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Welcome to the 100 best Christian books website

Paul Handley explains why we began our quest for the best 100 Christian books, and how we reached our verdicts. 

HUMAN progress involves assimilating the wisdom of past generations, and building on it. The most valuable lessons are still conveyed by word of mouth, but these can be very basic instructions — and, besides, you have to be within earshot.

The jury is still out on the efficacy of modern methods of communications. The vast encyclopaedia that is the internet has to be acknowledged as a boon, despite its darker and more irritating aspects. As the editor of a newspaper, I recognise the value of Twitter for alerting people to events; and, as the editor of a newspaper with a healthy budget for photos, I can even see the value of things such as Instagram.

But wisdom is more than knowledge, and assimilation more than simple exposure. One of the privileges of life is to spend time with people who have had extraordinary experiences, processed deep thoughts, and achieved great understanding. Such occasions come rarely, but there is another way of spending time with the fruits of other people’s wisdom — if they fall into the tiny category of people who wrote things down, and the even tinier category who had them published.

When we began our quest for the 100 best Christian books, we knew that the material we were contemplating had already been through several refining fires. It had been worked on by its author, judged worthy to be published, and, over time, had impressed enough readers to be noticed — and, mostly, to be kept in print.

IT IS sometimes easy to forget it, given the variable quality of the books that come into the Church Times office for review, but works that get into print can be categorised, by and large, as quite good. Many that we review are not only good: some are very good. But “best”?

Best is, of course, a value judgement. We have kept it for this project because it is so obviously subjective. “Best” does not just cover a book’s intrinsic worth: it also prompts a consideration of what a book can achieve. Throughout our debate, we found ourselves balancing a title’s historical position with its place in our memories. A different set of judges on a different day — perhaps even the same set of judges — would certainly have come up with a different list.

But, perhaps, not that different. Although there is no science in literary (let alone spiritual) criticism, we none the less approached the search for the 100 Best Christian Books in a scientific way.

First, we asked for nominations from the paper’s stable of book reviewers. We had more than 100 replies, and drew up a long-list of more than 700 titles. We ranked these in accordance with the number of mentions they had received from our reviewers, and sent a resulting shortlist of 120 titles to our panel of judges.

BEFORE we met (on 20 June), the judges ranked the titles into sextiles — which should be in the top 20, then the next 20, and so on — and we co-ordinated their answers to produce a preliminary listing.

Then the debate started.

An influential phrase from early on was “enduring value”, indicated by one of our contributing reviewers, Richard Harries. It meant that we were drawn to books that had made an impact, and that this impact had been tested by time. It also meant that, with more modern titles, we had to judge how they would be viewed by future generations.

Impact was not everything, of course, as was shown in the judges’ argument about John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. For 200 years or more, Foxe’s huge book (more properly called Actes and Monuments) had been one of the most popular in Protestant circles, alongside Bunyan and the Bible. But the judges argued, and it slipped down the table. Its influence had not lasted to the present day: nobody could quote it beyond the odd line; it was more remembered for its woodcuts than its text; and, besides, had its influence been a good one?

Significance is a tricky thing to quantify, of course. Big works of theology, which changed the way that the Church thought about God, were relatively easy to place. But what of works of imagination and poetry? These worked their influence on the Church in much subtler ways, but, because they were read by more people, could have had a more direct influence.

We decided early on to exclude the Bible and liturgy, such as the Book of Common Prayer and Hymns Ancient & Modern: they were judged to be too seminal, too much woven into the Church’s life to be considered as books in themselves. Besides, they would have blocked the top places in the list.

ANOTHER consideration was the balance of the 100 Best. The judges did not get far into their discussions before they were asking: “Is there enough poetry in this section of the list?” “What about different works by the same author?” (Each work was judged on its own merits.) And, predictably, “Where are the women writers?”

Any historical list is likely to be biased against women. The judges did their best, attempting to ensure that women authors were not neglected, while judging books on their merits.

Finally, the finer detail: was this book better than that? We spent the last half-hour of our four-hour meeting assessing the choices that we had made, ironing out any quirks, trying to ignore the fierce lobbying from different judges, looking at the list as a whole. It looked pretty good. The next day, it still looked pretty good.

If we thought this list definitive, we would not invite readers to take issue with it. Our hope is that it will encourage readers to argue for or against books on the list, and recommend others.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the late Dr Denise Inge, wife of the Bishop of Worcester and one of our bank of reviewers, who died earlier this year. A week after her death, her husband, John, forwarded her suggestions for the 100 Best list. He wrote: “This list is about the last thing Denise was doing, hours before she died. It’s not complete — it was on the screen on her computer on Holy Saturday.

“I found her doing it, and said: ‘Why don’t you let me do that?’ She was determined to do it herself.” Seven of her recommendations made it into the top 100.

The best of the best

It comes as no surprise that St Augustine tops the tree, says Cally Hammond, one of our judges.

IN ONE way, it is enough to see that St Augustine alone has two works in the all-time top ten to know that he is the greatest writer ever in Christian history. But I suspect that the decision would have been a little harder to make but for the guiding of the Holy Spirit, which prompted him, at the age of 43, after six years as a priest, to write Confessions.

It is a work that influences the interpretation of everything else Augustine wrote. It stands apart from everything else of — or before — its own time: an act of selfdisclosure, the first psycho logically rounded, utterly com pelling selfportrait of a human being in all European literature.

Confessions takes the form of a human search for God, for divine truth, through a struggle between cultures and teachings. After two years working on a new translation of Confessions, I have found, as all its many translators do, that it shaped and influenced me as I worked.

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Where’s the ker-ching?

Why are so few of our top ten stacked by the till, wonders Paul Handley.

SO, THERE you have it: our judges’ complete list. Now that it can be seen as a whole, readers can appreciate the fine balancing that placed one work just there, and another work two places above it.

The top ten is, perhaps, the least surprising part of the list, now that it is out in the open. The church Fathers share it with the flowers of medieval spirituality, and participants in the turbulence of the 17th century. John Bunyan, born in 1628, is the nearest in the top ten to the present time.

The reason is that, in the judges’ eyes, these works have proved to be firm building-blocks for the Church through the centuries. There have been periods of neglect, but the works emerge unscathed. And, al - though many of them serve as theological textbooks, they have, in the main, shown a breadth of appeal, so that several are studied today on philosophy or literature courses.

The question arises, though: if these are, indeed, the top ten, what steps are being taken to ensure that their importance is conveyed to the next generation of readers? For that matter, what of the whole top 100?

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Reaching the bottom of the pile

We’ve listed the best, but what about the worst? Four of our judges nominate their ‘turkeys’.

IT IS a pity that a tree had to die to make The Laws of Prosperity by Kenneth Copeland. Copeland is one of those tele-evangelists who hate the sin, and the sinner. It is quite something to be able to quote the Bible so much and end up with a vision that is the exact opposite of the gospel.

Here, he argues that wealth is a sign of spiritual maturity. God blesses his people with money and good health. If we do not have them, then the problem lies with us. If you are sad or depressed, it is because you are not believing properly.

His materialist take on Christian discipleship would be laughable, if it were not for the fact that so many are drawn to it — either to self-justify, or because it gives hope that more prayer means more bucks.

It is a horrid, dangerous book that reminds us that to call yourself a “true” Christian, and fire biblical bullets at the “false” or vulnerable, can often lead us into places a long way from Nazareth.
Mark Oakley

 

NICKY CRUZ, a one-time New York street fighter and now fundamentalist preacher, takes on Satan in The Devil Has No Mother. Whereas C. S. Lewis, in the Screwtape Letters, tackled him with the rapier of wit, Cruz’s chosen weapon is a bludgeon. The Devil actually gets off fairly lightly. Most of the blows fall on weak-kneed Christians who won’t join the battle.

Cruz’s greatest concern is the satanic infiltration of our daily lives: he sees demons every–where. “The devil is worse than you think,” he warns, while giving him (or it) plenty of free publicity. “Pornography, drug use, child abuse, adultery, murder, rape” are evidence of satanic influence. So is the widespread failure by church leaders to “denounce gay practices”.

If you like being hectored for 244 pages, are fascinated by other people’s sins, own a demon-possessed dog, or need to know what to do when you meet someone whose eyes glow orange, this book is for you. Otherwise, it’s probably not.
David Winter

 

MY “TURKEY” came wrapped in plausible plaudits. I opened Hans Küng’s On Being a Christian (number 80 in the list) with high hopes. Here, after all, was the daring theologian, allegedly persecuted by his Church, ready to show how one could be fully engaged with modernity while still being a Christian — something well worth demonstrating.

But it was the tone that put me off. High-handed, arrogant, dismissive of tradition, implying, on every page, that anyone who had not radically re-evaluated his or her faith from the standpoint of a post-Kantian Zeitgeist was not a proper Christian.

When I finally got to a place where he said that “Christianity is more than the shrunken gesture of an old woman crossing herself at a church door,” I finally lost patience. I thought, “There may be more to Christianity than that, but there is more Christianity in what that faithful gesture means, in all that has sustained that poor woman through the bloodiest years of history, more of the redeeming cross in her gesture, than in any page of yours.” I closed the book, and haven’t opened it since.
Malcolm Guite

 

 

THE central idea of Situation Ethics, by Joseph Fletcher, sounds great, until you try to put it into practice. Fletcher wanted to argue that morality is a matter of applying loving concern to individual cases rather than starting with preconceived ideas of right and wrong. What might be morally wrong in one case could be justified in another.

While Fletcher was clear that “love” is not the same as liking, or what gives pleasure, he was vaguer about what it actually is, and how we can tell if that is what is motivating us.

There is a superb confidence in basic human rationality which was optimistic, even in the 1960s. The faintest glimmer of self-knowledge must assure us that we somehow always manage to find excuses for what we want to do. The book drove me back to Augustine on Original Sin when I first read it, and it still does.
Jane Williams

Bread for the journey

Mark Vernon and Chine Mbubaegbu recommend books for would-be believers.

THE problem for contemporary Christian apologetics in a culture that is “spiritual, but not religious” is not rational or empirical, as if people might be persuaded of Christianity’s truth by argument or evidence. Rather, the problem is that Christianity seems to be irrelevant as a source of lively spiritual insight.

So the books that I would recommend to someone who senses that life has spiritual depth, and seeks ways of growing that perception, would be those that show Christianity as an invaluable source of spiritual acuity and wisdom. 

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The ones that got away

Four of our judges name books that they wish had made the top 100.

WORKING as a team to produce 100 Best Christian Books necessarily meant that we worked under some constraints. But, in the main, the pluses hugely outweighed any minuses. The exercise was demanding and difficult in places. Mostly, it was enormous fun; and, unsurprisingly, there was a high calibre of discussion. As panel members, we were all enriched by each other, and we all left the deliberations with our knowledge widened and deepened.

We were, however, focused from the outset. We set our minds on identifying books of “lasting significance”. That said, “significance” can be a personal matter. All the judges had favourites that both fed and entertained them — and that they would have loved to get on the list. Here are mine.

Garrison Keillor’s work — the masterly chapter “Protestant” in Lake Wobegon Days — still moves me to tears of laughter. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are all salutary tales of faith and fate, as is Dominique Lapierre’s The City of Joy. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is a beautiful, poignant, and tragic tale of misconceived missionary endeavour. (Yes, I am drawn to irony.)

So, A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, is probably my favourite novel — up there with Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Irving’s tale pays homage to Günter Grass’s novel The Tin Drum (also a brilliant film). Grass had a great influence on Irving, and they were close friends. The main characters of both novels — Owen Meany, and Oskar Matzerath — share the same initials, as well as some characteristics. The stories have parallels, too.

Theologically, anything by Dan Hardy is a sound investment, and I still consider Jubilate (with David Ford) to be a seminal book. Generally, I cannot resist a good social and theological analysis of the Church and its contexts, so James Hopewell’s Congregation, H. Richard Niebuhr’s The Social Sources of Denominationalism, and Urban “Terry” Holmes’s The Future Shape of Ministry would make my own cut.

In spirituality, is there an equal to Martin Laird’s Into the Silent Land? This is a deep book on mindfulness — before the term became fashionable.

And I am also a great fan of Tom Stoppard’s play Jumpers. Religion, philosophy, social commentary, gymnastics, and a murder mystery all wrapped up in one drama: unbeatable. But no place for that in our 100 Best Christian Books either, alas.
Martyn Percy

 

 

I READ Christ Recrucified, by Nikos Kazantzakis, when I was in my twenties, after being entranced by his 1946 novel Zorba the Greek. I then devoured all his novels, in translation.

Christ Recrucified tells of a Greek village under Turkish occupation putting on a Passion play — those chosen to take part find themselves becoming the characters they are allotted. Chosen to be Christ is Manolios, a shepherd boy and former novice monk; he comes to embody the person of Christ in a way that stirs the reader’s soul.

The whole story puts the reader through the same agony of dramatic irony as does the Passion itself —always the outcome is known, inevitable and (paradoxically) desirable. But the tragedy of the human cost is unbearable. As the priest, Fr Fotis, says finally: “In vain, my Christ, in vain . . . two thousand years have gone by and men crucify you still.”
Cally Hammond

 

 

IF WE were continuing past 100, Befriending the Stranger, by Jean Vanier, would certainly be next on my list.

The founder of l’Arche lives out the gospel message. This book shows how befriending the “strange” and “different” in society — those who are often overlooked or shunned — can help us to confront our own weaknesses.

Vanier’s belief in the value of each individual is inspiring. He has shared his life with people with developmental disability, and found much to learn from them. The book is based on six talks, which are offered as meditative pieces, offering insights into community and compassion. At a time of such division and violence, it is uplifting to read of Vanier’s vision of a world with no barriers, where all are accepted in love.
Jenny Monds

 

I RECOMMENDED The Diary of a Country Priest, the novel by Georges Bernanos (number 95 in the list), because, like Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton, in England he did a good deal to promote dialogue between Christianity and culture in France and Continental Europe.

With hindsight — and given how (by and large unavoidably) Eurocentric our choices are — I should perhaps have suggested an even more important novel: Silence, by Shusaku Endo. Often ranked as one of the greatest fictional works of the 20th century, it chronicles the experience of a young Portuguese Jesuit, Sebastião Rodrigues, sent to minister in Japan during the 17th century, at a time of acute anti-Christian persecution.
Rupert Shortt

The past is not a foreign country

We read ancient books because they remind us of who we are, argues Salley Vickers.

WHEN we read about the past —The Iliad, for example, as I’ve lately been doing — what do we hope to learn?

Not merely a knowledge of the military procedures of pre-Hellenic Greece, surely — although you certainly learn a good deal about archaic armour, battle strategy, ships, and the ancient arts of hospitality, in the process of reading. But we also learn a good deal of human psychology.

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Lines written with care

Poetry is the native language of the person of faith, argues Mark Oakley.

"IF PROSE is a river, poetry is a fountain.” The words of Michael Longley go some of the way in explaining why several works of poetry are found on a list of books most treasured by people of faith.

Christianity is too important to be literalistic about. From its very beginnings, it has been poetry in motion: the stories of Jesus; the crafting of the Evangelists; the imagery of Paul; the vision of John.

These all allusively build on the poetic artistry of the creation myths, and the poetic honesty of the psalms, as well as the protest poetry of the prophets.

The whole scriptural enterprise is that of trying to listen to life as a divine gift, and to be imaginative enough to read the love between the lines. Christian liturgy naturally began to shape itself into sacred and poetic drama.

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It's always storytime

Fiction offers a rich seam for the exploration of matters of faith and doubt, says Andrew Tate.

FICTION has often been regarded with suspicion by Christian readers. This might seem odd for a religion that is rooted in reverence for the word. Hostility to the imagined worlds of earthly writers was once encouraged by preachers, however, who saw literary creation as a challenge to the sacred truth of divine scripture.

The novel is the most mutable of literary forms: it dances between elitist and popular cultures, and its penchant for including scandal, as well as sanctity, has blessed fiction with a rather disreputable status.

Indeed, in the late 19th century, Henry James claimed that, although the “old superstition about fiction being ‘wicked’ has doubtless died out in England . . . the spirit of it lingers in a certain oblique regard directed toward any story which does not more or less admit that it is only a joke”.

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Words from the outside

The Church has not simply been influenced by books by Christians, says John Pritchard. Others have also had considerable effect.

THE Christian Church has always been in conversation with its intellectual context. St Paul was quick to interact with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in his debates on Mars Hill, and so began a noble history of lively dialogue between secular writing and the Church.

Christian thinkers soon engaged with Plato’s views on the nature of reality, and Aristotle’s approach to happiness and ethics. Plato’s most famous book was The Republic, while Aristotle left us only lecture notes. Nevertheless, their influence on the Church was profound throughout the Middle Ages.

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And now, the top ten children’s books

As a complement to the main list, we decided to find the ten best Christian books for children. Paul Handley explains how we set about it.

AS ANY child will point out, the book in first place in our top ten Christian children’s books is not a book at all, more a marketing concept.

It is, though, a neat way to bundle up the seven titles in the Narnia series, which might otherwise have cluttered up the list. From this, readers may gather that our approach to the children’s list has been a little less rigorous than it was with the main one. None the less, we again asked the views of contributors who had reviewed children’s books for us, and collated their replies. The criteria were the same: enduring influence, popularity, and impact.

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Children's Top Ten

 

1. The Complete Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

'My copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis has a price tag of 3 shillings; it is a book that, more than any other, shaped my childhood faith. It drew me, with Lucy and the other children, through the wardrobe into a world not of make believe but of faith. I found stories and symbols that helped me understand the death and resurrection of Jesus; I discovered in the deeper magic of Narnia truth that began to make sense of life.'
Canon John Kiddle is Director of Mission in the diocese of St Albans.

2. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

'A book about transformation. Three very different children hold up mirrors to each other. Mary, the spoilt, neglected orphan; the sickly Colin and Dickon, the garden boy who knows about plants and animals – all discover enchantement along with the keys to the walled garden at Misselthwaite Manor.'
Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster

3. The Silver Sword by Ian Seraillier

'The setting of Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword is the devastation and chaos of northern Europe in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Across this desolate and menacing landscape three Polish children seek their parents torn from them by the ravages of war. Their story, superbly told, is of its period and place, but its theme is timeless and universal. Displaced persons in a broken world, we are all looking for our lost home.'
The Revd Dr John Pridmore is a former Rector of Hackney in east London.

4. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

'Saint-Exupéry’s charming story explores the importance of imagination and emotions for human relationships. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” The book has been understood as a war story which represents Saint-Exupéry’s reaction to the conflict, isolations, fear and shame of war. This is combatted through the book by the gentle and creative speech of the Prince.'
Canon Christine Worsley is the Kingdom People Development Officer in the diocese of Worcester.

5. Badger’s Parting Gifts by Jane Varley

'Badger's Parting Gift is the touching story of how a group of friends have to face Badger’s death. The book follows badger through the process of death, as he throws away his old walking stick and runs up the tunnel towards his new life, and then follows his friends as they reflect on badgers’ life, and recognise the gifts that he has left within each one of them. The book is aimed at 3-8 year olds, but I often recommend it to parents when a grandparent has died. Never fails to bring a tear to my eye! Many years ago husband made infant assembly programmes for Radio 4 schools. This was the favourite story when a poll was taken.'
The Revd Ronni Lamont is a freelance writer and trainer. 

6. Heaven by Nicholas Allan

'When Dill the dog dies Lily is sad but Dill assures her that heaven will be full of wonderful things. A book for anyone whose dog has died  - or anyone facing the death of someone they love.'
Sue Atkinson is the author of several books, her latest book Struggling to Forgive is published by Monarch.

7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

'As the editor of a series of magazines, as well as one of the most popular writers of his age, Charles Dickens produced many seasonal sketches and tales over the course of his life, such as “What Christmas Is As We Grow Older” and “The Poor Relation’s Story” – A Christmas Carol is deservedly the most famous and most often adapted for performance on stage and screen. Perhaps that is because it is, in essence, a straightforward story with memorable characters and an ultimately uplifting conclusion. The miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is the very personification of penny-pinching, cold-hearted winter; Dickens delights in portraying the ghosts who warn him to mend his ways. Behind this seemingly timeless parable lies the author’s outrage over Victorian England’s brutal inequalities.'
Michael Caines is website, bibliography, and reference editor at the TLS.

8. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

The appeal of the velveteen Rabbit isn’t hard to understand. It plays to adults’ nostalgia and children’s love of their toys. But is it Christian? At one level, no: this is pure animism. But its sense that we’re transformed by love is about as Christian as you get.
The Revd Dr William Whyte is a Tutorial Fellow in Modern History at St John’s College, Oxford, and Assistant Curate of Kidlington.

9. I Am David by Anne Holm

'A very moving book about a boy’s escape to freedom from prison camp and gradually learning what ordinary life is like. He prays to "the God of the green pastures and still waters". Makes me well up even remembering it!'
Naomi Starkey is a commissioning editor for BRF and author of Good Enough Mother (BRF, 2009).

10. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

'Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy initially looked like an attack on Christianity, but the story depends on a hidden paradigm of Christian assumptions and the narrative draws the reader into reflection on a host of "big questions" about human destiny, the soul, love, loyalty and the possibility of redemption.'
The Revd Dr Hugh Rayment-Pickard is Director of Development and External Affairs of Into University.

Books that invite you in

Christine Worsley comments on the children’s top ten.

THIS list of children’s books is fascinating. It is also somewhat surprising, in that very few of the books on it are intentionally Christian, or have been written by authors who would call themselves Christian. But all of them are there because they have encouraged, and continue to inspire and shape, faith, in those who have recommended them as “best”.

As I began to reflect on the list as a whole, I wondered about the process of recommending, as an adult, books primarily written for children. I have read these books over a period of time — as a child, a young adult, and, later, as a mother — reading and re- reading them with my children.

Most recently, I have engaged with titles that have been an inspiration in preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. It seems important to remember that each has its own integrity, simply as a good story for young people, and is to be enjoyed as such.

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Lewis and Pullman on the same list?

C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman are seen as chalk and cheese, but William Whyte says they share common ground.

ON THE face of it, it seems rather odd to find both C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman in the same Church Times list of the top ten children’s books. One is the perennial favourite of Evangelical Christians; the other a sort of celebrity atheist.

Lewis’s books have been attacked for their racism and sexism. Pullman’s, by contrast, were described in the Catholic Herald, no less, as the stuff of nightmares, worthy only of the bonfire. I guess they just don’t like gay angels.

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Staying inclusive while making exclusions

Martyn Percy, chairman of the judges, reveals the panel’s appetite for a varied diet.

IDENTIFYING and naming those religious, Christian, or theological books that have lasting influence was bound to be a contentious exercise. Yet there was a great deal of agreement on our top 20, and on the range and breadth of what needed to be considered.

Theory and theology jostle with poetry and prose; and novels nudge up against narratives that are deeply personal, yet stand the test of time as exemplary patterns of spirituality and discipleship.

As with all lists, we agonised as much over those that did not make the cut as those that did. We argued over Karl Rahner and Paul Tillich, for example. Both theologians have been much read, but did they fit our fairly tight definition of broad and lasting influence?

Should the rather more vogueish Hans Urs Von Balthasar make the cut? What about Margery Kempe? We reassured ourselves that this list would provoke argument among readers rather than close it down.

The panel was mainly, but not exclusively, Anglican. But, like many Anglicans, we operate with a generous and inclusive template when it comes to our reading. Our 100 Best is a good mix: poetry, prose, spirituality, and some theology. But this is an inclusive list, not exclusive: many of the books are not explicitly Anglican at all.

WE SEEM to prefer, as a denomination, a blend of the takeaway and our own home cooking. Ours is a mixed diet. Roman Catholics, Baptists, those of other faiths, and those about whose faith we know little, jostled with the likes of Michael Ramsey, R. S. Thomas, Rowan Williams, and N. T. Wright.

Three former Archbishops of Canterbury made the cut. And we also included a couple of books that we think are indicative of present influence, and the future shaping of Christianity.

We spent some time mulling the lasting influence of recent Evangelical literature: Billy Graham’s Peace with God, David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade, and Norman Warren’s Journey Into Life, to name but a few, have sold in their millions.

The works of Jim Packer and John Stott, likewise, have enjoyed significant influence. But the comparatively meagre attention that Stott and Packer receive today may reflect a more fluid market, and emerging diversity within Evangelicalism. Many titles in this category tend to have an immediate but short-term relevance rather than long-term resonance.

These and other considerations fed into our concentrated but very enjoyable judging session.

There are, of course, many hundreds of other titles that could have made it into the list. But, reviewing our selection afterwards, we were happy that, at the very least, these are books that deserve continuing notice.

No more lists, please

G. R. Evans raises objections to the enduring habit of compiling lists of the great and good.

NOT a good idea, this list,” I said, testily, when I was asked to contribute to the selection process. It reminded me of those 100 Great Books university courses in the United States, which never seemed much of a basis for syllabus construction. Unless you are a publisher with an eye on sales figures, why put books in league-tables?

Listing the best Christian books is not a modern idea. Crotchety old Jerome drew up 135 approved Christian authors in the 390s, and called them “Illustrious men”. Modestly, he added himself.

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There’s nothing like a good book

David Winter, a member of the judging panel, on the joy of reading.

I LIKE books. I like the feel of them, the smell of them, and the contents of them. Any such enthusiasm probably stems from a love of words. That love is often born in infancy. Our first words evoke such pleasure and admiration that thereafter they seem to acquire a mystic significance.

Living with words (as we all do) sets us up eventually for the world of books, because here we have distilled words, choice words — words used like a painter’s brush, or a storyteller’s jabbing finger.

I suppose it does not really matter if the “book” comes in paper and binding, or electronically (although give me a book to hold any time). What counts is its mental impact.

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1
by Saint Augustine
2
by St.Benedict
3
by Saint Thomas Aquinas
4
by Julian of Norwich
6
by Blaise Pascal
7
by John Bunyan
8
by Saint Augustine
9
by Thomas a. Kempis
10
by George Herbert
11
by T. S. Eliot
12
by Cardinal John Henry Newman
13
by Karl Barth
14
by Saint John of the Cross
15
by Thomas Traherne
16
by John Milton
17
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
19
by H. Richard Niebuhr
20
by C. S. Lewis
22
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
23
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
24
by St.Ignatius of Loyola
28
by John Donne
30
by Simone Weil
31
by R. S. Thomas
33
by Gustavo Gutierrez
35
by William Temple
37
by Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury
38
by G. K. Chesterton
39
by Brother Lawrence
40
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
41
by Albert Schweitzer
42
by Rudolf Otto
43
by Arthur Michael Ramsey
44
by Alasdair MacIntyre
45
by Thomas Merton
48
by Vincent J. Donovan
50
by Evelyn Underhill
51
by Karl Barth
53
by John D. Zizioulas
54
by John Wesley
55
by Pope John XXIII
63
by Gerard Hughes
64
by C. S. Lewis
69
by John Austin Baker
70
by Marilynne Robinson
72
by Williams, H.A.
73
by Dorothy Sayers
74
by John V. Taylor
75
by W. H. Vanstone
76
by Graham Greene
77
by Emily Dickinson
78
by Trevor Huddleston
80
by Hans Kung
82
by Friedrich Schleiermacher
83
by John Macquarrie
84
by C. S. Lewis
85
by Paul Tillich
87
by John Harwood Hick
90
by Geza Vermes
91
by William Temple
92
by Helen Waddell
95
by Georges Bernanos
98
by Arthur Michael Ramsey
99
by Austin Farrer