10 Books to RENEW your mind

One of the best ways to grow in the Christian faith is to read good Christian books. But there are so many Christian books out there! How do we know which ones are best? In this video I pick 10 of the books which have been most helpful to me.

Books

  1. The Good God by Michael Reeves
  2. The Cross of Christ by John Stott
  3. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
  4. How People Change by Paul Tripp & Timothy Lane
  5. True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer (my review / summary)
  6. Communion with God by John Owen
  7. A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson (Free eBook)
  8. The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson
  9. The Pilgrim’s Progress (Modern English edition) by John Bunyan (Free PDF)
  10. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
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Three books for beginners to Understand the Bible

I know that the Bible is a big book, and it might seem difficult to know even where to start. I’ve found that books can be one of the most helpful things when learning to read the Bible. A good book can open your eyes and encourage you in your faith. But how do you know which books to choose? There are hundreds of thousands of Christian books available, and more are being published all the time! How do you know which are the best ones?

Let me help you. I’ve chosen five books which I think will help you to understand the Bible, even if you’re a complete beginner. I hope these give a good cross-section, so together they will help you understand the Bible and Christianity more broadly.

Before we begin, there is just one thing I’d like to say: when you’re looking for books, please don’t look simply for new books! C.S. Lewis, the Christian author most famous for his Chronicles of Narnia books, once wrote an essay about why you should read old books. It’s well worth reading. I’ve tried to include here older and newer books, but my suggestion is to try to read tried-and-tested books alongside modern books.

All that said, let’s get into it!

#1: A Study Bible

The first book I would recommend is… the Bible! But not just any old Bible – I would suggest beginning with a study Bible. What is a study Bible? Alongside the actual text of the Bible, it has notes which help to explain things in the text. Good study Bibles will often have other articles in them to help introduce Biblical themes, as well as introducing each book of the Bible. I would suggest that a good study Bible is the most useful thing you can buy to start understanding the Bible.

So, which study Bibles are good? There are two which I would recommend – the Zondervan NIV Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible (both available in various different editions). I have personally used the ESV Study Bible but I have heard good things about the NIV Study Bible also. I believe there is little to choose between them, apart from your particular translation preference. I use the NIV translation of the Bible day-to-day and in all the Understand the Bible videos. If you’re new to the Bible, I would recommend it as a good general purpose, easy-to-read version. (The other one I recommend which is a bit easier to read is the New Living Translation. There is an NLT Study Bible, but I don’t know much about it. If you use the NLT, you might want to check it out!)

#2: A Bible Reading Companion

The next thing on my list is a book to help you read the Bible day-by-day. There are lots of daily Bible reading notes. I know some people use the Bible in One Year App to help them. My suggestion for one book to begin with is Through the Bible Through the Year by John Stott. John Stott was a very capable Bible teacher, who for years was the rector of a large church in London. What I really like about this book is that it’s not complicated: for each day you have a short Bible reading and a page explaining it. It takes you through the whole Bible (in short!) and you focus on the Christmas and Easter passages at those times.

I think this book is a really good way of getting into reading the Bible every day and helping you understand it.

There are also lots of daily devotionals, you can see a round up of some of them here.

#3: A Bible overview

Another thing that will really help you to understand the Bible is a Bible overview. It’s so helpful to be able to pick up a Bible and know, whichever book you’re reading, roughly where it comes in the timeline of the Bible and how it fits in with the big picture. In fact, the What is Christianity? course on Understand the Bible is basically a mini-Bible overview. The most helpful thing I’ve ever done in understanding the Bible was an ‘Introduction to the Bible’ course, which was basically a Bible overview. It really does help put things together.

My suggestion for a Bible overview is God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts. It’s a readable overview of how the whole Bible fits together, looking at it through the perspective of God’s Kingdom.

This is also available as a video course (and we’ve run it in our church before).

The most important thing

As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been thinking about the books which have been significant in my journey of understanding the Bible. There are lots of books which have been really helpful to me – but the most important thing hasn’t been any individual book (apart from the Bible itself!). The most significant thing is the day-by-day journeying with God, reading the Bible, praying, worshipping with other Christians, hearing sermons. It’s all significant in understanding the Bible.

I hope that these books will give you a head start. But remember that understanding the Bible is a journey, not a destination! In fact, I’d say that the more you understand the Bible, the more you realise there is to understand. It’s like walking into a building when it’s dark and thinking it’s only small, but then over time beginning to realise that it’s actually the size of a cathedral.

The most important thing is never to give up. God rewards those who seek him. As Jesus said:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8

Explore Further

Want more? You might enjoy the What is Christianity course, which is a short Bible overview.

You might also enjoy the How to Live as a Christian series (which is also a video course). Part three of that course is about reading the Bible.

Over to you

What books have been the most helpful for you in understanding the Bible? Let us know in the comments below! 👇

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Why you should read Schaeffer – True Spirituality

Cover of True Spirituality

I’m starting a new feature, “Books you should read”. Christian books can be a very helpful way of learning to understand the Bible. I’ve found many books to be helpful in my own life, and I’d like to share the most helpful with you. One of the most helpful books I’ve read has been True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer. Let me explain what the book means to me and why you should read it.

In short – I think that no book has had a more profound effect on my understanding of the Christian life than this one.

True Spirituality is more than knowledge

Schaeffer’s primary consideration with True Spirituality was that of living a Christian life. He realised that we couldn’t simply ‘keep the rules’. We can’t just look at the 10 Commandments and say, with the rich man who came to Jesus, “all these I have kept since I was a boy” (Mark 10:20). The problem is not that we don’t know the 10 Commandments – the problem is that we don’t have the power to be able to keep them.

It’s the same thing with the Bible in general: it’s not enough simply to know about God. We need to know him and the power of the Holy Spirit. We need a deeper transformation than simply trying really hard. We need to be transformed from the inside out, so that we might obey God’s deeper laws of love.

True Spirituality is the life that comes, not from our own efforts, but walking in step with the Holy Spirit. We don’t have the power within ourselves, but only through God’s power working in us. When we do walk with God, we can have a true (if imperfect) love for him and for others. Our obedience does not have to be grudging or perfunctory but heart-felt.

Let’s look briefly at his argument.

The gospel is more than simply forgiveness

I think many churches teach that the gospel is about forgiveness. Forgiveness is good – but it’s only half the story! Jesus died that we might be forgiven, but he was also raised to new life so that we might have new life in ourselves. This is what Schaeffer says:

This is the basic consideration of the Christian life. First, Christ died in history. Second, Christ rose in history. Third, we died with Christ in history, when we accepted Him as our Saviour. Fourth, we will be raised in history, when He comes again. Fifth, we are to live by faith now as though we were now dead, already have died. And sixth, we are to live now by faith as though we have now already been raised from the dead.

We are to live as though we have now already been raised from the dead. In other words, one day we will be raised immortal, at the resurrection of the dead. However, we can begin living the resurrection life in the here and now. We aren’t simply forgiven of our sins, but we are given a new power to live a risen life while we are still in this body.

What is it exactly that gives us the power to live a risen life now? The Holy Spirit.

The power of the Holy Spirit in us

What makes the difference? This is the Holy Spirit, not just a ‘new idea’. It is not to be in our own strength. … Surely, as we look at the book of Acts, we find in the early Church not a group of strong men labouring together, but the work of the Holy Spirit bringing to them the power of the crucified and glorified Christ. It must be so for us also.

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, the one who brings the very presence of God to our lives. We don’t labour and work in our own strength. Schaeffer makes the point that the early church (in the book of Acts) was not comprised of a “group of strong men”. In fact, the first time we meet the disciples in Acts, they are hiding away in a house out of fear! What changes them into men of courage is the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives them power to proclaim the gospel boldly, to go out into the streets and preach the good news.

It’s really important to understand this. The Christian life is not a life where we need to feel strong: we are supposed to feel weak. We are supposed to know our own limitations, and to depend on God. It is, in fact, only when we come to the limits of our own strength that we recognise our need for God.

We should live ‘supernatural’ lives now

Our lives now, then, should be supernatural:

Whatever is not an exhibition that God exists misses the whole purpose of the Christian’s life now on this earth. According to the Bible, we are to be living a supernatural life now, in this present existence in a way that we shall never be able to do again through all eternity. We are called upon to live a supernatural life now, by faith.

What does it mean to life a supernatural life? It means living a life which is free of the constraints we impose upon it. Too often we limit life to what we think we can make of it. We limit ourselves to what we think we can do, or what we think is reasonable to achieve. But what if God really is there? What if God really has called us? What if we really can pray for anything, and God will answer (John 14:14)?

Living a supernatural life now is living a life believing and trusting in God’s promises. It is taking hold of God’s promise that he has transferred us from the domain of darkness into his marvellous light. We believe and trust that he can sanctify us and give us the power and freedom to love God and love others. We are no longer slaves of sin but slaves to righteousness.

This is what it means: not just simply knowing about the promises of God, but believing them.

Conclusion

In the rest of the book, Schaeffer goes on to apply his thinking to areas of life including our own lives, our relationships, and the church. You’ll have to read the book if you want to find out what he says!

But I think his book, despite being first published in 1972, is still of enduring relevance today. Much of Schaeffer’s experience of the church back then is also true today. Unfortunately I think a lot of people know a lot about the Bible and the Christian faith, without necessarily putting it into practice. His work stands today as a challenge to the church to put down deeper roots into the gospel.

I think this book is doubly important in 2020, when our society is being driven further and further apart: so many issues are divisive today. We are divided about politics, about the economy, about the coronavirus. What the church needs to do is show the world what a true community of love looks like – not divided, but united. Not standing in our own strength, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are lots of cheap second-hand copies of the book available on AbeBooks.

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