It seems silly, maybe even snooty, in this day and age, to talk about a home “library,” but even the least enthusiastic readers have one. I notice them in every home I visit. Sometimes the home library is a set of built-in shelves framed around the family television. Other times, it is an IKEA expedit cube full of Llama Llama and Peppa the Pig. Even in homes where the owner would say, “I am not much of a reader,” they have a library, because they have a depository of books.
So, here is my appeal to us all—let’s be more intentional with the books we curate for our homes.
I can remember reading two books in a series that my aunt bought me for my thirteenth birthday. They were the only two books in the series at the time, and a third was about to publish. To be honest, I was a little skeptical of witches (1990s evangelicalism!), so my “thank-you” was mild during my family birthday gift opening ceremony. However, one summer (years later), I was so bored, I did something unthinkable—I read the first Harry Potter book. And I loved it.
I did the same thing with the Left Behind books (don’t judge me—based on sales reporting, apparently you read it too). And I did the same with Billy Graham’s Angels. And I did the same with Bo Jackson’s Bo Knows Bo, though I don’t recommend that book for 10 year olds. I read them because they were the books that were around the house.
My point is this—the books that get read are the ones that you keep around. It’s one of the reason I love print books—they are the easiest to share. I’ve never heard of someone looking on someone’s private electronic device and saying, “Hey, can I borrow that?”
But you know what? I wish I had a nickel for every time the same conversation was had about a print book in my library.
Here is a framework to get started with books that I see as foundational for life. Now, this is not my list of every book I enjoy in all 10 categories (I’ll roll those out for the next 10 years). This, rather, is where I think you should start if you don’t have any books in these categories. It is also not my list of a) great works of literature, b) best beach reads, or c) my stranded on a desert island bibliography. These are simply categories of books, with some recommendations/ideas, that I think any Christian (who wishes to have an intentionally curated library) should seriously consider.
1. A Bible You Love
My philosophy is that you should purchase a Bible that you love to hold, love to read, and love to look at. I think you should have a budget for books. But I think you should throw the budget out the window for Bibles. Of course, the most important step is to choose a translation you trust (I am a CSB reader, but I began in the NIV, then ELT, then ESV). From there, I think you should find something you would enjoy having with you all the time–maybe even a Bible to leave at home, one to travel, and one to take to work. Go ahead, buy the golden calfskin, if that’s your thing.
2. Personal Evangelism Tool
Personal evangelism is one area where this generation has been quick to remove old methods, and slow to replace them with something new. That’s a shame. Fortunately, Jimmy Scroggins has put together a substantive, simple, transferable tool for engaging in gospel conversations. I highly recommend Turning Everyday Conversations Into Gospel Conversations, and the 3 Circles method of evangelism.
3. Counseling Tool
I have found Ken Sande’s Resolving Everyday Conflict to be helpful in almost any counseling situation (marriage, parenting, family, loneliness, etc.). Every Christian will find themselves counseling a friend, and this accessible read is a great way to frame almost anything that might come up. Of course, one needs also to know when to refer to professional help as well.
4. Spiritual Formation
I have never found any book remotely close to Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life. I own multiple copies, have led other Christians to read it together, and think it will change your life forever.
5. Money Roadmap
Jesus talked about money more than we do at church. And, no, I am not talking about giving money to the church (although, I think Jesus thinks that’s a good idea). I am talking about stewardship, faithfulness, and generosity. Dave Ramsey has been the go-to guy for years. I also recommend Art Rainer’s Money Challenge if you’re looking for something more accessible and a little more fresh.
6. Leadership Playbook
Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck wrote a book that does the best of any I’ve seen that offers a sound theology of leadership, and practical tools for leading. I think Designed to Lead is a must have for everyone—even if (especially if) you don’t consider yourself a leader. They argue, and they are right, that if you are a disciple-making disciple, you’re a leader. So be a good leader and find a great leadership resource for your library.
7. A Good Commentary Set
Yes, I am talking to you, non-preacher. Chances are, you teach Sunday School, or you may occasionally read the Bible in parts other than the Gospels. And let’s all be honest—there are many areas in Scripture that raise complicated questions. For years, I have been building the NAC series, but the recent Christ-Centered Exposition series has drawn my attention for its a) Christ-centered approach, b) accessibility in tone, and c) practicality. As an alternative, a good study Bible, like the CSB Study Bible or ESV Study Bible, is also filled with good commentary.
What is a church? What is the church’s mission? What is a healthy church? I’m personally indebted to the work of IX Marks (I recommend Thabiti Anyabwile’s What is a Healthy Church Member?) for raising important issues in ecclesiology, because I had long neglected the hard work of digging deep on questions central to church life. I have found John S. Hammett’s Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches book to be particularly helpful, and concise, to address issues in ecclesiology comprehensively, with a broadly historical, theologically conservative, and distinctively Baptist approach. Also of note: Gregg Allison’s Sojourners and Strangers. We all need to have good answers to these questions, regardless of our denominational distinctives. Practical tool for churches? I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer has been used for this purpose for countless churches.
No doubt, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has been a go-to resource. I also commend A Theology for the Church (revised and updated) edited by Dr. Daniel L. Akin. Bruce Ashford’s entry on theological method was a great addition! A Bible dictionary, though it serves a very different purpose, would be the other reference book I think every Christian should have on hand. Google is not omniscient, and the interwebs are not always theologically vetted.
10. Church History
This kills two birds with one stone. Church history not only provides us with historical context, it is one of the most effective ways to teach theology (and heresy), and how it develops over time. The truth never changes, but theology is expressed contextually, so it’s important to study carefully patterns that emerge when the gospel travels. I recommend the two-volume work The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez.
I also want to add—you should have a depository of great works of literature, great kids books, and really, really fun books. More on that later.