Yes of course reading the Bible is vital – but by the grace of God he has gifted writers who are able to brilliantly communicate God's word to our everyday life situations. Yes, reading blogs is good for you – that's why I am committed to writing regular posts that will encourage and help Christians to understand the rapidly changing world we are living in. But the short article is no replacement for the immersive mind-reshaping and heart-reawakening power of a great Christian book. I still remember the books that I invested time to read back in my teenage years and at university. In fact, they have proven to be an irreplaceable foundation in my Christian life and ministry. And occasionally I come across books that stand out and I wish I had been able to read 20 years ago.
The following 11 books I recommend without hesitation. Buy them, put them on your shelf – or your Kindle – and commit to reading one a term. Taking the time to build strength and resilience in your faith through intentional and sustained reading is a worthwhile and life-changing investment at any age, but get started while you're young and you'll reap the rewards.
1. Mere Christianity – CS Lewis, Harper Collins
I would personally recommend almost everything Lewis ever wrote. His essays are outstanding, the Chronicles of Narnia need no introduction and even his quirky space trilogy is pretty good. But for me Lewis is in his element when he is explaining and defending the Christian faith. Lewis is a master craftsman when it comes to writing and his words written during the Second World War are as fresh and arresting now as when he first wrote them.
2. The Cross of Christ – John Stott, IVP
There is nothing more central to the Christian faith than what Jesus accomplished on the cross – that is why Paul summarised the gospel as: "We preach Jesus Christ and him crucified." Since the day of Jesus' crucifixion the cross has been an area of ridicule, contention and challenge for Christians. Here is a master teacher helping us to experience the wonder, the mystery, the tragedy and the breadth of what the Bible has to say about the crucifixion.
3. Out of the Salt Shaker – Rebecca Manley Pippert, IVP
I don't know many Christians that find evangelism easy, but this is an encouraging book by a woman with a passion for helping other people connect with Jesus. Pippert shows how all of us have a role to play in evangelism and that the most effective way of sharing faith is through authentic personal relationships. Pippert is an excellent storyteller and her gentle style will encourage and inspire you to a lifetime of being open about your faith.
4. The Reason for God – Tim Keller, Hodder
Keller is a rare mix of pastor, evangelist, theologian and social commentator. If you only read one book on defending your faith this is the one to go for. Keller in this apologetics book for the 21st century tackles questions of suffering, science, intolerance, and sexuality with such a rare clarity and gentleness, you could not only benefit from reading it yourself but also think about giving to someone exploring faith.
5. Knowing God – J.I. Packer, Hodder
Here is a warm hearted approach to Christian theology, written by a man of great learning but great humility. This is a book to be read slowly. For some people this book is a gateway to theological study, for me it opened my eyes to a whole other level of thinking about the Christian life and the gospel. My favourite line, which has transformed my life, is this: "Justification is the basic blessing, on which adoption is founded; adoption is the crowning blessing, to which justification clears the way."
6. L is for Lifestyle, Ruth Valerio, IVP
Christian discipleship affects not just what we do on Sundays or during our times of personal prayer, following Jesus impacts every decision we make. Activist and theologian Ruth Valerio gives us a practical and challenging account of what it means to live a life of Christian stewardship. This is an A-Z guide that helps us to discover how to live practically in a way that is just, fair and honouring to God.
7. When Helping Hurts – Brian Fikkert & Steve Corbett , Zondervan
If we don't care about seeking justice, there is something seriously deficient with our discipleship. But sadly too often well-meaning Christians end up doing more harm than good in their work for the poor. Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett's short book will help you ask the right questions so that you don't invest your time, money and effort in the wrong kinds of help.
8. Every Good Endeavour – Tim Keller, Hodder
So many young adults have no idea what they are going to do with their lives. Here is a book that helps us all gain a vision for how our work can be to the glory of God whether we work as pastors, psychologists, politicians or parents. Two books by one author in a short list of unmissable books might seem excessive but Keller's short book is eloquent and encouraging and well worth your time.
9. How to read the Bible for all its worth – Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, Zondervan
The Bible is the most important thing we can ever read as Christians, but too many of us have undeveloped skills in reading the Bible well. This book will change the way you read the Bible for life. With top notch scholarship made accessible to ordinary people, this is a book to treasure.
10. Gospel and Kingdom – Graham Goldsworthy, Pater Noster
This is the shortest book on the list. In fact, if reading is a challenge and you only read one book on this list, then this is the one to go for. It's a gem. It will open your eyes to reading the Old Testament in the light of its big story. (This book is currently only available as part of the Goldsworthy Trilogy so you get three books for the price of one!).
11. Through Gates of Splendour – Elizabeth Elliot, Tyndale House
I loved reading about the real life struggles of Jim Elliot, a twenty-something who had a passion for God and serving God's purposes in the world. Elliot's most famous quotation is "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose" and in this biography you get a glimpse at what this meant for young Jim, particularly through his college days. Through Gates of Splendour tells the inspiring but tragic story of five young missionaries who responded to God's call to reach out the Auca tribe in Equador. You will want to read the story for yourself, so I won't spoil the ending for you here, but suffice to say Elizabeth Elliot tells the story with passion, conviction and incredible courage as she has a major roll to play in the way things end up working out for God's glory. You will aslo enjoy: Chasing the Dragon, Jackie Pullinger's story or Bilquis Sheihk's moving account of her dangerous conversion from Islam. Whichever biography you chose to complete this list – allow the courage and devotion of Christians from different continents and centuries to challenge your daily discipleship.
Rev Dr Krish Kandiah is a contributing editor to Christian Today, the founding director of Home for Good and an author and speaker. He has written 10 books including Fresh – bitesize inspirations for new students, Route 66 – navigating life with the Bible and the award winning Paradoxology – why Christianity was never meant to be simple. Catch up with his latest book recommendations at www.booksforlife.uk.