memory of Her by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza 

“This remains a key text, combining combining rigorous scholarship with controlled polemic in challenging patriarchal attitudes and structures.” John Saxbee


35. Christianity and Social Order by William Temple 

“Crisis in the welfare state, education, family life, work and unemployment, health, inequalities, foodbanks — and what should churches do about it? Temple addresses these questions not now, but in 1942. His book remains a great classic of Christian social thought and practice.” John Atherton


36. Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard

“Kierkegaard opposed institutional religion and underlined the subjectivity of truth, and that authentic Christianity is the individual’s ‘leap of faith’ in response to God. Fear and Trembling uses the paradox in the story of Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac to illustrate how truth is perceived through anguished struggle, and authentic decision.” David Atkinson


37. The Proslogion by St Anselm of Canterbury

“In The Proslogion, St Anselm set out the ‘ontological argument’ for God’s existence. It has vexed, teased, and delighted philosophers of religion ever since, and had a particular influence on Karl Barth.” Peter Forster


38. Orthodoxy by G. K Chesterton

“Chesterton piles piercing paradox on piercing paradox, not as a firework display, but to serve his entirely serious argument that Christian orthodoxy makes sense — just as fairy tales do.” John Pridmore


39. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

“The words of an obscure Carmelite lay Brother, who spent his life in a community in Paris, mostly working in the hospital kitchen. After his death, friends brought together his writings and conversations. The book has been a spiritual classic for more than 300 years.” David Winter


40. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The influence of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on contemporary Christianity has yet to be fully appreciated or evaluated. . . But if Christianity is to get out of the boondocks it is currently in, Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship is essential reading.” Peter Price


41. The Quest of the Historical Jesus by Albert Schweitzer

“The abiding importance of this . . . lies in Schweitzer’s recognition that — ironically — the identity of Jesus is not to be discovered by historical investigation at all, but only in obedience to the demands that Jesus makes on us.” John Pridmore


42. The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto

“Feelings matter when it comes to what we believe, and why. Otto’s book countered the image of theology as somewhat dry and clinical, by invoking the revelatory potential of everyday experience. He reached parts other theologians seldom reached — and he still does.” John Saxbee


43. The Christian Priest Today by Michael Ramsey

“A classic work on the theology of priesthood which is still of great value to those discerning a vocation today.” Simon Jones


44. After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre

A landmark work in contemporary moral philosophy. MacIntyre sought to address a crisis in moral language which he traced back to a European Enlightenment that had made the formulation of moral principles increasingly difficult. “After Virtue is an astonishing book that has had a profound effect upon ethical thought, secular and religious.” Robin Gill


45. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

“This work of spiritual autobiography, by a Cistercian from Kentucky, inspired a whole generation of monastics. He was a pioneer of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.” Denise Inge


46. An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent by John Henry Newman

“An exemplar of High Victorian prose, this summation of Newman’s thought postulates ‘illative sense’ as a subtle and intriguing challenge to Hume’s epistemological scepticism, so giving to God-talk a new lease of life.” John Saxbee


47. Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense by W. H. Vanstone

“A real prophet who was a priest in the Established Church, constantly challenging it to be what it is supposed to be. His voice, now occluded, is needed now more than ever.” Peter McGreary


48. Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan

“An amazing book, written by a Roman Catholic missionary priest who worked among the Masai in Tanzania. . . The principles that Donovan outlines apply as much to mission among the unchurched in our own country as among the Masai people in Africa.” Dominic Walker


49. The Wound of Knowledge by Rowan Williams

“Christian spirituality from the New Testament to St John of the Cross . . . [which] will remain a spiritual classic. It grounds so many of our trivial and superficial questions within a tradition that puts much ground between the ego, the self, and the soul.” James Woodward


50. Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill

“Underhill . . . quoted and told stories about dozens of writers whom I would never have discovered otherwise. . . Underhill excerpted the good bits and commented. Even if I had found them on their own, I doubt that I could have read them raw.” Harriet Baber

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