60+ books that ought to be in every Christian’s library

By Eric Johnson

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Introduction

Occasionally I am asked which books I recommend for the Christian who is interested in doing apologetics. Owning your faith is important, for sure, and certainly all serious apologetics ought to start with the Bible itself. However, with just a few dozen books as a foundation, every layperson can be “thoroughly equipped unto every good work.”

Allow me to include a limited selection from my library as well as give few short sentences explaining why I recommend each one.

BIBLE

First of all, everyone needs a good copy of the Bible. There are a number of good translations out there. Among some of my favorite versions are The New International Version, the English Standard Version, and the New Living Translation. You may want to consider a Bible that has good notes and articles. There are a number of them out there, including one that I contributed articles as well as the “Twisted Scripture” entries called the Apologetics Study Bible for Students (paper, hardcover, tan imitation leather and blue imitation leather).

Before buying a Bible, check out the different translations—a good place to go is here.  I’d also recommend going to a quality Bible bookstore (Lifeway Books is a good place) so you can get a feel for the Bible in your hands and see what each one offers–there are just so many choices of the world’s most published and read book!

If you would like to be able to see eight different New Testament translations on the same two pages, then I recommend The Contemporary Parallel New Testament: 8 Translations: King James, New American Standard, New Century, Contemporary English, New International, New Living, New King James, The MessageSometimes reading different translations than what we’re used to can help make a passage become more understandable.

In apologetics, the reliability of the biblical manuscripts are often attacked, especially the gospels and the New Testament itself. Thus, allow me to give a couple of resources that would be good to consider. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Paperback by F.F. Bruce is a classic on the topic and is generally very readable for the layperson. Another one that is well done is Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg. Together these books should be considered two of the best single-volume resources on the topic.

Because particular passages often come under scrutiny, I recommend having several resources available to use as resources.  First, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation Paperback by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe is perfect. Common verses that are called “contradictions” and considered by skeptics to be major problems for the Christian are listed in the same order as the Bible. (This was first published asWhen Critics Ask, the version I have on my shelf.)

Another excellent resource is Gleason Archer’s New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties Hardcover. A third resource is Hard Sayings of the Bible Paperback by Walter C. Kaiser Jr, Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce (Author), and Manfred Brauch. Generally the articles in this book are longer and more detailed. Having all three of these resources will prove to be handy when confronted with a difficult-to-understand passage by the skeptic or cultist.

And for a book aimed at the specific verses used by those in the cults, I suggest Correcting the Cults: Expert Responses to Their Scripture Twisting Paperback by Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes. Learning how to interpret the Bible is also vital. If there is only one book that would help the layperson better understand “prolegomena,” “hermeneutics” or “biblical interpretation” is How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth Paperback – Deluxe Edition by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. It talks about the different biblical genres and explains the right (vs. the wrong) way to do Bible learning.

BIBLICAL RESOURCES

I think it’s important to have a few reference tools to help the believer study the Bible. Of course, commentaries are wonderful, though it is prohibitely expensive for a person to own individual books for every book of the Bible. When you are in a specific Bible study, I recommend purchasing these by qualified Evangelical scholars to help you dig deeper into a passage. Don’t rely on this first and certainly not alone; use it after you’ve done your own study. Because I’m trying to keep this article as simple as possible, I won’t provide specific recommendations, but go to any Evangelical Christian bookstore and they should be able to assist you.

Although many laypeople do not have access to look at the biblical languages, I recommend Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index having on hand. This book, available from Amazon for under $20, will be beneficial when a specific word’s nuance needs to be understood.

Another classic is New Strong’s Exhautive Concordance (Super Value Series) by James Strong. Like Vine’s, this has been reprinted at under $20, an incredible deal for the resource. Granted, many laypeople may not spend very much time with the resources, but they come in handy in Bible study and ought to belong to every Christian’s library.

I like Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary: Completely Revised and Updated Edition (or Kindle) edited by Ronald Youngblood (who was my professor in seminary at Bethel Seminary San Diego, and with whom my wife and I traveled to the Holy Land in 1990). Written in an encyclopedic manner, this book contains short articles on a variety of topics and comes in handy when an unfamiliar name or word come up.

For those who like more detailed articles, I recommend the downloadable version (4 volumes) of the, Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) edited by Orr. These articles are more in depth than a Bible dictionary. Although the 4-volume set is no longer published and used copies will set you back $100+, it has been taken to an electronic form and is availabel for $5, though this version does not include maps or illustrations.

Everyone should have access to Bible charts and maps, and one of my favorites is Holman Book of Biblical Charts, Maps, and Reconstructions. There are also a number of pictures of what the insides of the tabernacle, temple, and other historical buildings would have looked like, with cut-away views. Nice.

Another nice resource is Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts, 3rd Edition. It covers the entire Bible book by book.

Probably most colorful of all is Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Time Lines. Very appealing layout in this book makes it a nice resource to own.

APOLOGETICS

For an overview of this topic, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (or Kindle) by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli is a good place to start. I especially like the section in the book dealing with 20 evidences for the existence of God.

Two books by William Lane Craig are very worthwhile. Craig, who has two Ph.D. degrees and is a skilled debater—especially with atheists—has written related books on defending the faith, including On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (or KINDLE), which is written in a format that every Christian ought to be able to understand. Craig does a good job taking lofty ideas and simplifying it for this book. There is also On Guard Study Guide.

He also wrote Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (or Kindle), which some laypeople will find a little more difficult to follow but it’s well worth the time and effort. There is also a Reasonable Faith Study Guide, which I recommend for group study. Again, Craig does his best to simplify some pretty heady arguments to explain why Christianity makes great sense.

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism is well done, a favorite of Bill McKeever’s.  If you want the DVD and discussion guide, use this link.

If you are dealing with atheism, another recommended volume is I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (or Kindle) by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. This book might be a little simpler to understand than Craig’s works yet it still packs a powerful punch. There is also I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist Curriculum and The Official Study Guide to I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (or Kindle). If that’s not enough, just get everything here: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist Curriculum Complete Set. With material like this, it’s a wonder anyone can remain an atheist!

It’s just been revised, and I think When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences by Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks is definitely worth a read. It deals with specific issues that are common atheistic attacks on God.

It hasn’t been around for long, but former journalist/atheist Lee Strobel’s  The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Case for … Series) (or Kindle) is excellent for giving to skeptics, as the author interviews some big names to determine the historicity of the Bible and the very person of Jesus Christ. For teens, I recommend The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Student Edition) and Case for Christ for Kids (Case for… Series for Kids). A six-pack collection at a reduced price is also available, which can be used to hand out in your evangelism efforts.

Strobel also wrote The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity (Case for … Series) (or Kindle). Along with The Case for Christ, Strobel offers as simple of an apologetic view on Christianity that there are available, again using interviews with big-name scholars to provide his case. You can buy these books in 6-packs, which I do and use as giveaways with friends and neighbors. These are the kinds of books you want co-workers and others to read, whether or not they have a Christian faith. Just like the previous book, this is available in Case for Faith–Student Edition, The  and Case for Faith for Kids (Case for… Series for Kids). Finally, there is The Lee Strobel 3-Disc Film Collection: The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for Creation on DVD for under $20, well worth the price to educate your family and church.

A newer resource written in this same style is Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (or Kindle) written by my friend J. Warner Wallace. Wallace, a former police detective, writes in a very intriguing style explaining how he (a former atheist himself) came to the Christian faith based on the readily-available evidence.

Many atheists think that the chink in the believer’s armor is the God of the Old Testament who seems so mean and judgmental. Hence, while it will be a difficult read for some, I think Paul Copan did an excellent job in Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (or Kindle). Here Copan shows that the God of the Old Testament is the same as the New Testament God, so if you have skeptic friends who bring this topic up, then you need to read it.

For apologetic tactics, there is no better book than Greg Koukl’s (Stand to Reason) Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (or Kindle). Koukl is a master at the Socratic method, as this book will teach you how to have an intelligent conversation without resorted to yelling and screaming.

Although it is no longer printed by Baker but I recommend Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Baker Reference Library). Feel free to read it from cover to cover of this 800+ page book, but this 2-column resource will be beneficial to you for the rest of your life.

GOD

There can be no greater endeavor than to get to better know God. A person who takes 2 Timothy 2:15 seriously (“study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”) will want to consider books written by some godly folks. And probably nobody does it better than A.W. Tozer. For example, The Knowledge of the Holy Paperback describes the different attributes of God, with short chapters. A two-volume set I like is The Attributes of God Volume 1 and Volume 2. I have led studies with these books with former Latter-day Saints and they have devoured both volumes. 

No issue is more important than the Trinity, which skeptics and atheists like to disparage. It is a complex topic but ought to be studied by every Christian. Thus, I’d have The Forgotten Trinity by James White on my shelf, as the author explains biblical reasons why he “loves” the Trinity. It’s not as popular as White’s, but Cal Beisner’s God in Three Persons: Paperback is smaller and probably easier to read than White, and so I recommend it as well.

We should also have a firm grip on who Jesus really is, so you ought to consider adding Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ Paperback by Robert M. Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski to your library. In addition, my friend Mark Strauss wrote a very readable text on the gospels’ united accounts of Christ titled Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels Hardcover.  Understanding the person of Christ will help the believer spot error when the character of our Savior is painted with heretical strokes.

Doctrine/Theology

Understanding the nuances of Christian doctrine is something that should be emphasized . Depending on your denominational background, you may want to be careful here because different theologians have a variety of emphases (i.e. dispensational, charismatic, reformed, etc). Thus, unless you’re interested in looking at what others have to say, I’d purchase these books very carefully and with discernment.

I graduated from a Baptist General Conference seminary, which meant I studied Millard Erickson’s Systematic Theology, a very large volume. It has been condensed into one more suitable for laypeople called Introducing Christian Doctrine (2nd Edition) Hardcover. While there will always be places to quibble and debate, I think Erickson is a great place to start. A classic systematic theology text is Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine Hardcover. I must admit, I have not read this volume, but Grudem is well respected from the charismatic camp and I have only heard good things about the book. Again, one must understand the writer’s presuppositions and then take everything into account. There are essentials in Christian doctrine (i.e. the nature of God, the deity of Jesus, the role of salvation, etc) and then there are peripheral issues as well. I recommend that you talk with your pastor to see which volumes he might recommend.

When it comes to doctrine, we should understand some history. Thus, I would suggest picking up The History of Christian Doctrine by Louis Berkhof.  J.N.D. Kelly wrote Early Christian Doctrines: Revised Edition Paperback that hasn’t been revised since it was first printed in 1978, with a bright yellow cover and all. That tells you something when the publisher has not revised a product: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And to get into some more history, the hardcover edition of Heresies by Harold O.J. Brown is highly recommended. You’ll have to like history to enjoy this volume, but you will quickly see that there is very little new under the sun.

Applying theology must also be considered, so let me add one title that made me think about my Christian worldview. How Now Shall We Live? Paperback was written by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, an excellent starter volume for integrating our theology into our practical living and utilizing critical thinking skills.

CULTS/RELIGIONS

In my last section, let me provide a few favorites. For world religions, I think Dean Halverson did a great job summarizing the major faiths in the world in The Compact Guide to World Religions Paperback. Even if you have little background understanding of these religions, I think this is a great start.

A valuable charts book was compiled by H. Wayne House titled Charts of World Religions (ZondervanCharts) Paperback

One for the cults was also done called Charts of Cults, Sects, and Religious Movements Paperback. 

There are a number of good books aimed as specific religions and cults. For Islam, I like Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross Paperback by Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb.

Although I haven’t read them all, what I’ve seen of Michael Brown’s 4-volume set on Judaism titled Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus is very thorough. I don’t have that much interaction with those of the Jewish persuasion, but this could be a handy set to have on hand.

Vol. 1Vol. 2, Vol. 3, and Vol. 4.

For Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ron Rhodes does a great job in Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses PaperbackIt’s out of print, but you can get a used copies of Robert Bowman’s Why You Should Believe in the Trinity: An Answer to Jehovah’s Witnesses Paperback  and The Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John Paperback

As far as Mormonism is concerned, there are books published by the church that are important for ready-reference. For example, the current manual from the “Teachings of Presidents of the Church” ought to be included. In 2014, the men and women are covering teachings from tenth president Joseph Fielding Smith, which is free on Kindle. Another book that is valuable is the 2009 version of Gospel Principles, with is only a few dollars.  This manual is often used with newer converts. And True to the Faith is a dictionary-like reference that will define terms in a few sentences or paragraph.

Books written by LDS leaders or scholars ought to also be considered. For example, The Miracle of Forgiveness Paperback by Spencer W. Kimball is on the top of my list.   Check out our website on this book  to get a better understanding about on the issue of salvation and “forgiveness,” and let it be know that the book is not only sold in Deseret bookstores but it has been commended (and recommneded) in recent years by an apostle and two seventies.

To get a better view of Joseph Smith, Richard Lyman Bushman, a Latter-day Saint, wrote a pretty accurate biography of Joseph Smith titled Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling Paperback.This will help you get a better understanding of what this man was all about. To see about his polygamous ways, consider In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith Hardcover, as Mormon scholar Todd Compton gives details about Joseph Smith’s 34 wives.Some of it will (or, at least should) shock you. Another book on polygamy that I think is worth a read is Richard Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy: A History Paperback.

A book not about Joseph but rather his wife Emma really, for all intents and purposes, ended up being a book about the founder. Mormons Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery wrote Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith that is brutally honest regarding Joseph’s philanderous ways. As my friend Bill likes to say, any man who is willing to lie to his wife is willing to lie to just about anyone. (See the review here.)

Grant Palmer, who has been disfellowshipped by the LDS Church, wrote the intriguing An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins Paperback and details some problems with Smith and the very origins of this religion.  Charles Harrell is a professor at Brigham Young University, and while I certainly disagree with many of his conclusions in his book This Is My Doctrine: The Development of Mormon Theology Hardcover, there are a number of places where he admits that certain LDS doctrines have little to no support in the Bible.

As far as Christian books on the topic of Mormonism, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend Bill McKeever’s and my books on the subject.  Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints and available in Kindle is a great overview of the Mormon religion as the doctrines are contrasted with biblical Christianity. In addition, our newest book (2013) is an excellent tool for those having conversations with Mormons. It’s titled Answering Mormons’ Questions: Ready Responses for Inquiring Latter-day Saints. Bill also compiled quotes from Mormon scriptures and leaders titled In Their Own Words: A Collection of Mormon Quotations, which is in book form as well as PDF with a search engine. This is written like an encyclopedia, with the quotes put together according to their topic. To order the PDF version, go to our website.

Richard Abanes wrote One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church that provides a well-rounded history of the LDS Church.  See the review of this book here. Another good overview of LDS history, doctrines, and claims is Edmond Gruss and Lane Thuet’s What Every Mormon (and Non-Mormon) Should KnowThe authors are very precise with their details and it’s worth the time to consume this information. For a review, see hereJoseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon (2nd Edition)also in Kindle, shows clearly why Joseph Smith could not have received the Book of Mormon through divine means. See the review here.

Finally, Lynn K. Wilder—the mother of the boys who founded the band called Adam’s Road—wrote a book that laypeople enjoy called Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way out of the Mormon Church and also in KindleWhat is good about this book is that she is able to provide a background of LDS teachings in a way that doesn’t make you think you’re reading a doctrinal text. See a review of the book here.

So there you have it, even without the large choice of Bibles, here are more than 60 books that I have recommended for the library of every Christian interested in apologetics. To buy all of them at once would be prohibitive for most bank accounts, so may I recommend that someone who is interested in these books merely budget $20 a month, which would buy about one volume. If you did this over five years, you would own just about every one of these books and have a base upon which you can build a quality library envied by Christian apologists everywhere! If you decide to buy on Amazon, please use the links in this article and MRM will receive a small commission from Amazon.