People and movements can be defined by the books they read and remember.
The time it takes to read and digest a book requires us to engage someone else's ideas with more seriousness than almost any other activity. So it is with some trepidation that we present this list.
These are books that have shaped evangelicalism as we see it today—not an evangelicalism we wish and hope for. Books that have been published since World War II—not every book in the history of Christianity. Books that over the last 50 years have altered the way American evangelicals pray, gather, talk, and reach out—not books that merely entertained. We asked dozens of evangelical leaders for their suggestions, and they sent in their nominations. Then we vigorously debated as a staff as we ranked the 50 books. (We're still debating.)
Some argued that we should categorize the books—e.g., books that have shaped our prayer, books that have shaped our social action, books that have shaped our church life, and so forth. But that's the easy way out. It's mildly interesting to ponder whether C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity or Francis Schaeffer's Escape from Reason influenced evangelical apologetics more. It's much more difficult to decide whether Left Behind or All We're Meant to Be or Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger has shaped our movement more. Thus the interoffice debates.
In a letter with his nominations, Notre Dame historian Mark A. Noll wrote that the list "strikes me as an imposing task, because there are so many good and important books, but also because it is so hard to figure out who 'we' are." True. Our experiment is one stab at an answer to this confounding question.
We look forward to the disagreement that will come our way. Tell us which books should not be on the list and which we should have included. Make your comments and suggestions by emailing us.
50.Revivalism and Social Reform
Timothy L. Smith
The new evangelicals were rightly wary of the liberal "social gospel." Yet they knew Jesus called them to serve the oppressed. Historian Timothy L. Smith destroyed the myth of the "heavenly minded" evangelical and helped us remember our history of personal and social holiness.
49.Knowledge of the Holy
A. W. Tozer
The Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor and mystic invited us behind the curtain and into God's presence.
48.The Hiding Place
Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill
The staple conundrum of late-night ethics discussions in Christian college dorms—Do you lie if the Nazis knock on your door asking for the Jews you are hiding?—was a question ten Boom lived.
47.The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?
F. F. Bruce
Yes, they are. And it took F. F. Bruce only 120 tiny pages to show it.
46.Out of the Saltshaker and into the World
Rebecca Manley Pippert
"Christians and non-Christians have something in common," author Rebecca Pippert noted. "We're both uptight about evangelism." Out of the Saltshaker helped generations of fearful students (and other would-be evangelists) to loosen up.
45.The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
Mark A. Noll
Few people have accused evangelicalism of being an intellectual movement—but now we feel bad about it, at least.
44.The Gospel of the Kingdom
George Eldon Ladd
Ladd's work called a generation of evangelicals to a higher level of scholarship, and his "already-but-not yet" take on God's kingdom influenced charismatic theologians and cessationists alike.
The who, where, what, why, when, and how many of unreached peoples.
42.The Purpose-Driven Life
A recommended resource to have on hand when faced with a home intruder (a la Ashley Smith) or when seeking to turn around an African nation (a la Rwanda).
Charles W. Colson
As we now know, the metamorphosis of a Nixon administration crook into a prison evangelist wasn't just a phase.
40.Darwin on Trial
Phillip E. Johnson
This Berkeley law professor's takedown of scientific naturalism launched Intelligent Design and gained creationists a level of public attention they hadn't enjoyed since the Scopes trial.
Who expected a Calvinist Baptist to redeem hedonism for Christ?
38.The Gospel in a Pluralist Society
"A profound rethinking of missions in a pluralist context," says Wheaton College English professor Alan Jacobs, who nominated the tome.
Brother Andrew with John and Elizabeth Sherrill
Brother Andrew's autobiography "instilled in me a concern for the persecuted church and ignited courage in my heart to serve those who suffer for Jesus," writes Charisma's editor J. Lee Grady.
Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
The book launched a series that launched a marketing empire that launched a new set of rules for Christian fiction. The series spent a total of 300 weeks—nearly as long as the Tribulation it dramatized—on The New York Times's bestseller list.
35.The Stork Is Dead
Charlie W. Shedd
Shedd published his sex advice for teens in 1968 and got evangelicals talking about the topic four years before The Joy of Sex was published.
34.This Present Darkness
Frank E. Peretti
InterVarsity Press editor Al Hsu says Peretti's horror thriller "challenged evangelicals to take spiritual warfare and the supernatural seriously." Maybe, in some cases, too seriously.
33.The Late Great Planet Earth
Hal Lindsey with C. C. Carlson
In the beginning—before the Left Behind series was a sparkle in the cash registers of religious booksellers—there was The Late Great Planet Earth. It's hard to imagine that Jenkins and LaHaye would have sold 43 million copies of their bestsellers if Lindsey hadn't first sold 15 million copies of his dispensationalist hit.
32.The Cross and the Switchblade
David Wilkerson with John and Elizabeth Sherrill
Amazing things started happening when, in 1958, a country preacher arrived—Bible in hand and Holy Spirit in heart—in the ghettos of New York City. Christian Retailing reports that "more than 50 million copies are in print in 40-plus languages of the book that gave birth to the ministry of Teen Challenge."
31.The Next Christendom
The Penn State professor confronted North American Christians with the shocking truth that they were not the center of the universe.
Back in the early '90s, when engaging the culture wasn't the "in" thing to do, Roaring Lambs inspired countless Christian artists to become artists who are Christians.
29.Dare to Discipline
In the permissive '70s, Dobson did what he still does best—calling us to focus on the family.
28.The Act of Marriage
Tim and Beverly LaHaye
The explicit marriage manual told men how to satisfy their wives. "Fundies in their undies," joked religion scholar Martin E. Marty.
A privileged city girl finds faith and a husband in rural Appalachia—sounds like a TV series to us.
26.Know Why You Believe
Paul E. Little
Now we do.
Henry Cloud and John Townsend
Sometimes, it's good to say no. This, in a nutshell, is the message that some ministry-weary Christians still need to hear.
24.The Meaning of Persons
Swiss physician Paul Tournier awakened us to the deep interconnectedness of the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual.
23.All We're Meant to Be
Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy A. Hardesty
Scanzoni and Hardesty outlined what would later blossom into evangelical feminism. For better or for worse, no evangelical marriage or institution has been able to ignore the ideas in this book.
22.The Genesis Flood
Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb
In 1961, hydraulic engineer Henry M. Morris and biblical scholar John C. Whitcomb infused young-earth creationism with new energy. They argued that the biblical deluge could explain fossils and geological layers.
21.The Master Plan of Evangelism
Robert Emerson Coleman
Using Jesus' methods, Coleman showed the intimate, indispensable relationship between evangelism and discipleship.
20.A Wrinkle In Time
Madeleine L'Engle told CT that when she tried to be a Christian with her "mind only," she ceased to believe. But then she realized that God was a storyteller. Her 1962 classic modeled the power of imagination to energize belief.
19.The Cost of Discipleship
"Although cheap grace has entered into the common vocabulary of evangelicals," says theologian Roger Olson, "the full weight of Bonhoeffer's exploration of true Christian discipleship has yet to be borne by many of us." Translated into English in 1949, Bonhoeffer's classic remains a devastating critique of comfortable Christianity.
18.The Divine Conspiracy
With this call to discipleship, "Willard joins the line of Thomas a Kempis, Luther, Fenelon, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Zinzendorf, Wesley, Frank Laubach, Dorothy Day, and other master apprentices of Jesus," wrote Books and Culture editor John Wilson in a review, praising the University of Southern California professor's "philosophical depth" and "penetrating understanding of Scripture."
17.What's So Amazing About Grace?
With trademark self-deprecation, Yancey wrote: "Grace comes free of charge to people who do not deserve it, and I am one of those people. I think back to who I was—resentful, wound tight with anger, a single hardened link in a long chain of ungrace learned from family and church. Now I am trying in my own small way to pipe the tune of grace. I do so because I know … that any pang of healing or forgiveness or goodness I have ever felt comes solely from the grace of God."
The slim volume "has introduced more people to Christ than any book I know other than the Bible," says author James Sire.
15.The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism
Carl F. H. Henry
Henry's call to cultural engagement seems unremarkable today. That's because we took his advice to "pursue the enemy, in politics, in economics, in science, in ethics."
14.Let Justice Roll Down
John M. Perkins
The civil rights activist got white Christians thinking about his three-pronged solution to America's systemic race problem: relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution.
13.Evidence That Demands a Verdict
Who says faith is only for the heart and not the head? Not Josh McDowell.
John Wimber with Kevin Springer
Lifestyle evangelism is great, but signs and wonders are spectacular.
11.Celebration of Discipline
Richard J. Foster
It "opened the door for many evangelicals to intentionally practice spiritual disciplines and find a connection with the church throughout history," writes Phyllis Alsdurf, professor of journalism at Bethel College.
D. James Kennedy
This more than any other book ("The Four Spiritual Laws" is a pamphlet) gave evangelicals a systematic way to share their faith. It made the question, "If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to heaven?" standard evangelistic fare.
9.Through Gates of Splendor
The account of the martyrdom of five young missionaries at the hands of a feared "Stone Age" tribe in Ecuador helped launch a generation of cross-cultural evangelists into the world's hard places. Author Jerry B. Jenkins told CT, "The story left me feeling spiritually slain."
8.Managing Your Time
Ted W. Engstrom
Evangelicals have historically been entrepreneurs and mystics, so we have run into much personal burnout and organizational chaos. With this book, Ted W. Engstrom gave evangelical leaders permission to organize their ministries rationally and efficiently.
7.Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
Ronald J. Sider
"God is on the side of the poor!" Sider writes. To neglect them is to neglect the gospel.
6.The Living Bible
Kenneth N. Taylor
One of the first in a wave of easy-to-read, modern English versions of the Bible, Kenneth N. Taylor's Living Bible came out in 1971, complete with its signature green cover. Book design has come a long way since then.
J. I. Packer
Packer was magisterial in substance, but adopted the tone of a fellow traveler. He convinced us that the study of God "is the most practical project anyone can engage in."
4.The God Who Is There
Francis A. Schaeffer
"This book, and its companion volumes, accomplished something startling and necessary: It made intellectual history a vital part of the evangelical mental landscape, opening up the worlds particularly of art and philosophy to a subculture that was suspicious and ignorant of both," writes John Stackhouse, professor of theology and culture at Regent College.
C. S. Lewis
Anyone who has read this far into the list doesn't need any explanation about why Lewis's work of apologetics placed this high—right?
2.Understanding Church Growth
Donald Anderson McGavran
Although evangelicals have always been enamored with large and growing numbers (e.g., the Great Awakenings), it was Donald McGavran who gave us phrases such as "church growth" and "the homogeneous unit principle" and who made the endeavor a "science." Today, every pastor in North America has a decided opinion about whether or how much he or she buys into church-growth principles.
1.Prayer: Conversing With God
In the 1950s, evangelical prayer was characterized by Elizabethan wouldsts and shouldsts. Prayer meetings were often little more than a series of formal prayer speeches. Then Rosalind Rinker taught us something revolutionary: Prayer is a conversation with God. The idea took hold, sometimes too much (e.g., "Lord, we just really wanna …"). But today evangelicals assume that casual, colloquial, intimate prayer is the most authentic way to pray.
Heard, but Not Seen
John and Elizabeth Sherrill may be the most influential Christian authors you know nothing about. They appear three times on this list—step aside, C. S. Lewis and J. I. Packer—as co-authors of God's Smuggler, The Cross and the Switchblade, and The Hiding Place. Ghostwriters extraordinaire, longtime editors of Guideposts, and founders of Chosen Books (now a division of Baker Publishing), the couple also published Charles W. Colson's Born Again. Their specialty: testimonials to the power of God's Spirit. And, it seems, bestsellers.
OUR THANKS TO THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE FOR SUBMITTING THEIR NOMINATIONS:
Miriam Adeney, Phyllis Alsdurf, Leith Anderson, Jeanette Bakke, Bruce Barton, Darrell Bock, Tony Campolo, Joel Carpenter, Charles Colson, Cindy Crosby, Andy Crouch, Lane Dennis, Mark Galli, Gary Gnidovic, J. Lee Grady, David Gushee, Stan Guthrie, Mimi Haddad, Collin Hansen, Archibald Hart, Gary Haugen, Michael Horton, James Houston, Al Hsu, R. Kent Hughes, Alan Jacobs, Greg Jao, Jerry B. Jenkins, Todd Johnson, Craig Keener, Douglas LeBlanc, Anne Graham Lotz, Timothy C. Morgan, Rebecca Manley Pippert, Michael Maudlin, Gerald McDermott, Robertson McQuilken, Al Mohler, Rob Moll, Richard Mouw, David Neff, Mark Noll, Ted Olsen, Roger Olson, Richard Ostling, J. I. Packer, Richard Pierard, Patricia Raybon, Haddon Robinson, James Calvin Schaap, Luci Shaw, Ron Sider, James Sire, Howard Snyder, Russell Spittler, John Stackhouse, Agnieszka Tennant, Madison Trammel, Jim Wallis, James Emery White, John Woodbridge, Philip Yancey.
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
See also today's article on what evangelical leaders say are the challenges and priorities in Christian publishing for the next 50 years.
For book lovers, our 2006 CT book awards are available online, along with our book awards for 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, and 1997, as well as our Books of the Twentieth Century. For other coverage or reviews, see our Books archive and the weekly Books & Culture Corner.
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