Building (and Rebuilding) Your Library

About a week or so ago, Nathan Harbottle asked me a great question on Twitter:

If you had to start your personal library over, what would be your first 3 purchases?

Interestingly enough, this something I’ve had to do before. When I first started my library, it was books by Rob Bell, Erwin McManus and I think one book by Craig Groeschel. (I even had a copy of Wild at Heart. I never read beyond chapter 3.)

It was not a terribly robust library, nor was it terribly deep.

Then, for some reason, I decided to get a copy of 18 Words by J.I. Packer, and it rocked my socks. It also set me on a path to building what I think is becoming a fairly well-rounded, theologically sound library.

So, back to Nate’s question. What three books would be my first purchases if I were starting over again?

Aside from a good study Bible (I profiled a few here in the “Get Serious About Your Studies” series), I’d recommend getting the following books to start off:

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul (Cover)

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

Why? In The Holiness of God, Sproul helps believers gain a better grasp of this all-too-often neglected attribute of God. Sproul is a master at communicating complex subjects in a way that is completely understandable for the average layperson and encouraging a deeper passion for the Lord in his readers.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Why? Knowing God is one of the first books I ever read that left me in awe. Packer’s insights into the central pursuit of the Christian life—not simply knowing things about God, but knowing God intimately—are a great gift to believers.

Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know by Wayne Grudem

Why? In Christian Beliefs, Grudem addresses 20 essential doctrines of the Christian faith in a way that is clear and accessible. It also includes chapter review questions that are perfect for private reflection or group study. This is a book that I wish I had had the day after I got saved. Seriously.

As an immediate fourth pick, I’d also recommend getting a copy of Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul. It’s packed with great principles on how to study the Bible in a way that will keep you from winding up in some pretty scary places theologically.

What three books would you recommend?

9 thoughts on “Building (and Rebuilding) Your Library”

  1. Wow, am I late in responding to this!

    I must say, I’m not tremendously well-read at this point. Having just graduated from college, I’m just now /finally/ getting to that point in my life where I have time to read for pleasure again. None of the books that I’ve read stand out as books that will continue to impact me for many years, and would be worth a re-read — save one: John Piper’s Desiring God. It might have just been that season in my life in which I read the book… I don’t know. But it left me in awe of the utter sovereignty of God in all things, and helped me begin to feel the weight of God’s glory.

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  3. I tend to buy books by Author, not title.
    I mean, have you ever read a bad book by Philip Yancey?

    Here is another fellow you need to know in making a library, fit for knowing God better;
    Calvin Miller.

    He is a prolific writer. Two of my favorites of his multitudes include
    1) “The Table of Inwardness: Nurturing Our inner Life In Christ”

    This is a decades old paperback and pretty cheap to buy. It always gets 5 stars out of 5 on review. One fellow started his review with this sentence:
    “This is simply the finest book I have ever read!”
    That is kinda hard to beat, eh?

    Though less than a half inch thick, I had to read it a dozen times, and still need to read it more. Imagine tons and tons of dirt, piled over tons and tons of coal, to make a sole diamond.
    That’s how it is done in diamond formation.

    But if the entire book is a diamond, the facets of each word may be missed, unless read over and over for their sheer magnanomous revelation.
    I can’t say enough about this oldie, but these Amazon reviews say a lot:

    2) Calvin Miller also wrote:
    “Walking With Saints: Through the Best and Worst Times of Our Lives ”

    I opened it up to a random page and read.
    Miller was expressing a point that as he was pondering God, he had an urge to itemise on a piece of paper, all the greatest joys of his life… he did.

    Next to that list, he drew a line and then, itemised the most hurtful, disappointing, terrible times of his life too. Soon, he looked at the two lists and was astonished to find they were IDENTICAL.

    How could the worst times and the best times be the same times?
    Miller admits he used to be a watercolorist, and drew often. In choosing his colors, he used darker colors to recede things in his picture, and brighter colors to move them forward as he painted. In doing so, art came to life!
    Miller then had an awakening moment as he declared that as he pondered his list of great joy and great grief, he now saw “colors” from the “mucky pallete of his discipleship”, that the Master Artist was using in his life in order to CREATE life.

    The darker events (colors) recede, but the brighter moments (colors) move to the front, on the landscape of his life. God used the art of a watercolorist to craft a preacher and author.

    What I have said in too many words, Calvin Miller distills into a sole paragraph, all of the above.
    Can you now imagine the rest of the paragraphs?

    When you see the name Calvin Miller on a book, buy it and add to your reading library.

    God uses this man,……in order that you,…….. will know God better.

  4. Nathan – Excellent! Let me know how you like them.

    Amber – Orthodoxy is a great book. Thanks for the link to “A Book Lover’s Guide to Great Reading;” I’ll have to get a copy.

  5. Years ago, a friend got me “A Book Lover’s Guide to Great Reading” (

    It’s a Christian book which recommends books to become familiar with Christian classics, contemporary, secular, etc. I’ve found it to be a great resource for building a well-rounded understanding of Christian and secular literature and finding what my holes in knowledge are.

    As for what three I’d pick, I simply can’t do it, too much pressure. But one book I love that not many read anymore is Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton. It’s not theology per se, but explains this writer/reporters journey to orthodoxy (kind of like the original “Case for Christ.”) Chesterton’s writing were influential in C.S. Lewis’ conversion, and I think this influence can be seen in many of Lewis’ writings.

  6. My three books to build on would be:

    The Pleasures of God, to me one of John Piper’s best. It cleared a lot up for me

    Communion with God. John Owen. This is assuming I am starting now. Not sure I would put Owen in my hands at 19. Though I believe Sinclair Ferguson began reading Owen at 13. Wow! But trust me I was not then nor am I now Sinclair Ferguson.

    Concise Reformed Dogmatics. I got this about 3 years ago. Besides my Bible it is the one book I take whenever I travel.

    If I rethought this an hour from now it might be three others.

  7. My daughter got me Sproul’s Holiness of God.
    Packer’s “Knowing God” is a classic, as is “Experiencing God”, by Henry Blackaby.
    All three are essential to any decent Christian library of your own.

    But sometimes, these guys are deep to understand, for an average seeker of God.
    We do not hand out NIV Study Bibles to our children; we begin them with a children’s Bible, and grow from there.

    I believe a sound Christian Library in your home should do the same.

    Get all of Aaron’s three, and add Blackaby above.
    But read none of them until you read two others first.
    Both move you closer to God, and the order of reading is less essential than doing both, PRIOR to the deeper writings above.

    First, is “The Search For Significance” by Robert S. McGee.
    This is subtitled “Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes”.
    I would liken it to cleaning the bathtub before you take a shower or bath, for we are already IN the world and smudged badly. Looking at YOU, as God sees YOU, is different and a great preparation to the deeper works advised above. McGee opens Chapter 1 with a Psalm verse to set the stage:
    “Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
    See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.”
    ~~~Psalm 139:23-24

    Getting God’s view of YOU cleans the dirt of the world away, for you to see your preciousness to HIM alone.

    After reading McGee, the next best eye opener to God, expounded simply and in everyday life ways is a book called “Windows of the Soul” by Ken Gire. If that book does not move you closer to God, nothing will.

    So first, see yourself as God sees you in “The Search For Significance”; this removes what the world has spoken….such as Performance for love, a falsehood we learn early in life, but like the proverbial boiled frog in cold water that heats up until his goose is cooked, the traps are exposed.

    “Windows of the Soul” point a variety of ways to see God all around you.
    Gire makes the invisible become visible.

    Following those two FIRST, to set the stage, you are now ready for Holiness by Sproul, then Knowing God by Packer, and then, Experiencing God by Blackaby. Bible reading is a must all along with the very start.

    Francis Frangipane has “The Three Battlegrounds” Good reading.

    Anything by Frederich Buechner will add immensely to your reading (skip his fiction and go with the nonfiction); he will surprise you better than “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis…a great read.

    Last, is an old one and a surprise, probably not seconded by Aaron, but I believe it opens your eyes. M. Scott Peck, MD was NOT a Christian writer. His fame came from “The Road Less Travelled”, and that one is NOT a recommendation by me here.

    I recommend his little known “People Of The Lie” Subtitled: “The Hope For Healing Human Evil”.

    You will meet people in there that you know. Indeed, in his psychiatric work as an analytical, secular human, Peck changed to a Christian over the years, and People of The Lie is likely the best of his discoveries that moved him from one dimension to the true dimension. He outright admits that in later books.

    People of the Lie should be a later read in your library, as it is frank to the max in truth. But once you know God, the existence of human evil is coped well.

    Happy Reading all year!

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