A good book outlining the major beliefs, practices and processes of the Christian faith can be immensely helpful. I still remember reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity while sitting by a remote Northern California river, lapping up Lewis’s exceptional insights as they streamed into my soul. The section on “pride” particularly struck me, so much so that the image of the opened page sitting in my hands, surrounded by the trees and water, is still vivid in my mind. These moments of early discovery can be precious and life-changing. But which of the myriad books on offer is best suited to our particular journey (in addition to reading the scriptures themselves)? What follows is a partial list of the options available. We’d love to hear your comments on these (and any that are missing) as well.
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity is the grand-daddy of the modern introductions to Christianity and still ranks highest on Amazon sales. Lewis provides both a comprehensive outline of the core of Christianity (part 2) and interacts with the contemporary issues of the day (part 1). Throughout, he addresses issue of the head and the heart, bringing the faith to bear on all aspects of what it means to be human. His penetration into the contemporary issues of his day was so deep and far-sighted that his philosophical insights still apply (note that some find this depth of penetration overly strenuous and are bogged down by it). Of course, many modern thinkers and writers with whom Lewis would relish interacting weren’t around in his day and so he is unable to make his defense to their criticisms. But this shouldn’t keep anyone from enjoying the most read, most comprehensive introduction to Christianity. The book is great for anyone interested in grappling with deep things. 1952
Basic Christianity, by John R.W. Stott. Stott is one of the clearest writers I have encountered. In this work, he has packed all the essentials into an unbelievably short volume. It is comprehensive and concise. First written in 1958 and then revised in 1971, this is an ageless presentation of the Christian faith. The drawback to this approach, however, is that Stott does not find scope here to interact with the contemporary trends of his day (nor ours). Still, at some point early in your walk with Jesus, you should read this book. 1958, 1971
More than a Carpenter, by Josh McDowell. McDowell’s book is also focused on the person of Jesus Christ but brings in a broader range of topics than Green’s. Some of the most famous passages in this book are on the origins and truth of scripture. It is a simply written book, which is both good and bad. Millions have found it helpful (10 million in print, they say) but at least some of those have found the arguments to be too simplistic. It is, after all, only 128 pages long. 1987
Who is this Jesus? by Michael Green. Green’s scope is more narrow than the others on this list as he focuses entirely on the person of Jesus Christ. It is a beautifully argued piece that builds to a crescendo as the various details of the portrait of Jesus come together. I have often recommended this book to those coming from a Jewish background. If there is any drawback, it is that it is not as comprehensive as the other works (it is the shortest at 107 pages). 1990
What’s So Great About Christianity, by Dinesh D’Souza. I almost didn’t include this book as it is more about defending Christianity than introducing it. Nevertheless, woven throughout the argument is a comprehensive picture of the Christian faith. For those who like to roll up their sleeves and tussle over the hot-button issues that arise where faith and culture intersect, this is the book. D’Souza is so refreshingly forthright that it is disarming. Not all Christians will agree with his conclusions (for example, his perspective on evolution), but the book is certainly worth the read and, very fortifying. 2007
The Reason for God, by Tim Keller. Of all the books on the list, this one comes closest to being an updated version of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and I have a feeling I’ll be recommending to people I’d otherwise be sending to Lewis. Keller addresses current thought trends in a masterful first part and then presents a comprehensive vision of the faith in the second. Like Lewis, and absolutely essential to our contemporary context, he considers the rational, emotional and relational implications of both doubt and belief. In several places, I found it to be truly soul-nourishing, even for someone who already spends a lot of time thinking about these kinds of things. I recently recommended this book to a friend. He is a fairly committed atheist, has a PhD in literature and is one of the more skeptical people I know. He loves it. 2008