Some books are deservedly described as ‘classics’. That often means they’re harder to read! But it’s worth it. This list contains two books that I’ve read this year which are indisputably ‘classics’, and another (‘True Devotion’) which has been published more recently (and certainly ticks the ‘hard to read’ box!) but is deservedly included in this list.
It is with good reason that this has been described as Stott’s “tour de force of classic evangelical theology” (see the endorsements at the beginning of the 20th anniversary edition!). After many attempts to read this book, I finally completed it early in 2016, and it was to my great benefit that I did so. Stott worked hard to expound the Bible’s teaching on this central emblem of the Christian faith to demonstrate its absolute importance and its many implications. Rather than simply addressing its central achievements, Stott responds to potential objections and works diligently to provide a specific and nuanced explanation of exactly what Christ achieved, and what that means for Christians.
Though I failed on several occasions to read this alone, my most successful ‘run’ was when I first picked up the book about ten years ago and read it with some friends. This book is of immense and fundamental importance, both in terms of correcting us from false teaching and helping us to love our Saviour more, and so I very strongly encourage you to find others who might read it with you (I’d happily do it again!). After the Bible, this is one of the most important books you may read.
This important book is such a significant work that I am determined to keep recommending it in spite of its almost-impenetrable outer wall. With apologies to its author, I found it incredibly difficult to read, written more like an academic paper on the Puritans than a biblical study into its title. This work is like a PhD thesis on ‘how to breathe’ for a generation on the verge of expiration. But because of our context and its subject, it is essential stuff. Through its thirteen chapters, it covers such vital ground that it should not – must not! – be ignored.
Reading chapters 11-13 first (as I recommend you do!) Chapple’s intention is to demonstrate what an authentic, biblical ‘relationship with God’ looks like. He attempts to restore a scriptural understanding of ‘meditation’, and – in his earlier chapters – teases apart the flaws and dangers of a spirituality which arises out of anything other than God’s own revelation.
Although approaching his work from a systematic perspective (his argument is largely drawn from a logical synthesis of the Bible’s wider teaching, rather than being driven by biblical texts on relationship with God), Chapple handles the Bible well and comes to what I think is a really good understanding of relationship with God – it has certainly helped me.
He shows that there’s no expectation in the Bible that our intimate and deep relationship with God will be experienced now as we experience other relationships. We do not see God face-to-face (yet), nor communicate with him as through a telephone; to expect that is unbiblical, and is to deny the period of salvation history we are in!
His penultimate chapter meditating on Jesus Himself has brought me close to tears on both occasions that I have read it, and a return to the final three chapters would be entirely worthwhile if – please, when! – you get hold of this book. Read it. Read it again. Pass it on.
There are many “classics” that I haven’t read; this was a year in which I attempted to rectify that, at least in a few instances. Pilgrim’s Progress was a real joy to read – not because it is an easy read (at moments its old language was discouraging, and at other times the journey felt especially long) – but because Bunyan saturates it with glorious observations about the highs and lows of Christian living. He constantly holds out the great hope of the gospel – the “celestial city” to which we must keep walking.
The particular edition I read gave a fascinating insight into the life of Bunyan in its Forward, which helped me to enjoy reading it as the work of a faithful pastor who, himself, suffered much on his journey to the Celestial City. I was also grateful for an opportunity to read some of it aloud with friends, each taking a different part and experiencing the journey together. This is an edifying read, and one to be shared with church family!
For its theology, its imaginative representation of the battles in a Christian’s life, and its justifiable place as a “classic”, this a ‘must read’ if you haven’t already!