Two men were deserted on an island, 1,000 miles from civilization. One was frantically pacing back and forth while the other was sun-bathing, mindful of the sound of waves crashing onto shore.
The nervous man, in between paces, stopped and asked, “Why are you so calm? Don’t you know we’re going to die out here?!”
Calmly and confidently, the sun-bather looked up and replied, “Look. I make six figures a year and I give the church money on a regular basis. I guarantee you that my Pastor will find me.”
If you’re like the average person, your impression of Christianity, or religion for that matter, has been formed by your upbringing or stories you’ve read online. You can come away, like the man who knew his Pastor would come to the rescue, thinking that the Christian faith is all about getting your money.
Or maybe it’s different for you. You might have grown up in a Christian denomination that did a poor job explaining the ins and outs of the faith. You might have grown up in a Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, or Hindu family and you were never exposed to Christianity. Or, maybe you grew up without any kind of religious faith and you are taking the time to learn for the first time in your life.
Wherever you’re coming from, whatever your perspective, I’m glad you stopped by. This article is for you. It has been written to guide you toward the best books to introduce Christianity in the hopes that they can give you a clear and robust understanding of the 2,000-year-old faith.
Below each title, you’ll find a brief synopsis of the book and the reason it’s on this list. By reading this article, you’ve already begun an exciting journey into one of the most beautiful, fascinating, and inspiring belief systems in the world.
The top 5 books about Christianity
#1: Simply Christian
Author: NT Wright
How’s that for clarity and simplicity? This is a GREAT read for new Christians! Here you’ll find a highly accessible book that’s a 30,000-foot view of the brain of a Christian, how he or she comprehends God, why he or she believes in the Christian God specifically, and how he or she fits into the global community.
It is at the top of the list because of its relevance to today and the the reason it was written.
NT Wright sets out to explain what “Christianity is all about” both to the Christian and to the person trying to comprehend the complexity of it all. His argument is pretty simple and easy to follow.
He argues that there are four major signposts in our world that point to something beyond ourselves. They are important, Wright says, because even in our postmodern and post-Christian world, they raise questions that every man and woman cannot escape.
The four signposts are:
- The longing for justice. There is a voice whispering to us when we see injustice in the world that tells us “that’s wrong, fix it.”
- The quest for spirituality. There is an internal desire to find internal fulfillment and peace.
- The hunger for relationships. We have an innate desire to be known and loved by other people as well as a biological propensity for human connection.
- A delight in beauty. Every person enjoys looking at, listening to, and touching something beautiful.
In the end, Wright argues, Jesus makes sense of these four signposts and Christianity offers the most plausible explanation for why they exist. Further, Jesus-followers are called to be walking signposts of justice, truth, and beauty, pointing people back to the Christian God.
Synopsis of this book
Simply Christian is the book you should open with if you are seeking to understand the heart of the Christian faith, how Christians view the world in which they live, and how Christians understand their place our society.
#2: Eternity is Now in Session
Author: John Ortberg
Don’t let the gimmicky title fool you. In his little book, Ortberg, a Christian Pastor from the West Coast, delivers an excellent description of the Christian life.
Where NT Wright is philosophical and theological, Ortberg is practical and helps the reader understand what it means have what Christians call “eternal life.”
What’s eternal life? Here it is in three sentences:
The crux of the Christian faith is that God sent Jesus to die to forgive the world of its sins. Because of this forgiveness, every imperfect person (that’s all of us) can have a personal relationship with a perfect God knowing that one day he or she will spend eternity in heaven with Him. That relationship is what Christians call “eternal life.”
With that in mind, Ortberg argues that being a Christian is not just about going to heaven when after death. Instead, he says, being a Christian means to experience eternal life right now, to know God right now, and to become the men and women God created them to be right now.
This idea is extremely important because, contrary to what you might have heard from televangelists or street preachers over the years, Jesus invites people into eternal life here on earth.
“What if,” Ortberg asks, “being a Christian isn’t about getting to heaven, but about heaven getting into you?”
If you are someone who might be wondering what has made Christianity so intriguing to people over the last 2,000 years, this is the book for you.
#3: The Cross of Christ
Author: John Stott
If you’re someone who grew up without exposure to Christianity, you probably see crosses on churches, necklaces, and tattoos and wonder what they mean. Your confusion makes sense. Signs and symbols don’t have much meaning outside of the community that gives them meaning in the first place.
The truth is that the cross is the central image for Christians all around the world.
Why? Because Jesus was killed on a cross by the Roman government. And when he died, something powerful happened.
John Stott, a British preacher and theologian, presents a beautifully concise explanation of what Christians believe happened on that cross 2,000 years ago and what it means for a Christian’s daily life.
Stott breaks his book down into four parts:
- Approaching the Cross – why did Jesus have to die?
- The Heart of the Cross – what happened spiritually on the cross?
- The Achievement of the Cross – what does Jesus’ death mean for our relationship with God?
- Living Under the Cross – How does Jesus’ death on the cross affect the every day life of a Christian.
Honestly, every single one of these sections should entice any researcher of Christianity to open the pages of Stott’s book. Out of every book on this list, The Cross of Christ is the one that cuts to the heartbeat of the faith and provides the reader with the best framework for understanding the complexity and inspiration of Christianity around the world.
#4: Mere Christianity
Author: C.S. Lewis
This one is for the egg-head, the person who likes to peruse the Philosophy section of his or her local bookstore just to impress the other customers.
In Mere Christianity, Lewis sets out to defend and explain Christianity to a 20th century Western world that had simultaneously witnessed incredible feats of science and technology as well as WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII. So, as you can imagine, its pages are dense and require focus and a little bit of patience.
You probably have asked the same question that Lewis’ original readers would have asked:
“If God is so good, why is there so much bad in the world?”
Lewis responds to that question, and others like it, in this classic piece of Christian literature.
The reason so many people relate to this book and find it helpful is because it includes the personal conversion story of Lewis himself. For a long time, C.S. Lewis didn’t believe in God and especially didn’t buy into the Christian story.
As a professor at Oxford University in England, he began asking questions like:
- Why do I care about injustices?
- Why does every human begin have a sense that morality is important?
- Why is there evil in the world?
Over time, these questions led the academic to become a believer in God. And, over time, as he explains in his book, Lewis then discovered that to live the best life, a person should be a Christian.
You can probably see why Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis is on the list. If you’re seeking a glimpse into why Christians stand firmly on their belief in Jesus in the face of the modern world, you won’t be able to put it down.
#5: The Ragamuffin Gospel
Author: Brennan Manning
Written at the end of the 20th century by a Franciscan priest, The Ragamuffin Gospel has become a favorite among Christians from all traditions. Manning, a self-professed “Ragamuffin,” offers up an interpretation of Christianity that is both aligned with 2,000 years of Christian tradition and controversial at the same time.
The reason it is the fifth on the list is because you should read it after you’ve digested some of the content from Wright, Ortberg, Stott, and Lewis. His perspective is essential for any person seeking to gain a better understanding of the Christian faith, but it requires some background knowledge.
Brennan Manning argues that there is a problem in contemporary religion. People, particularly followers of Jesus, have drifted from the heart of Christianity and, as a result, are misinterpreting the heart of God.
Here’s the gist of it
In the first half of the Bible that we call the Old Testament, we read about people who thought they could earn their way into God’s family the same way a teenager makes a basketball team or a candidate wins an election. They believed that if they kept enough laws, followed enough religious rules, or worshipped God with all their heart, He would let them into His family. Basically, they believed that they could earn their way into heaven.
Manning calls this the constant search for a “small-minded book keeper” who tallies sins and uses them against men and women. And he says that Christians today have fallen back into the same daunting search for a kind of god who doesn’t exist.
Out of insecurity or a desire to be accepted, people think that if they be just good enough, go to church enough, serve food to poor people enough, God will forgive their sins and let them into heaven.
To Manning, that’s miles away from how God works. “Christianity happens,” Manning writes, “when men and women accept with unwavering trust that their sins have not only been forgiven but forgotten, washed away in the blood of [Jesus].” He goes onto say that “when we wallow in guilt, remorse, and shame over real or imagined sins of the past, we are disdaining God’s gift of grace.”
If you’re seeking a one-word synopsis the ins and outs of Christianity, it is the word “grace.”
Whether you’re an academic or a person who only reads newspaper comics, you will come away feeling like you’ve figured out why men and women have been attracted to Christianity for the last 2,000 years.
The truth is that learning, no matter the subject, happens best in relationship with other people.
Now that you have some guidance toward the top 5 books on Christianity to help you on your journey, find some like-minded people who are interested in exploring the 2,000-year-old faith with you.
Francis Bacon is quoted as saying, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested.”
May you digest the words of some of the greatest Christian authors and catch a glimpse into the fascinating community of men and women who ascribe to the Christian faith and believe their story to be the only true story, that “God loved the world so much, He gave His only son. Whoever believes in Him won’t perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).