Christians have been nicknamed “people of the Book”, which is a reference to Christians’ reverence for and appreciation of the sacred Scriptures. Outside of the Bible itself, though, there have been numerous theological and devotional books in the church throughout the centuries that have blessed readers and helped steer the church in the right direction. Let’s look at ten of the most important.
1. The History of the Christian Church by Eusebius
Without this 4th century work, our knowledge of the Christian church’s earliest history, from the time of the apostles to the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire, would be very limited. Perhaps most fascinating of all, Eusebius records details on the lives and deaths of the apostles–events that take place after the history of the book of Acts ends. Particularly moving is a story about the elderly apostle John restoring a young prodigal in the church back to fellowship. Eusebius’ book is also an indispensable aid in understanding the liturgy, church government, and beliefs of early Christians.
2. Confessions by St. Augustine (398)
“O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” This, perhaps one of the most widely disseminated quotes within Christianity outside of the Bible, is taken from the opening of Augustine’s famous autobiography. In this, the most popular of all the 5th century church father’s books, Augustine outlines what led him from paganism to Christianity.
3. Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas (1274)
Anyone who’s wanting to get a better understanding of medieval western Christianity should consult Thomas Aquinas’ classic 13th century work. Aquinas is widely revered by Catholics and Protestants alike for his keen insights into deep matters of the faith. Anyone wanting to get to the heart of Aquinas’ life and teachings, who doesn’t have the time to read all of the theologian’s book, should read the classic biography of Aquinas, The Dumb Ox, written by G.K. Chesterton.
4. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis (1427)
Some statistics indicate that no book outside of the Bible has been as widely translated as this 15th century classic. Thomas a Kempis is generally agreed on as the author, though some have argue that the book is more a compilation of numerous devotional texts, with Thomas serving more as a final compiler than an author. If Summa Theologica is indispensable to understanding the doctrine of the medieval church, The Imitation of Christ is indispensable to understanding the devotional/spiritual life of the medieval church.
5. The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin (1535)
John Calvin first published his famous Institutes in 1535 at the young age of 26 and spent the rest of his life revising it and adding to it. It is arguably the most systematic explanation of Reformed Christianity to emerge out of the 16th century. Calvin’s distinctive teaching on predestination has made many oppose the book, but despite controversy surrounding it, Institutes has continued to be a beloved classic by many Christians around the world.
6. The Book of Common Prayer by Thomas Cranmer (1549)
The Book of Common Prayer has gone through numerous revisions since its first publication in 1549. Following the Church of England’s break with the Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer sought to compile a book of liturgies and prayers, outlining the evangelical beliefs of the reformed British church.
The Book of Common Prayer is still used by Anglicans around the world today and deserves much of the credit for keeping segments within the Anglican world rooted in the historic truths of the Christian faith. The 1662 version is today considered the definitive one and Anglican clergy, at their ordination, vow to uphold its standards.
7. The Book of Concord by Martin Luther, Phillip Melancthon, and others (1580)
Since 1580, the Book of Concord has served as the definitive collection of Lutheran Confessions, embodying what Martin Luther’s spiritual descendants profess to believe and teach.
The book consists of numerous documents, beginning with the three ecumenical creeds–the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian. Next is Phillip Melancthon’s Augsburg Confession, his Apology for the Augsburg Confession, and his Treatise on the Primacy and Power of the Pope. Also included in Martin Luther’s Small and Large Catechism, as well as his Smallcald Articles. Last, published after both Luther’s and Melancthon’s death, is the Formula of Concord and the Epitome of the Formula of Concord.
8. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)
Bunyan’s famous 17th century allegory has for centuries been one of the most widely read books in and out of the church. The story revolves around the main character, Christian, fleeing the City of Destruction, seeking refuge in the Celestial City. C.S. Lewis’ famous critical analysis of Pilgrim’s Progress is available on the C.S. Lewis Speaks His Mind audio collection, and readers getting started with the book would do well to consult it.
The Greek phrase “philokalia” literally means “love of the beautiful”. The Philokalia is a compilation of Eastern Orthodox spirituality, dating back to the early days of the church, The book was first compiled in the 18th century and has since been recognized as the best representation of the spiritual beliefs and practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
10. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
In the 1940s, C.S. Lewis was given the task of explaining and defending on the BBC the beliefs and practices that had been common to all Christians in all places and all times. Lewis produced broadcast talks that eventually evolved into Mere Christianity.
In this book, perhaps more than anything else he wrote, Lewis’ incredible gift for taking deep theological truths and explaining them clearly, concisely, and winsomely is on full display for readers. The book is divided into three main sections: 1. The Case for Christianity 2. Christian Behavior and 3. Beyond Personality, or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity.
Thank God for all the wonderful books he has blessed his church with throughout the years!