A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

Reading books has been an obsession of mine since my conversion to Christianity as a college sophomore. I sensed my mind really mattered in serving the Lord; so I began a serious pursuit of the “life of the mind” to the glory of God. Today I have a personal library of between 3,000 and 4,000 books.

Because of this background, I’m often asked for book recommendations, especially in philosophy, theology, and apologetics. The three timeless books listed below are my top recommendations for any serious thinker trying to grapple with the claims of Christianity.

If I had to live on a deserted island, I would need to take these books with me.

Mere Christianity

A lay Anglican theologian and versatile Christian apologist, “Oxbridge” literary scholar C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) is perhaps the most important conservative Christian thinker of the twentieth century. Lewis’s work Mere Christianity, published in 1952, was the first Christian book I ever read and it impacted my thinking powerfully.

With lucid style and single-minded focus, Lewis explains and defends Christianity’s central truth-claims, the very essence of the faith. Knowing the core elements of historic Christianity and being able to articulate them with clarity to believers and nonbelievers alike can help all Christians fulfill their God-given role in drawing others to follow Christ.

Over the years I have come to disagree with some of the theological positions Lewis held, but he certainly deserves respect for his clear, insightful, and courageous witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. I am grateful to Lewis for his careful discussion of such issues as the triune nature of God, the Incarnation of Christ, and the moral argument for God’s existence.

Pensées

In his short life span, French thinker Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) accomplished much as a mathematician, physicist, inventor, and an intuitive Christian thinker and apologist. Pascal had been preparing a book on Christian apologetics when he died prematurely at 39.

His unfinished apologetics work (consisting mainly of a series of organized notes, outlines, and fragments) was published subsequently under the French title Pensées (pronounced “Pon-sayz” and roughly translated “Thoughts”). While Pensées is more of an outline than a complete book, the content is so compelling it remains a perennial bestseller.

Pensées reveals three distinctive Pascalian apologetics themes.

  1. Pascal argues that Christianity uniquely explains the enigma of man as a paradox of “greatness” and “wretchedness” (great because man is created in God’s image but wretched because humans are fallen).
  2. He speaks of “reasons of the heart,” meaning that while religious belief is not contrary to reason, nevertheless there are limits to human reason and the human heart plays a critical role in intuitively forming one’s most basic beliefs.
  3. Pascal introduces his famous Wager argument in which he attempts to shake people of their indifference to ultimate issues (God, death, immortality) by appealing to the ultimate cost-benefit analysis of belief.

I recommend this version: Pensées (New York: Penguin, 1995).

Confessions

Augustine of Hippo (354–430) is arguably the most influential Christian thinker outside those of the New Testament. History knows him as a theologian, philosopher, church bishop, and a gifted and tenacious defender of orthodox Christianity. A prolific classical author, Augustine wrote more than 5 million words, with three of his works becoming both Christian and literary classics of Western civilization. Confessions is his best known and most popular book.

One of the first autobiographies in Western culture, Confessions chronicles Augustine’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual pilgrimage from paganism to Christianity. The book’s title can be understood in a triple sense: Augustine’s candid and contrite confession of sin, his sincere confession of newfound faith, and his thankful confession of the greatness of God.

Written in the form of a prayer to God (similar to the Psalms), Confessions also serves as thought-provoking devotional literature. Augustine quotes and expounds the Scriptures throughout and suffuses the text with profound theological, philosophical, and apologetic insights. The book may really be about every human soul’s search for God.

I recommend this version: Confessions (New York: Penguin, 1961).

Skeptics and Christians alike will benefit from familiarity with these significant works. As classics they are readily available in paperback—so there should be money left over for buying food.

Subjects: Christian Life

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @ Reasons.org

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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