50 short books full of wisdom
Reading good books is essential for cultivating Christian wisdom. This is a pretty obvious point, but it bears repeating. “It’s very important that your food book be strong meat,” wrote Amy Carmichael (in one of the books highlighted below). “We are what we think about.”
Indeed, we will only become wise if we eat a diet rich in wisdom nutrients. We are what we eat. This is the central idea of my book The pyramid of wisdomwhich includes a chapter on why books are vital to our “wisdom diet” – and who sorts we should read.
Reading good books is essential for cultivating Christian wisdom.
On this point, I thought I’d come up with a list of books that I’ve personally found rich in wisdom. There are countless that I could have included here, but to limit myself I focus on shorter books (arbitrarily defined as less than 225 pages), although I highly recommend making time for long and intimidating books too! The selections below are also limited to non-fiction, though I could easily come up with a similar list of wisdom-rich fiction (and maybe I will, at some point).
Some of the 50 books below, listed in chronological order of publication, are “classics”. Others are more recent, lesser known, or newly edited volumes collecting a sample of the wisdom of an established sage. I certainly don’t agree with every word in all those books, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned a lot from them. These are all books that shaped me in my love of God and his Word and in my understanding of his world.
Maybe pick up a few of these for summer reading, you won’t be disappointed!
Athanasius, On the Incarnation (4th century). Timeless and beautiful wisdom about one of God’s fundamental (but mysterious) doctrines. 110 pages.
John Chrysostom, On marriage and family life (4th century). Wisdom on the theology, mystery and meaning of the sacrament of marriage. 114 pages.
Augustine of Hippo, On Christian teaching (fifth century). Broad Christian wisdom from one of the Church’s greatest thinkers. 208pages.
Thomas to Kempis, The imitation of Christ (15th century). Classic devotional wisdom about loving Christ and living like him. 144pages.
Richard Sibbes, The bruised reed (1630). Encourage wisdom for the weak and weary pilgrim to pursue Christ with confidence, knowing the nature of his heart. 160 pages.
John Owen, The Glory of Christ (1684). Puritan wisdom that repeats the inexhaustible glories of Christ and invites the reader to bask in them. 184 pages.
Brother Lawrence, The practice of the presence of God (1692). Bits of wisdom from a humble Carmelite monk on cultivating awareness and fully preserving the presence of God. 42 pages.
Richard Baxter, Walk with God (17th century). Puritan wisdom on the nature and practice of intimacy with God. 86 pages.
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass (1845). Unfailing wisdom, necessary testimony to history that some would like to forget. 160 pages.
Martin Buber, I and you (1923). Wisdom about the sacred, God-created alchemy of relationships, memorably distinguished between I-It and I-Thou relationships. 132 pages.
J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and liberalism (1923). The wisdom of the steadfast defense of orthodoxy against the encroachments and mutations of liberal Christianity. 200 pages.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, life together (1939). Wisdom about the beauty, necessity and challenge of Christian community. 122 pages.
CS Lewis, The weight of glory (1941). Wisdom you won’t know you need until you read it; the most moving essay I have ever read. 208 pages.
Dorothee Sayers, The spirit of the creator (1941). Wisdom about how the creative life provides insight into the nature of God. 206 pages.
CS Lewis, The abolition of man (1943). Wisdom on where to find (and not find) truth – one of the most timely texts for our “post-truth” moment. 128 pages.
Simone Weill, gravity and grace (1947). Pascal-like pearls of wisdom on Christian spirituality, full of unexpected epiphanies and new connections. 224 pages.
Carl Henry, The worried conscience of modern fundamentalism (1947). Fundamental wisdom for evangelicals committed to defending the unchanging gospel but also to applying it to all of life. 112 pages.
Joseph Pieper, Leisure: the basis of culture (1948). Compelling case for the wisdom found in leisure, rest and the senses with the ability to perceive beauty. 144 pages.
Amy Carmichael, This way and no other (mid 20th century). New collection of nuggets of wisdom from one of the most faithful missionaries in Christian history. 144 pages.
Abraham Heschel, the sabbath (1951). Elegant wisdom on the “architecture of time” that is the Sabbath. 144 pages.
J.I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958). Wisdom in defense of our greatest (by far) source of wisdom: the infallible Word of God. 191 pages.
CS Lewis, An observed mourning (1961). The wisdom of deeply felt grief because of deeply committed love. 76 pages.
AW Tozer, knowledge of the sacred (1961). Wisdom towards the end to love God more by knowing his majestic attributes. 128 pages.
Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963). Prophetic wisdom about race, justice, natural law and civil disobedience. 64 pages.
Francois Schaeffer, The God who is there (1968). The wisdom to recognize the uniqueness and appeal of Christianity in the modern world. 191 pages.
Jacques Ellul, The meaning of the city (1970). Heady but valid wisdom about the theological significance of cities in the biblical narrative. 209 pages.
Madeleine L’Engle Walk on water (1972). Eloquent wisdom on the relationship between art and faith. 224 pages.
Helene Roseveare, living sacrifice (1979). Wisdom born of conflict and service, in defense of sacrifice as the key to joy. 144 pages.
Eugene Peterson, A long obedience in the same direction (1980). The wisdom of a faithful walk and enduring obedience in a world of fads, fickle attachments, and short attention spans. 220 pages.
Neil Postman, fun to die for (1985). Wisdom about the shaping effects of the forms of communication of a frighteningly prophetic media critic. 208 pages.
Cornelius Plantinga Jr. Not As It’s Meant To Be: A Breviary of Sin (1996). Sober wisdom about the insidious nature of sin. 202 pages.
Alexander Schmemann, For the life of the world (1997). Nuggets of wisdom on life, culture and theology from an Orthodox Christian perspective. 151 pages.
Anne Dillard, For now (1999). Contemplative wisdom about the sad, strange and wonderful mysteries of life in time. 224 pages.
Guinness bones, Prophetic timelessness (2005). The wisdom to cling to eternal truth in a culture prone to passing fads. 128 pages.
Tim Keller, The Prodigal God (2011). The wisdom of digging into the depths of the gospel of a story that Jesus tells. 192 pages.
Maryline Robinson, When I was a child I read books (2013). Wisdom-filled essays on a variety of topics from one of the finest living Christian writers. 224 pages.
ND Wilson, dead while alive (2013). The wisdom to live with joy, gratitude and commitment in a world of decay and death. 208 pages.
Christian Wimann, My luminous abyss (2014). Wisdom was forged in the pressures of suffering and the struggle for faith in a secular age. 182 pages.
Pierre Leithard, Traces of the Trinity (2015). The wisdom to see the signs of the Creator in his creation. 176 pages.
Pope Francis, Laudato Si: On the Care of Our Common Home (2015). The best Christian wisdom I have come across on the theological justification for the care of creation. 176 pages.
Tish Harrison Warren, Ordinary Liturgy (2016). The wisdom to see the sacred in everyday life. 184 pages.
James K. A. Smith, you are what you love (2016). The wisdom to know that we are shaped not just by what we think, but by how (and what) we worship. 224 pages.
Jen Wilkins, none like him (2016). Wisdom that helps us understand the attributes of God, who himself is Wisdom. 176 pages.
Jackie Hill Perry, Gay girl, good God (2018). The wisdom to trust in the power of God to transform us and to know his holiness is greater than our desires. 208 pages.
Megan Hill, A place of belonging (2020). The wisdom that moves us to love the local church, which is one of God’s greatest gifts to our wisdom. 184 pages.
Jay Kim, Analog Church (2020). Timely wisdom on embodied ecclesiology for an increasingly disembodied (and therefore reckless) age. 216 pages.
Rebecca McLaughlin, The Secular Creed (2020). Wisdom that speaks with clarity about some of today’s most controversial and confusing issues. 125 pages.
Dan Ortlund, Kind and modest (2020). Wisdom found in the contemplation of one who said of himself: “I am meek and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). 224 pages.
Hartmut Rosa, The uncontrollability of the world (2020). Wisdom that recognizes joy as a grace to be received, and not as a prize to be won, mastered or manufactured. 140 pages.