I’m not sure where this started, but I’ve seen a couple of examples on blogs and other social media sites suggesting three books you might recommend to someone wanting to know about Christianity.
I think that the first question to ask about this idea is “why not just talk to them?”; so perhaps this is more about an introduction to what the person doing the recommending thinks about the Christian faith. Another caveat is to note that “Christianity” is quite wide-ranging – not just different denominations’ ideas about doctrine and church management, but what you might call the “conservative” and “liberal” wings, which in many cases cross denominational boundaries.
So here are my personal suggestions, from my own fairly liberal perspective; also, these are books published quite recently, so in five years or so I may have a different selection.
My first choice is “Unapologetic” by Francis Spufford. I’ve chosen this because it addresses the fairly basic issue of why it’s OK to be a Christian; why, in the words of the subtitle, Christianity makes emotional sense. This is despite the fact that some non-Christians think we are weird; in fact, the author starts by listing some of the ways in which this might be expressed, so he’s under no illusions. I therefore suggest that this book is about “why be a Christian?”.
Althogh Spufford says that this is not an explanation of Christian doctrine, he does include some of the key aspects of Christian faith, such as the existence and nature of God, what Christianity says about human nature and our propensity to mess things up (warning: the book uses a much stronger word here), and what can be done about it through the person and work of Jesus Christ. So I think that this book is a good starting point.
My second choice is “What we talk about when we talk about God” by Rob Bell. If “Unapologetic” considers why it’s OK to be a Christian, this goes a bit deeper into what Christians believe, especially in relation to God. And it does so in quite straightforward language, not getting too technical. Bell doesn’t try and offer a proof of God’s existence, but does offer some arguments that make this plausible, or at least not irrational.
Bell recognises the inadequacy of human language and human thinking in trying to describe God. So he uses some very simple words, but with very deep implications, to talk about the God who is with us, for us, and ahead of us. (If you’re like me, you may easily accept the idea of God being with us and for us, but may not be sure in what ways God could be aherad of us; well, you’ll just have to read this book!) He uses examples from his personal experience, the world of today, and the Bible, to explore these ideas.
My third choice is “Living Faithfully” by John Pritchard, and this moves on to the question of how we should live, if Christianity is true. Both the previous books touch on this, but it is the main focus of this one and goes into more detail. It’s easy to get the idea that Christianity (along with other religions) is all about rules and regulations, about long lists of hings that we shouldn’t do, and condemnation for those who behave differently. I suspect that this is what is behaind much of the radical atheists’ attack on religion, and hence on a concept of God which supports such narrowness. Sadly, the Church has too often lived up to these criticisms.
But if God is with us (i.e. human beings), and for us, and ahead of us, what does that say about how we should live our lives? “Living Faithfully” explores several areas of life, including money, politics, sex, and shopping. It doesn’t give definitive rules, but invites readers to consider these in the light of the teachings of the Bible and come to our own conclusions, especially about how we live for the good of ourselves, other people, and the environment. It can be used as group study, but the questions can also be thought about individually.
So there we have my choices, three books that I highly recommend. In summary:
- Why be a Christian? Because it makes emotional sense.
- What can we know about God? That God is with us, for us, and ahead of us.
- How should we live? In the light of our knowledge of God, and for the good of ourselves and others.