– By John Crotts, Faith Bible Church
Someone has described a classic book as one everyone has heard of and no one has read! Growing Christians are regularly receiving input, like plants grow with water, fertilizer, and plenty of sunshine. God’s word is the most important source of input, through personal reading and hearing it proclaimed, but don’t underestimate the power of great Christian books.
Wonderful modern authors have offered Christian readers a wealth of books applying the Bible to the issues of our day. I hope you regularly read the books that John MacArthur, John Piper, R. C. Sproul, Jerry Bridges, Martha Peace, and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth are writing. But classic books can help us in ways modern books cannot. They are neglected to our own loss.
A classic Christian book has stood the test of time and has been a blessing to generations Christians in varieties of places. These books open your eyes to ways godly men and women have understood and applied the Bible to their Christian lives. When American Christians go overseas on mission trips they are often surprised as they interact with Christians. While we have the most important thing in common in Jesus, they often do things much differently as they seek to follow the Lord in their cultural context. It helps us to see what are really biblical issues and what we have just picked up in our version of church traditionally and culturally.
Christian classic books can do the same thing. You certainly won’t agree with everything you read. The Bible insists that we always compare everything to the rule of Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:21). This principle applies to modern books and sermons, as well as classic books and sermons. As you read, you will be struck at all of the ways that the different historical contexts lead the authors to value different parts of the Bible than you may be used to. These differences help us to apply the whole counsel of God more effectively. The other side is also true; you will be encouraged to discover that some of your favorite verses in the Bible have been the favorites of your brothers and sisters in Christ for hundreds of years.
Here are some suggestions of classic books you can mix into your reading list. I will suggest a few from different eras of church history. Although I see the value in each of these books, I am not endorsing everything found within any of them. Always read with discernment. Some of these you can find in bookstores and online, but many of them are free on the internet.
Ignatius of Antioch, Letters (A. D. 115)
Although it is sad to see errors that had already crept into the church at this early date, this series of short letters is remarkable. Here is a Christian leader on the way to Rome about to be killed for his faith in Jesus writing letters to churches as he goes. Some of these addressed were related to the same churches in the New Testament. Ignatius’ devotion to Christ even unto death is inspiring.
Basil the Great, The Holy Spirit (375)
How amazing is it that we can read about a fourth-century church leader from central Turkey defending the deity of the Holy Spirit. False teaching would pop up in the ancient world, which would then lead true Christian leaders to write amazing books articulating the truth. This is a great example of that.
Confessions of Augustine (397-401)
This work could be considered an all-time classic. Augustine, smart and passionate, writes about his conversion in ways that we can relate to 1,600 years later. While some things in his story will strike us as strange, in other ways Augustine’s heart was sinful like ours, and he found same Savior we know. Many of his introspections have rung true with Christians all over the world since he wrote his down.
Many people have heard about the Reformation or Reformed Theology, but really don’t know much about either. Martin Luther might seem like just an anti-Catholic rebel to you. Your idea of John Calvin might be of a grumpy man with a long beard that sat around thinking about predestination all of the time. Perhaps it is time to actually read a little of the actual men for yourself.
Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty (1520)
This brief work describes Luther’s understanding of the Christian life as being saved by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.
Martin Bucer, The Kingdom of Christ (1550) Although this reformer is lesser known than Calvin and Luther, Bucer sheltered Calvin during his exile years in Strasbourg. Bucer had a much more refined view of the church than Calvin had had before this time. This book works out some of the details of healthy church life.
John Calvin, The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life (1539)
This booklet was originally a chapter about living the Christian life from Calvin’s larger theological Institutes books. He talks about obedience and applying God’s word to life’s daily struggles. Reading a book like this humanizes Calvin as a pastor.
Samuel Rutherford, Letters (1664) Samuel Rutherford spent many years in prison in Scotland for what he believed. Instead of becoming bitter against God, he grew sweeter. His letters are filled with a model of a passionate appreciation of the glorious Savior.
Henry Scougal, The Life of God in the Soul of Man (1677) This book taught the great evangelist George Whitefield about the difference between mechanically performing religious duties and actually trusting in the person and work of Jesus.
Of course, many other works could be listed from all over the world and throughout the history of the church. These are just samples to jump-start your journey. As you discover new authors and ideas, always remember that there really aren’t new ideas. Someone has already talked about it somewhere. If an author of a Christian classic used the Bible faithfully, the chances are they will have what may seem like a fresh perspective for you to consider. That fresh perspective, however, will be hundreds of years old. Happy reading!