It seems silly, maybe even snooty, in this day and age, to talk about a home “library,” but even the least enthusiastic readers have one. I notice them in every home I visit. Sometimes the home library is a set of built-in shelves framed around the family television. Other times, it is an IKEA expedit cube full of Llama Llama and Peppa the Pig. Even in homes where the owner would say, “I am not much of a reader,” they have a library, because they have a depository of books.
So, here is my appeal to us all — let’s be more intentional with the books we curate for our homes.
I can remember reading two books in a series that my aunt bought me for my 13th birthday. They were the only two books in the series at the time, and a third was about to publish. To be honest, I was a little skeptical of witches (1990s evangelicalism!), so my “thank-you” was mild during my family birthday gift opening ceremony. However, one summer (years later), I was so bored, I did something unthinkable — I read the first Harry Potter book. And I loved it.
I did the same thing with the Left Behind books (don’t judge me — based on sales reporting, apparently you read it too). And I did the same with Billy Graham’s Angels. And I did the same with Bo Jackson’s Bo Knows Bo, though I don't recommend that book for 10 year olds. I read them because they were the books that were around the house.
My point is this — the books that get read are the ones that you keep around. It’s one of the reason I love print books. They are the easiest to share. I’ve never heard of someone looking on someone’s private electronic device and saying, “Hey, can I borrow that?”
But you know what? I wish I had a nickel for every time the same conversation was had about a print book in my library.
Here is a framework to get started with books that I see as foundational for life. Now, this is not my list of every book I enjoy in all 10 categories (I’ll roll those out for the next 10 years). This, rather, is where I think you should start if you don’t have any books in these categories. It is also not my list of great works of literature, best beach reads, or my stranded on a desert island bibliography. These are simply categories of books, with some recommendations and/or ideas, that I think any Christian who wishes to have an intentionally curated library should seriously consider.
1. A Bible You Love
My philosophy is that you should purchase a Bible that you love to hold, love to read, and love to look at. I think you should have a budget for books. But I think you should throw the budget out the window for Bibles. Of course, the most important step is to choose a translation you trust. I am a CSB (Christian Standard Bible) reader, but I began in the NIV (New International Version), then ELT (English Language Teaching), then ESV (English Standard Version). From there, I think you should find something you would enjoy having with you all the time — maybe even a Bible to leave at home, one to travel, and one to take to work. Go ahead, buy the golden calfskin, if that’s your thing.
2. Personal Evangelism Tool
Personal evangelism is one area where this generation has been quick to remove old methods, and slow to replace them with something new. That’s a shame. Every Christian should have an evangelism tool they feel confident to share.
3. Counseling Tool
I have found Ken Sande’s Resolving Everyday Conflict to be helpful in almost any counseling situation (marriage, parenting, family, loneliness, etc.). Every Christian will find themselves counseling a friend, and this accessible read is a great way to frame almost anything that might come up. Of course, one needs also to know when to refer to professional help as well.
4. Spiritual Formation
I have never found any book remotely close to Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life. I own multiple copies, have led other Christians to read it together, and think it will change your life forever.
5. Money Roadmap
Jesus talked about money more than we do at church. And, no, I am not talking about giving money to the church (although, I think Jesus thinks that’s a good idea). I am talking about stewardship, faithfulness, and generosity. Find a trustworthy financial playbook.
6. Leadership Playbook
Every disciplemaker is a leader. And every Christian is called to disciple-making. So, be a good leader and find a great leadership resource for your library.
7. A Good Commentary Set
Yes, I am talking to you, non-preacher. Chances are, you teach Sunday School, or you may occasionally read the Bible in parts other than the Gospels. And let’s all be honest — there are many areas in Scripture that raise complicated questions. For years, I have been building the NAC (New American Commentaries) series, but the recent Christ-Centered Exposition series has drawn my attention for its Christ-centered approach, accessibility in tone, and practicality. As an alternative, a good study Bible, like the CSB Study Bible or ESV Study Bible, is also filled with good commentary.
What is a church? What is the church’s mission? What is a healthy church? Solid books that teach the doctrine of the church is vital in our day and age.
No doubt, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has been a go-to resource. I also commend A Theology for the Church (revised and updated) edited by Dr. Daniel L. Akin. Bruce Ashford’s entry on theological method was a great addition. A Bible dictionary, though it serves a very different purpose, would be the other reference book I think every Christian should have on hand. Google is not omniscient, and the interwebs are not always theologically vetted.
10. Church History
This kills two birds with one stone. Church history not only provides us with historical context, it is one of the most effective ways to teach theology (and heresy), and how it develops over time. The truth never changes, but theology is expressed contextually, so it’s important to carefully study patterns that emerge when the gospel travels.
I also want to add — you should have a depository of great works of literature, great kids books, and really, really fun books.