We bibliophiles occasionally issue recommended reading lists for our peers, but the present list is somewhat unique in that it consists of books from 20-80 years old that I have not read until the last two or three years. I read so much that I don’t have time to read many books recently published, but get far behind, and don’t get around to reading important books, sometimes as late as 10 to 15 years after they’re published. I’m sure this means that I am not up-to-date on the “current literature,” but the compensation, I imagine, is that I have waited long enough to allow these books’ theses to percolate and get an assessment among readers I respect before I myself get around to assessing them. I’m not obsessed with reading “the latest and greatest,” though some great books are being written today.
Here are several memorable older books I’ve read relatively recently:
Bavinck, Herman. The Christian Family. Almost all other books on the family are trite and shallow compared to this one. It rivals only Andrew Murray’s How to Raise Your Children for Christ as the best I’ve read on the topic. Bavinck lays out the divine rationale for marriage, the cultural mandate, the order of the family, and the family in society in truly profound, unforgettable ways. No book starts with a sentence better than this one: “The history of the human race begins with a wedding.”
Berkouwer, G. C. Modern Uncertainty and Christian Faith. These 1952 essays are from the “early” Berkouwer, who was still fully orthodox. They are, in fact, uncompromising in their commitment to Biblical authority and the finality of the orthodox Christian Faith in the midst of the acids of modernity. The short book is worth reading with the greatest care and is perhaps more relevant today than when it was written.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. A classic on “community” long before that idea became the Christian flavor-of-the-month. Some sobering insights here by a man who lived in and for the community — and died for his Faith.
Bounds, E. M. The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer. The greatest, most daring, God- and Bible- and faith-drenched writings on prayer ever written in English — and probably any other language. I’m now reading this work for the third time and plan to read it about 30 more times in my lifetime. It dwarfs every other book on this list. If you can read only one book besides the Bible, read this one.
Daane, James. The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit. An attempt to rethink traditional Augustinian views of election in light of the Cross and ancient Israel. Fascinating arguments on how God is related to history.
Dooyeweerd, Herman. Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular and Christian Options. A collection of editorials from the mid- to late 40’s but published first in Dutch as a book in 1959 and English in 1979 and recently reprinted. Dooyeweerd was a towering Christian philosopher, and almost no one in the 20th century rivals him. If you read a lot of Dooyeweerd, you’ll find where Colson, Pearcey, Rushdoony, Schaeffer, and Van Til got some of their leading ideas, either directly or derivatively. This book is a remarkable piece of cultural analysis.
Germino, Dante. Antonio Gramsci: Architect of a New Politics. This book is not especially well written, but its content is dynamite. The author, an academic if there ever was one, shows that the Italian neo-Marxist Gramsci had a greater impact on Western secular elites than Marx could ever have imagined. While Marx believed that incomes and possessions should be equalized, Gramsci believed that virtually everything should be equalized. He was a strong believer in society’s making the outsider the insider. The new leaders (and subjugators) would be women, racial minorities, sexual deviants, the physically disabled, the poor, prisoners, and social outcasts. This whole program was subjugating the wealthy, intelligent, and privileged and elevating the outsiders. This, of course, is precisely the program of elite Western radicalism.
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. You might find it hard to believe that I had not read this classic completely through until a couple of years ago. While it has certain scintillating observations, I did not find it especially impressive. Perhaps it is because of the author’s natural theology and evidential apologetics, and the mere [!] fact that this is a book on theology not written by a theologian. This is not a bad book, but it is quite overrated, in my estimation.
Marshall, I. Howard. Kept By the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away. This is probably the most persuasive exegetical and theological defense (essentially the author’s doctoral dissertation) of the Arminian view of perseverance written in the English language, certainly within the last 70 years. While the author, in my view, does not fully account for the Bible’s presentation of justification as a present declaration of the final, and therefore irreversible, verdict of salvation, he completely demolishes (calmly and charitably) what most people mean when they use the term “eternal security.”
Molnar, Thomas. Utopia, The Perennial Heresy. The author notes that the attempt to create the perfect, and perfectly just, society, a hallmark of 20th century politics springing from the French Revolution, derives from the ancient Gnostic heresy and its attack on the God of history and the man of history as God created him. This book is bristling with memorable insights.
Morris, Leon. The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment. Lectures delivered at Cambridge in 1960, this small book addresses in a readable, exegetical way one of the most neglected biblical truths in today’s church. No work shaped my soteriology (salvation doctrine) more than the author’s The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, his doctoral dissertation, and this book is just as careful and rigorous in elucidating what the Bible says about judgment — and it says a lot more than many Christians care to consider.
Lord Percy of Newcastle. The Heresy of Democracy. A 1955 cult classic, the author argues that democracy as it is understood today springs from the Christian heresy of the “inner light.” He attempts to show that modern forms of democracy are really secularized versions of this Christian heresy and that Christian culture is simply not compatible with what we today term democracy. This is a deeply learned book.
Torrance, Thomas F. The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers. One of the great Scottish theologians of the 20th century documents in this, his doctoral dissertation, that the doctrine of grace in the New Testament, particularly highlighted in Paul’s writings, slipped into oblivion in the subapostolic church. I’m not generally favorably disposed to primitivist theories (things were great in “olden times” but subsequently plummeted), but it is difficult to argue with the author’s evidence. This book contests those traditions of Christianity that lay heavy stress on the soteriological continuity between New Testament Christianity and its immediate successors.