Top 10 religious books I’ve read in the last 10 years

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Image courtesy of Miles Davis (Smiley):

Image courtesy of Miles Davis (Smiley):

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“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

The words of Oscar Wilde are no less true today than when he spoke them. The books we choose to read shape who we are and how we see the world. Because of this, I consume books voraciously. Mostly religious non-fiction, but also some fiction as well. I was recently thinking about which religious books I’ve read during the last decade shaped and impacted me most, and I decided to share them with you.

Leave a comment letting me know if you read and enjoyed any of these books, and feel free to leave some recommended titles of your own. I’m always looking for something new!

NouwenIn the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen

Many of Nouwen’s books could be on this list, but I felt the late Catholic priest outdid himself in this volume by providing a picture of leadership that challenges many presented today. Using Jesus as a model, Nouwen shares personal stories and Biblical truths that left me in tears as I read the book in one sitting.


KraybillThe Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald B. Kraybill

In this award-winning book, Kraybill dismantles the domesticated Christianity that pervades many Western Churches. He explains the counter-intuitive nature of a Kingdom where the last are first, servants are leaders, the poor are privileged, and adults behave like little children. This book helped me recover the radical, revolutionary good news of Jesus.


ShoemakerGodstories: New Narratives from Sacred Texts by Stephen Shoemaker

J.D. Salinger once said, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” That’s the way I felt reading this book. It’s a survey of the Bible from cover to cover and imaginatively recasts stories in ways that breathe new life into familiar passages.

MisreadingMisreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien

As a Western Christian, my own cultural context influenced the way I read and interpreted Scripture. This book explores the ancient world in which the Bible was written, uncovers the way I often misread texts, and uncovered better interpretations of important passages. It revolutionized the way I read the Bible.


WrightSurprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright

Wright is perhaps the foremost New Testament scholar alive today, and this provocative book dispels many of the modern myths perpetuated by New Testament churches and pastors. He explores themes such as heaven and the resurrection and provides truly surprising insight into the nature of God and His Kingdom. A bit academic, but worth the read.


HelmutA Little Exercise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke

This 57-page volume contains more wisdom than most books quadruple its size. In it, the late German Bible scholar warns against the intoxicating nature of religious reflection and urges readers to nurture a spirit of theological humility. With the pompousness that saturates so many religious debates these days, I’m convinced that there are more than a few older theologians who could use this little exercise as well.


TaylorGospel Medicine by Barbara Brown Taylor

Taylor is a masterful storyteller who provides fresh if sometimes provocative interpretations of Scripture. The writing is so captivating, I had to force myself to put it down to make it last longer. This collection of sermons–as are the others in the series–is a must read.



StottThe Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott

Likely the best book on the cross of Jesus written in the modern era, I found it to be a theologically rich exploration of the banner of the Christian faith. Stott is pastoral and yet personal in this volume, which helps readers uncover why the death of Christ is still the pinnacle of the Christian story. And all of human history.



ManningThe Ragmuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning

The late Brennan Manning’s classic treatise on grace exposed areas where my fundamentalist and legalistic tendencies stole the joy God wants me to have in my journey with Him. Unlike many Christian books, I felt spiritually liberated when I finished it.



ManifestoJesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Christ by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

As a Christian, Jesus is my everything. This book reminded me of this truth. As it lifts Jesus up, it also lifted my spirit and reminded me why I love my Lord as much as I do.



Honorable Mention: Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers; Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott; The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich; Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle; The Organic God by Margaret Feinberg; Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight; The Mission of God by Christopher Wright;

  • Tim

    I haven’t read a single one of the books on your list. Ack, I feel like a dullard!

    But here are a few I’ve gotten through recently:

    Booked – Literature in the Soul of Me, by Karen Swallow Prior. This literary and spiritual memoir takes us through Prior’s life in and with literature, showing not only her own growth but causing us to grow as we read along. (I reviewed it here: .)

    Discipleship on the Edge – An Expository Journey through the Book of Revelation, by Darrell Johnson. Johnson has written a scholarly treatise that plainly and clearly illuminates the Book of Revelation. He explores history, politics, geography, culture and religions in order to bring sense to a book foreign to us today.

    I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking I Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence, by Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger. The Kroegers researched languages, culture, politics and the early church in order to bring us to understand a verse that is too often used as a bludgeon rather than understood in the gospel freedom Christ brought us in the New Covenant.

    Cheers and Happy Reading,

  • The Kroeger book looks fascinating. I’ll check it out.

  • I second the liberating feeling after Ragamuffin Gospel! Great read. I’m going to have to look into a few others on your list that I’ve been meaning to get to.

    My addition would be The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. He consistently, and in an accessible style for what could be heady material, blows my mind every chapter. His take on the Beatitudes forever changed how I will read that passage. Favorite quote: “By showing to others the presence of the kingdom in the concrete details of our shared existence, we impact the lives and hearts of our hearers, not just their heads. And they won’t have to write it down to hold on to it.”

  • David farmer

    Thanks for sharing your list…I just ordered Richards’ book on misreading scripture.

  • Great list Jonathan.
    I share 4 of your top 10. my list isn’t so much new works, as I am a late comer to the party… May I add Phil Kenneson’s ‘Life on the Vine’, Ched Myers ‘Binding the Strong Man’ (unreal, life altering work), Yoder’s ‘What Would You Do?’, Newbigin’s ‘Gospel in a Pluralistic Society’, Thomas Merton’s ‘Seeds of Contemplation’ and anything by Joan Chittister, Walter Wink, Father John Dear, Stanley Hauerwas and Wendell Berry…

  • Julie Carter

    At a time when there is much controversy rooted in Biblical interpretations, I found this book helpful as I relate to friends with various views.

    Jonathan Haidt, (2012), “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion”,

  • I’ve bought it but it is buried in my stack of “need to read” books. I’ll move it to the top! Thanks.

  • You won’t be disappointed!

  • Darn it! Forgot Newbigin. I have only heard of a few of your others. I’ll have to check them out. Thanks!

  • Just started it! Liking it so far!! Good recommendation.

  • Tim

    You’re going to love it. So well worth the read!

  • Balthasar

    When you say that Henri Nouwen was a former Catholic priest, do you mean that he left the priesthood or that he’s now dead? It’s not clear.

  • Should have said “late”. Updated.

  • Chris Oakes

    Have to put in a plug for John Eldredge, who has written some great stuff over the past decade, especially “Waking the Dead.” Very accessible, yet profound and challenging.

  • I’ve read some of his stuff but never that one. I’ll check it out.

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  • Wow. I’m very surprised. Not one of those books on your list have I read.Looks like my on-deck stack just got taller.

  • Yesssss! And post your list, Paul.

  • Seth

    Great list! I’ve read three (read a few of the honorable mentions) and have added the others!

    Right now, the top of my list is:

    Frederick Buechner “Secrets in the Dark”
    NT Wright “How God Became King”
    Soong Chan Rah “The New Evangelicalism”
    Jonathan Martin “Prototype”
    Henri Nouwen “Lifesigns, intimacy, fecundity, and ecstacy in Christian perspective”
    Sara Barton “A woman Called; piecing together the ministry puzzle”
    Mark Buchanan “Your God is too safe” “Your church is too safe”
    John Lennox “God’s Undertaker”
    Daniel Taylor “The Skeptical Believer”
    Richard Beck “Unclean”

    Amongst so many others. There are too many!

  • The book that revived my interest in what had become a stale faith- much for the same reason Don was experiencing-was Blue Like Jazz; it is also the launching pad for my inspiration to be a writer. Then there’s the usual suspects; Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Blackaby’s Experiencing God, John Stott’s Issues Facing Christians Today encompasses every relevant topic for the 21st century Christian, Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts is wonderfully written about a not-so wonderful subject, Chesterton’s Orthodoxy expanded my mind to heights I didn’t think I was capable of (this is one of those books I would take if I was stranded on an island), Yohannan’s Revolution in World Missions is one of those books not written by a writer but so potent in message that you’d have to be heartless not to lose sleep over the content, Wurbrand’s With God in Solitary Confinement is a unique collection of sermons he composed while in prison- some very provocative, but none of them lacking in brilliance, and lastly, my pastor has been generous and dictated some of the most practicall books; Right People, Right People, Right Place, Right Plan; Believe That You Can, and Fasting. I could go on but for obvious reason I’ll stop there.

  • Good list! Some of these almost made my honorable mention section.

  • I thought about having Orthodoxy on the list. Didn’t love it quite as much as some of his biggest fans.

  • Ryan Price

    Tom Breen’s “The Messiah formerly known as Jesus” should catapult to the head of the line. A topical read with a great prose

  • stephen mosman

    I have read everything Leonard Sweet has written except the Jesus Manifesto and now that I am on a fixed income, I couldn’t possibly afford to buy it. I have also been influenced by Dallas Willard’s books, the books by John Ortberg, and not typically Christian but more Christian than a lot (in my opinion) of “Christian” books are the books by the late Rabbi (Hasidic) Abraham Joshua Heschel

  • Never heard of it. Will look it up now.

  • I’m liking Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead.” Also,, Karen Armstrong’s “Spiral Staircase.” And Barbara Brown Taylor’s “An Altar on the World.” My thoughts on that one at

    Now I’ll get busy reading your list. Thx!

  • Grant Walsh

    where is “The Irresistible Revolution,” by Shane Claiborne?? :). Or have you read, “Pagan Christianity”, by Barna and Viola.

  • I liked Irresistible Revolution. Definitely a good read!

    I didn’t find Pagan Christianity as life changing though.

  • Jonathan: Thanks for this list. I’ve read “In the Name of Jesus” and most other Nouwen books. All have been worth more time and thought than I’ve allotted them. His published sermon “A Spirituality of Fundraising” is a powerful look at our views of people, money, possessions and the power of relationships.

    I wondered, however, why there is no fiction on your list.

    Thanks again.

  • As I said, I read mostly non-fiction. The fiction I have read is not religious. And it didn’t make sense to throw in The Hunger Games. 🙂

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  • IHeath

    Good list. several I need to check out. Suprised By Hope is great for sure. If you haven’t I would recommend the Bonhoeffer book by Metaxas and then Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer (I eat up anything Bonhoeffer has written). Also, Tim Keller’s Reason for God, Counterfeit gods and King’s Cross are great.

  • I have Metaxas’s on my stack to read.

  • Pete

    Everybody’s normal ’till you get to know them-Ortberg
    The Grace of God-Andy Stanley
    Being The Body-Colson
    The Five Principles of Unity-Coffee
    Grace Walk-McVey
    The Cure-Lynch, McNicol, Thrall
    When God’s People Let You Down-VanVonderen
    God is Closer Than You Think-Ortberg
    Unstoppable Force-McManus

  • The Rev. Dr. John T. Mathew

    Strength to Love by MLK Jr should be included.

  • Steve

    No Dallas Willard?! I can think of three or four of his books worthy of mention.

  • Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines is so practical and has been life changing for many.

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  • manikho komona

    Long list up there…! Time to get busy right away…
    Must read books: “purpose driven life” by Rick Warren,Breakout by Joel Osteen.
    As of now from my side.

  • manikho komona

    Long list up there…! Time to get busy right away…
    Must read books: “purpose driven life” by Rick Warren,Breakout by Joel Osteen.

    As of now from my side.

  • Karla

    Oh, I disagree… The Hunger Games is a powerful social commentary and I recommend it to all thoughtful people.

  • Karla

    I would second “Ragamuffin Gospel” and add “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster and “Scripture and the Authority of God” by NT Wright along with many others…