Top 10 Books - Christian Classics
For those seeking an introduction to classic works of Christian theology and church history, here are my top ten recommendations. What would make your list? Which of these would not?
THE DIDACHE (TEACHINGS OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES)
Written sometime between the first and second century, the Didache is a manual of early Christian life written prior to the canonization (completion as a standard or rule) of New Testament Scripture. It gives us a window into the ministerial practices of the early Christian church, as well as the communal life of some of the earliest Christians, after that recorded in the book of Acts.
Written by Eusebius, the fourth century Bishop of Caesarea, this history provides a truly unique overview of the first three centuries of the Christian movement. Enduring imperial persecution for the cause of Christ, Eusebius lived to see the conversion of Emperor Constantine, the Edict of Milan, an imperial edict of toleration for Christianity, the Council of Nicaea, among other significant events. Although bordering at times on propaganda, Eusebius’ work is of great value.
AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO
If you want to understand Christian theology after the time of the apostles and early church fathers, start with Augustine of Hippo. Theological insights received through Augustine have shaped all branches of the Christian church for well over a thousand years and played a unique role in the recovery of truths largely buried until the time of the Protestant Reformation. Confessions is the autobiographical account of Augustine’s conversion and growth in God’s grace.
ON THE INCARNATION
During the time of both Eusebius and Augustine, Athanasius fought valiantly for biblical orthodoxy in defending the full divinity of Jesus Christ against the Arian (not Aryan) heresy. This relatively short book in plain language is one of the most significant theological works of the period.
Few, including this author, read all of Thomas Aquinas’ multi-volume masterpiece, Summa Theologica. However, its historic and continuing influence make it impossible to ignore. Select readings would be sufficient for most.
COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
Although we might recommend many works by Martin Luther (Bondage of the Will, Commentary on Romans, The Freedom of the Christian, etc.), his commentary on Galatians is a great introduction and overview of his teaching on the doctrine of justification, as well as his overall approach to the interpretation of Scripture. If you want to know what issues and commitments animated so much of the Protestant Reformation, this is a must-read.
INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION
One of the greatest Protestant Reformers, John Calvin wrote the Institutes as an introduction to biblical doctrine. Covering a range of theological issues, it emerged as perhaps the greatest written work of the Protestant Reformation. The major theme of the Institutes is Calvin’s emphasis on the total sovereignty of God.
THE MARROW OF MODERN DIVINITY
This controversial and influential work provides a thorough explanation of the relationship between the law and grace. Employing a classical dialogical style, the author explores the true ground of our assurance in salvation, as well as the power and proper motivations for growth in holiness.
THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS
One of the most influential books in the English language, Bunyan’s work has never been out of print. An allegory of the Christian life and discipleship, The Pilgrim’s Progress first traces a pilgrim’s progress on his journey to the “celestial city,” and then that of his wife and children. Although symbolic of spiritual truths, Bunyan was a gifted storyteller. His work is engaging and, at times, entertaining.
THE RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS
Arguably the greatest theologian in the history of North America, Jonathan Edwards’ offers insight into the cause and nature of true love for, and devotion to, God.