How can the church, in its eagerness to engage mainstream culture, avoid merely floating along with the cultural tide? It’s a problem that has long vexed Mark Sayers, an Australian pastor and author of Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience (Moody). Here, Sayers recommends five books to make the church less culturally relevant.

The Present Age

Søren Kierkegaard

Writing in 19th-century Denmark, philosopher Kierkegaard worried that in the process of creating a state founded on Christian values, a society would lose Christ. With staggering prescience, The Present Age diagnoses many current ills: most strikingly, the superficiality of a culture that has swapped the authority of God for the authority of public opinion.

Nation of Rebels

Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter

The evangelical movement often seems to blend in seamlessly with mass culture, suburban lifestyles, and conservative politics. Some evangelicals have tried to chart a prophetic highway out of this collusion by embracing city life and progressive politics. Heath and Potter demonstrate that the West’s countercultural streams are less an escape than another form of consumerism. As it turns out, the church can fall captive to a counterculture as readily as to mainstream culture.

How (Not) to Be Secular

James K. A. Smith

In his masterwork, A Secular Age, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor describes secularism with incredible skill. But the book’s size and depth counseled against recommending it to most readers—until Smith offered this punchy yet deep reflection that both affirms and critiques Taylor’s work. Whether you read it as an initiation, a guide, or a summary of A Secular Age, it can help you wrestle with Taylor’s vital explanation for how we got to where we are.

My Life Among the Deathworks

Philip Rieff

Occupying a lonely place within the 20th-century US intellectual landscape, Philip Rieff saw the Judeo-Christian imagination being overrun by a therapeutic revolution. That movement championed feelings over rational thought, the transgression of all orthodoxy, and an individualist search for meaning. At times sounding like an art critic, at others like a conservative rabbi, Rieff depicts a culture coming unglued from its foundations. In so doing, he helps us imagine (if only inadvertently) how the church can make disciples when revolution is in the air.

City of God

Augustine of Hippo

Mixing cultural criticism, apologetics, and theology, City of God is a stunning work written at a moment of cultural collapse. Augustine exposes how the church’s imagination had become entangled with the surrounding Roman world. At moments of great cultural stress and tension, this is the ideal book to re-read. It renews one’s faith that orthodox Christianity can come into its own, producing incredible works of imagination that offer life not just for the church but for a whole society.