These 7 books that will challenge your Christian living aren’t going to tell you how to study the bible or how to know God or anything “how-to-ish.” Rather, I’ve created a list of books on a wide spectrum of topics. These books meet you at the intersection of what you believe and how you live.
These books will challenge your thinking about the decisions you make, the priorities you hold, and the faith you claim (speaking from personal experience). You may not be comfortable with everything that these books say, but that is the partially the point. Growth doesn’t happen in places of safety and comfort.
Having said that, these books affirm the role of Scripture as the starting point for these conversations. In their chapters you will find Bible references to pursue further and go deeper. Growth doesn’t happen without working for it either. Pray, read, and read some more.
My hope is not that these books give you concrete answers to any number of questions you may have in an area. My hope is that these books challenge what you think you know and push you to dig deeper. In digging deeper, I hope you find rich, life-changing ways and ideas to put your faith in action.
I’ve included a brief description with each book as well as one or two quotes that give an idea of the content.
- Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William T. Cavanaugh
- The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
- Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts by Steve Turner
- Amazing Truths: How Science and the Bible Agree by Dr. Michael Guillen
- Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg
- Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir
7 Books for Christian Living
Being Consumed by William T. Cavanaugh is another slim but dense book. It is only 100 pages long, but I had to take several sessions to read a few pages at a time. Each chapter is written as a binary combination and there are four: Freedom and Unfreedom, Detachment and Attachment, The Global and the Local, and Scarcity and Abundance.
“The key to true freedom is not just following whatever desires we happen to have, but cultivating the right desires.”
“The Christian is not called to replace one universal system with another, but to attempt to “realize” the universal body of Christ in every particular exchange.”
The Screwtape Letters holds the position as the only book of fiction on this list. It is the imagined conversation between a lead demon, Screwtape, and his young student, Wormwood. Wormwood tries to keep a man from taking any further look at his spiritual life. Screwtape coaches him on how best to do that. The distractions that they settle on are the kind that invade all of our lives – Christian or not – and that still wields incredible power in our lives. Are you susceptible?
“The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the valuable passions we have produced in the human heart – an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.”
“The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills…When they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.”
MLK Jr’s slim collection of sermons on the topic of love will leave a mark on your understanding of the love Christ calls us to. I’ve read it twice and always find something to mull over. He covers being a good neighbor, loving your enemies, communism, fear, and he writes a letter in the spirit of Paul addressed to the American church.
“For so many of you morality merely reflects group consensus…You have unconsciously come to believe that what is right is determined by Gallup polls.”
“The end of life is not to be happy nor to achieve pleasure and avoid pain but to do the will of God, come what may.”
At places of cultural relevancy, what should or can be the Christian response? This book goes way beyond any arguments about worship styles. Turner challenges Christians to consider the importance of the arts and the ramifications for not being involved in them.
“We are not entering the debates to tell people what to believe. Art tends to show rather than to tell. It allows people the opportunity to experience another way of seeing the world. But if we are not there, people are denied the opportunity of seeing our perspective.”
“In fact, wrestling with worldly ideas is one way in which our minds are renewed. It challenges our assumptions and threatens our complacency. It sends us back to the Bible and forces us to kneel in prayer.”
The longer that I study the intersection of science and faith the more I am intrigued by the various points of contact and connection. I particularly appreciate that this book took the time to examine the places where science and faith converge. Dr. Guillen covers topics such as “Time is linear” and “Significant parts of reality are hidden from us,” and “Cause and effect can be disproportional.” A fascinating read and a welcome approach on a topic often marked by disagreement and tension.
“All this demonstrates that science fact is nearly always stranger than science fiction. ‘Our imagination is stretched to the utmost,’ observed the late Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, ‘not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.’”
“For light itself – which travels at 100 percent the speed of light – time slows to a complete stop. Time doesn’t flow. Time doesn’t exist. Light and light alone inhabits a realm where past, present, and future have no meaning because the three exist all together and at once.”
This has been one of my favorite reads this year. Spangler and Tverberg dive into Jesus’ Jewishness and unpack how that can influence and challenge our faith. Their insights into how Jewish culture would have impacted Jesus’ teachings and interactions add a layer of nuance and richness to any Bible reading in the New Testament.
“An Eastern view of discipleship seems far more in keeping with the gospel…it also recognizes that Jesus lived transparently in front of his disciples in order to teach them how to live. They, in turn, were to live transparently before others, humbly teaching them the way of Christ. This approach involves not just information but transformation. God’s goal isn’t simply to fill the world with people who believe the right things. It is to fill the world with people who shine with the brilliance of Christ.”
“…the rabbi is saying that the best disciple is not—contrary to our preconceptions—the “sponge,” who retains absolutely everything, but the “sieve,” who sifts through the teaching to retain what is best. What great advice for Christians! It reminds us that we are not called to be parrots, unquestioningly repeating whatever we learn from a favorite teacher. Instead, we are to exercise wisdom and discernment, continually asking questions, weighing answers, seeking understanding, and grounding our beliefs within the context of Good’s Word and the wisdom of Christian tradition.”
Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis
by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir
Two professionals from World Relief and a licensed clinical professional counselor who specializes in trauma treatment for refugees, team up to write a thin but powerful book examining the church’s role in extending relief to refugees. Chapters weave attention to the global refugee crisis with initiatives already underway with lessons of caution to avoid hurting more than helping.
“The plight of refugees in our world today is an unprecedented global crisis. For the church, though, it also presents a unique moment to live out our theology. The refugees of the world—some of them persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, others of them not yet followers of Jesus—are watching how the church will respond, whether guided by faith or by fear.”
“When we approach the problems of suffering as relational, our response changes, sometimes profoundly. Instead of just giving charity or aid, we must seek to strengthen relationships within a community, including especially the relationship of the vulnerable to the powerful, the local church to all ethnicities, and even the citizens to its government. While we may pursue our goals out of hearts of sympathy, the better way is through biblical justice. Only through loving and honorable relationships can sustainable change be ultimately won, affecting the root causes that have compelled so many to flee their homes throughout the world today.”
There’s a start. Seven books that you can begin reading today to challenge your Christian living. Topics such as science, love, refugee policy, arts, and others are part of the world we live in and are therefore opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations and actions.
For more information about how I read Christian non-fiction, and particularly books that challenge Christian living, check out 3 Things to Look for When Reading Christian Non-Fiction.