I would love to convince every Christian that theology is for you. Theology is not an academic subject. It stirs the heart and sharpens the mind. It helps us to better know the God we worship and better worship the God we know. But where do you start? If you are intimidated by the word theology, much less an entire book on it, this post is for you.
Below I give the top book I recommend on several important areas in theology for someone who has never read a book on the topic. Each of these books is short, easy to read, and will leave you with a deeper love for God and his Word. None of these books requires a seminary education or a brilliant mind. These are books written for the ordinary Christian in the pew, and I guarantee you will benefit from reading any one of them.
I’ve broken the list into two parts: Systematic Theology and Practical Theology. By “systematic theology” I mean the core categories of our faith like Christ, sin, the cross, or the Bible. By “practical theology” I mean issues of daily life for most of us, like prayer, marriage, parenting, or work. I hope you find these lists helpful, and I hope you will read some of the books you find here! If any of these books grabs your interest, click on the cover photo to go to the Amazon page where you can buy it.
Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung
This book is very short, extremely clear, and easy to read. Kevin DeYoung has a remarkable gift for taking huge topics and explaining them briefly, clearly, and with a bit of wit and humor thrown in. In this book he shows why God’s word is Enough, Clear, Final, and Necessary, and what that means for you as you read it.
Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga
This book will change the way you think about Sin. It shows that Sin is a vandalism of God’s good world, a corrupting cocktail of Perversion (turning away from God), Pollution (introducing a harmful foreign element), and Disintegration (the breakdown of personal and social integrity). The book also walks through issues like abuse, addiction, and the “masquerade” we all find ourselves in, trying to convince everyone that we have it all together.
Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund
This book has been extremely popular since it was released, and for good reason. It is a fantastic look at how Christ feels about you. The book is theologically precise and thoroughly biblical—each chapter is a reflection on a single Bible verse about Christ. Although it is not intended as a one-shop-stop on the doctrine of the person of Christ, Ortlund’s biblical and theological care make it my first recommendation on the topic.
In My Place Condemned He Stood by J. I. Packer and Mark Dever
This book is actually a collection of shorter writings on the cross by J. I. Packer and Mark Dever. Packer and Dever both have a gift for writing concisely while penetrating the heart. There are fuller and more organized books on the cross, but no book will make you appreciate the cross more than this one.
Missing Categories I Plan to Add
- The Church
A Praying Life by Paul Miller
This is a remarkably simple book with profound impact. The main premise of the book is that God wants us to relate to him as children and that this is particularly true in prayer. One blurb on the book calls it “a book on prayer that actually makes you want to pray!” This was my experience reading it as well.
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller
We’re all familiar with the concept of marriage. Maybe you are even married. But what’s it all about? What is the purpose of marriage? What is my role as a husband or a wife? What is our role as a married couple? What does the Bible mean when it says that marriage is a mystery about Christ and the church? The Kellers answer all of these questions and more in this rich and helpful book on the topic.
Parenting by Paul David Tripp
This is my favorite book on the list. If you are a parent, you have to read this book. Most parenting books are purely practical—should I spank? how do I handle rebellion? how do we approach chores? Parenting is the missing book that tells you why you are doing any of this at all, what God calls you to as a parent, and explains the big picture of parenting. Most importantly this book reminds us that ultimately we want our children to have changed hearts, not merely good behavior, and that we cannot change our children’s hearts. So how do you parent based on that? Please read this book to find out!
How People Change by Paul David Tripp
All Christians should be involved in some sort of ministry to other Christians. Whether it is in small groups, kids ministry, local or short term missions, or somewhere else, we are called to serve other Christians and help one another grow in Christ. As we do this we inevitably wonder, “What am I doing wrong? Why isn’t this person responding to what I’m sharing with them?” This book is extremely helpful in answering that question.
The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction by Justin Whitmel Earley
This isn’t technically a book on spiritual disciplines. But it is a book that will teach you to be disciplined, and it is written from a thoroughly Christian perspective with the goal that our discipline would glorify God. Earley walks through cornerstone habits like a weekly sabbath, eating meals together, limiting screen time, and “Scripture before phone” that aim to steady us in a restless world. This book will change your life if you let it.
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Tim Keller
What is the purpose of work? Is it just a necessary evil to put food on the table or is there some larger meaning? What does God think of your work? Does He value some types of work more than others? Keller answers these questions and more in this book, placing work within the larger context of God’s work in the Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration of the world.