The Five (Part Two): Where to Begin with Five Essential Authors

booksLast week I wrote about five authors I think believers should spend the rest of their lives reading. While encouraging Christians to read lots of books from lots of different authors, I tried to answer this question: If you could only read five authors for the rest of your life, who would they be? Building on that question, I encouraged you to be intentional about developing a small group of lifetime authors who will be your friends, conversation partners, and teachers for the rest of your life. The five authors that I recommended were John Calvin, C.S. Lewis, J.I. Packer, John Piper, and Charles Spurgeon.

You can go back and read that original article for the actual reasons why I chose these five authors, but in this follow-up I want to offer a small amount of practical help. Maybe you want to follow my advice. Maybe you’d like to begin developing a reading schedule with these five authors. So where should you begin? While not listing a full bibliography for each of these authors, I want to suggest a few books to get you started in the right direction. For each author I’ll recommend a few things by them and at least one or two secondary resources to give you a bit of a better introduction to their lives and thought.

1. John Calvin:

Calvin is the oldest author I recommended (having died in 1564) and the most misunderstood. Far too many people either love him or hate him regardless of whether or not they’ve actually read him! So how can you get started?

If you want to begin to actually read Calvin for yourself, I’d start in two places:

First, pick up an edition of the two volume work Institutes of the Christian Religion. The McNeil and Battles translation and edition is the best in my opinion, although you can find a few good abridged versions.

If you want something a bit less daunting, there are a few good devotionals that offer daily selected readings from his works. Among these, Coffee with Calvin edited by Donald McKim, Day by Day with Calvin edited by Fackler and Hudson, and Heart Aflame: Daily Readings From Calvin on the Psalms are good volumes to pick up.

There are tons of biographies of Calvin and works on his life and theology. A few helpful introductions to Calvin are:

Calvin on the Christian Life by Michael Horton, With Calvin in the Theater of God edited by John Piper and David Mathis, and John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, Doxology by Various Contributors .

2. C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis may be the easiest author to begin to jump into. If you’re new to his writings, however, here are a few places I’d start:

First, read the essay/sermon ”The Weight of Glory”. When that’s done, read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Mere Christianity, and The Screwtape Letters. Follow these books by reading Lewis’ autobiographical account of his early life and conversion to Christianity from his life as an atheist in Surprised by Joy. With those works behind you, you’ll have a good introduction to Lewis’ thought and writing and can begin moving onto his many other works.

For a great introductory biography, C.S. Lewis, a Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister McGrath is a great place to start.

3. J.I. Packer

To begin reading Packer, drop everything you’re doing and go get his most important book Knowing God. This is a book to read and reread over and over again.

Other books of his to read early on include Rediscovering Holiness: Know the Fullness of Life with God, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, and In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement.

For more on his life and work, Alister McGrath’s biography is one of the best places to start.

4. John Piper

John Piper has written a lot of books, and as far as I’m concerned they’re all worth reading. If you haven’t read him before, however, there are a few books that you really should begin with: First, read Desiring God, and then read When I Don’t Desire God, and God is the Gospel. These books are going to give you a great introduction to Piper. Most of these books, along with thousands of sermons and articles by Piper are all accessible online for free at http://www.desiringgod.org.

Piper is still living and very active in ministry, and a biography of his life and work hasn’t been written yet. If you want a secondary resource that will introduce you to the various aspects of his ministry and theology, however, you can pick up the book For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor.

5. Charles Spurgeon

As I mentioned in the first article, Spurgeon’s writings (with his sermons included) compose the largest body of writing by any single author in the English language. So there isn’t any lack of things to read by the “Prince of Preachers!” For the beginner, however, there are a few good places to start:

I love the tiny little paperback collection of sermons titled Christ’s Glorious Achievements. It’s small enough to fit into a pocket, but is a great collection of sermons by Spurgeon that highlight the major thrust of his preaching ministry. You can also begin to read through his devotionals Morning by Morning and Evening by Evening, and these are oftentimes published together in one volume. The devotional Look Unto Me: The Devotions of Charles Spurgeon, edited by Jim Reiman is also a good book for beginners.

For more background on Spurgeon’s remarkable life and ministry, there are three books I’d recommend wholeheartedly. The short books The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steven Lawson and Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold Dallimore are both helpful introductions. Finally, begin to read through the definitive work on Spurgeon’s life, theology, and ministry written by Dr. Tom Nettles of Southern Seminary, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

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