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Tips on choosing a good Christian book

DO YOU sometimes walk into a bookstore feeling overwhelmed by the range of books available? Or do you just walk into a bookstore, knowing exactly what you want and walk out after purchasing the book?

If you belong to either category, this article is written for you! If you feel overwhelmed by books, you might not go to a bookstore altogether.

On the other hand, if one does not really spend time browsing in the local shop or online (especially www.christianbook.com or the various major publishers’ website where they list their books), it can be difficult to try to engage with other Christians or to even expand on one’s personal library of authors.

This article provides five simple (hopefully not simplistic) rules to choosing a book in a bookstore.

Before going to the bookstore,

1) Find out what your friends are reading:

• Although this is not always helpful because there is generally a tendency to read only particular authors.

• For instance, in England, generally students only read a narrow selection of authors e.g. John Stott, J. I. Packer, C. S. Lewis, Don Carson and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

• In Singapore, Josh McDowell would be the household name when people want to find out about answers to difficult questions.

• In the United States, authors like John Piper, Warren Wiersbe (especially his “Be” series, which is actually a series of Bible commentaries) would be reasonably familiar.

The table below shows a generalised comparison of the authors people will look for when they are looking for various topics.

homepage5-August 2005

Of course, there are many others who are not listed above e.g. Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life), Bruce Wilkinson (The Prayer of Jabez), John MacArthur, Bruce and Stan (with their 101 series), John Eldredge. (Remember, this is only a brief guide, not an exhaustive one).

2) Bibliography

• Many of the more serious books tend to have bibliographies or citations of where they get their information from. If you have read a good book or found a good argument, take the trouble to look where it is from.

If you have not done the first two steps before going to the bookstore, do not panic. Follow through:

3) Look at the author

• Does the author’s name ring a bell?

• What other books written by him/her have you read? Authors generally tend not to change very much in their styles (and sometimes content!).

• Where is the author from and what is his background? This needs some intelligent browsing. For instance, the titles of the books written by the author would be an approximate indication of what kind of issues the author generally deals with.

4) Look at the title and summary of the books

• Most books have a summary of what they are about at the back of the book or on the book jacket (if they are hardcovers or “cloth” as they are technically called).

They are extremely helpful.

• Furthermore, look at the content page and see what kind of material is covered and how the author argues his/ her case.

• Lastly, dip into the book — skim through one or two pages of the introduction and conclusion and see if you can have a sense of the style of the authors.

5) Endorsements

• Who are the people who have endorsed this book? Sometimes, the author might be new and hence you will have to look at the people who endorsed the book. Do you recognise the people who have endorsed the book?

6) Publisher

• If all of the above fails, the final step is to look at the publisher.

I have compiled a list of main Christian publishers on the next page. It is important to note that the same book might be published by different publishers or even as different titles in different countries. This is due to the complicated distribution rights.

It is also important to note that generally in Britain, the range of titles even under the various publishers tends to be narrower than in the United States. One generally encounters IVP, Zondervan, Paternoster, Christian Focus and Banner of Truth in a British bookstore.

Goh Mui Pong, a member of Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church, is pursuing his PhD in Politics at the University of Cambridge.


Adler, Mortimer & Charles Van Doren. 1972. How to Read a Book. Touchstone.

This is absolutely the classic. For many years, it has been and probably still is the required text for many of the liberal arts colleges in the US. If you have not read any of his writings, start now!

McKenna, David. 2001. How to read a Christian Book. Baker.

Although I have only skimmed the book, it does provide some helpful tips on reading Christian books.

It also provides a Christian reading plan.