By Elizabeth Prata
Yesterday a friend who is doing a project asked me to list top five books I would recommend every Christian to read. I asked, ‘modern or older’ and he said maybe make two lists, one for each. That’s great because I had a hard time excising my 6th book from the top 5 already, lol.
I spent some time pondering and then compiling, while browsing my own bookshelves to see what lifted my heart and mind as I scanned my titles.
I’d wanted to write something else today, to get away from the topic of books for a while, but yesterday’s events in America and composing an essay about it took most of the day and drowned my heart in melancholy. So I’m copping out by posting this list which I sent him, since it’s already done.
Today Tim Challies also wrote a neat essay warning about over-reliance on Amazon reviews. He titled his essay Really Bad Reviews of Really Good Books. If someone asks me about a book I haven’t read, I do several things to get a sense of the book. You can read portions on Amazon in the ‘Look Inside’ function. Also you can read parts on Google Books. I read the Amazon reviews, knowing that the review system is crowd-sourced and can be gamed. I read the one-star reviews first to see if they are meaningful and well thought out. Then I read the 5-star reviews, and finally the three-star reviews. One-star reviews can drag down the overall rating of a book by a lot.
I go to GoodReads and see the reviews there, too.
Note that many people who claim to be Christian aren’t really saved. Their review of a Christian book will skew the rating system also. You can see this in reading some of Challies’ ‘really bad reviews of really good books’.
I look to see who blurbed the book. You know, those testimonials in the front inside or the back of the book where an author or expert of some sort writes that the book was great. If the book I’m looking at has all solid blurbs from solid people then that adds to the book’s credibility for me when selecting it.
I remember one book I’d started in April, Ferrol Sams’ The Whisper of the River. It is part 2 of a well-regarded trilogy about a boy growing up in the Depression South and extending through WWII. I’d enjoyed book 1, though there were a few unsavory scenes. I’d forgiven them, since they were only few scattered in a long book, and it was about a boy growing up and becoming aware of his pubescent sexuality. But part 2 is college, and two things soured me early on. One, more exploring of the sexuality, his and recountings of the other boys’ adventures and discussions. And losing his faith, I could see that coming a mile away. The writing was stellar though, and I hated to put the book down. But I did.
I sought out reviews of the book on Amazon, and uniformly they were all almost 5-star. Except for one lady who wrote,
This book is pornography. The University takes an innocent young man that is in his own words “was raised right” and turns him and many of his fellow students into sex crazed, foul mouthed, fornicating apostates.
The only reply to her review was a sole word, “Ridiculous.”
The world will love its own, including Amazon reviews of the world’s books. So beware when looking at reviews for help in shaping your opinion of whether to absorb what a particular book is offering.The mind is impressionable. Will it help conform your mind to Christ’s, or will it pull your mind away from Christ?
As for my mistake in buying the Ferrol Sams book, I hated to toss it into the trash, it’s like throwing money away. Trashing it renewed my dedication to Library and Inter-Library loan. If you’re unsure of a book, get it from the library first. If it’s something you want to re-read or keep to give away someday, you can always buy it later.
I’d begun my Summer Break from School officially on Tuesday, the first workday I’m home and free from work obligations. Since last Saturday, it has been raining. I’d wanted to go to the State Park sometime this week, do more outside with my plantings, or just go for some walks. I’ve been stuck inside every day. I’m glad I like to read! I am planning some essays on The End Time on different subjects next week, Lord willing.
Here are my two lists of top 5 books I recommend
Classic Top 5
1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. First published in 1678. Best reprint is Penguin Classics, the Roger Pooley 2009 edition). Classic & timeless, this book astounds and enchants every time it is read. In continuous print since its initial publication. There are many guides, notes, lectures, and helps online for the reader to aid in even deeper understanding.
2. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs, Puritan Paperbacks by Banner of Truth publications. The language has been modernized somewhat, but if it still troubles the modern reader, let that not be a hindrance. Monergism has a .pdf in even more modern language. Classic treatment of the believer’s contentment, how to cultivate it, and why it’s necessary to do so.
3. Because the Time is Near, John MacArthur. No other book except the Bible’s book of Revelation itself has grippingly produced such awe and fear of the judgment to come. This is a doctrine that escapes many modern believers, yet we’re admonished to fervently live for Christ knowing the judgment is coming. But mainly, it is a book that inspires breathtaking awe for the Savior, and that is always welcome in a top books list.
4. Thirty Years among the South Seas Cannibals, John G.Paton. All top five lists should have some kind of nod to an early missionary. Missions is the reason we exist after all, to give glory to God and to share His gospel with the nations. Also good is The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards.
5. The Complete John Ploughman: John Ploughman’s Talk/John Ploughman’s Pictures (C.H. Spurgeon Classics). Spurgeon wrote this for ‘the common man’. It’s like Ben Franklin’s Farmer’s Almanack, but scriptural, wisdom for the masses in witty, moral sayings in down-to-earth manner. I laugh out loud, it’s that witty and charming.
Modern top five books
1. The American Puritans, By Dustin Benge and Nate Pickowicz. Published May 2020, this book provides the reader short biographies of 9 key Puritans that tell the story of the first hundred years of Reformed Protestantism in America.
2. Chosen By God, RC Sproul (1986). The classic doctrinal treatment of predestination & election. These doctrines are foundational to a clear understanding of our position in Christ, so, a must have for all believers.
3. Internet Inferno: A Contemporary Warning and Reminder Regarding this Ancient Truth – Tongue is a Fire, the Very World of Iniquity, and is Set on Fire by Hell” James 3:6 by Michael John Beasley (2017). Very convicting and timely for us in this internet age, about applying James’ verse to our lives regarding how we speak online. I read it a year ago and return to it frequently. A book that lasts in your heart and mind is one that should be in a top 5 list.
4. The Rain, by Skates and Tankersley (2013). A Christian modern novel, about Noah and his family on the Ark through the judgment. Brings to life the reality of Noah as a person, not just a Sunday School Bible story and not a remote character, but an obedient man, a preacher of righteousness who lived through something so horrific we can’t even imagine, except this book reveals it in ways that will stay with the reader.
5. From Death to Life: How Salvation Works, by Allen S. Nelson IV (2018). In my complacency I thought this book would be too babyish for me. It is not. It brought tears to my eyes and my knees to the carpet more than once. I love Allen’s writing and I think he and his works should rise to the cream of the notable lists everywhere, even though at this moment he is relatively not well known.