Suggested Reading

Some works are more essential than others, and some authors are able to cover considerable mileage with relatively little effort, so reading them first will result in a high reward-to-investment ratio. A prime master of this art for me has been C. S. Lewis, whose works (Miracles, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, Perelandra) could easily fill the entire list, with a little help from G. K. Chesterton (The Everlasting Man, Orthodoxy). 

One can read the important works of both authors in a matter of weeks, and come out of the experience totally transformed. I mention those two authors because they are recognized Christian classics; you cannot go wrong with them. The former is a master of logical exposition, the latter of intuitive insight and paradox. Both address the contemporary frame of mind. They know that things have to be taught, but also unlearned. Often the unlearning of our deeply cherished preconceived notions is the most challenging part of the journey home. In the following list, I will limit the entries to one work per author, to give other writers a chance. Without this limitation, Lewis and Chesterton would probably steal the list.

C. S. Lewis, Miracles.

If you were to read one book only, read Miracles. It is an intense but approachable work of popular theology. Lewis does not argue for miracles on historical grounds. His is a preliminary study, intended to give the reader a philosophical perspective necessary for a meaningful evaluation of historical testimonies. “Seeing is not believing”, says Lewis. “What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled the philosophical question”. 

Lewis explains that for miracles to occur something outside Nature must exist, and that “something” must be willing to intervene on the level of Nature. In the last analysis, not only must there be a God, but he must be willing to perform miracles, and Nature must be so designed as to be capable of accommodating them. “The case against miracles relies on two different grounds. You either think that the character of God excludes them or that the character of Nature excludes them”. Lewis carefully addresses both objections. Through a discussion of the concepts of Nature and Reason he shows in a brilliant analysis how Reason is independent from the system of Nature thus establishing a framework for a theistic and creationist concept of God. 

He then discusses a pantheistic vision of reality and he contrasts the God of revelation with it. Can a pantheistic God be expected to perform miracles? Can Christianity do away with miracles? How important are miracles to Christianity? What do miracles teach us about the Universe? What is the logic behind Jesus’ miracles? How does the Incarnation, “the Grand Miracle”, integrate with what we already know about Nature? How does the Incarnation clarify and shed new light on our natural knowledge? Life will never be the same—after Miracles.

 P. Kreeft, R. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics.

One cannot prove the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but one can rationally defend it. It is so with many other aspects of the Christian faith, too. Not every truth of the faith can be proven, though some can, but all objections to the faith can be reasonably answered. In a few hundred pages, Kreeft and Tacelli offer such logical proofs and deal with every possible objection. The topics covered in the book include: faith and reason, the existence of God, creation and evolution, providence and free will, miracles, the problem of evil, the historical reliability of the Bible, the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, life after death, heaven and hell, salvation, Christianity and other religions, objective truth. The handbook format of this work naturally limits the depth at which issues may be treated. However, for many readers, the Handbook will be just what they need: a concise exposition and defence of Christian teaching.

 Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity.

Sheed’s Theology and Sanity is a natural companion to the apologetic work of Kreeft and Tacelli. Sheed’s purpose is merely to explain the faith, not to defend it or to contrast it with other religions,—and he fulfills his stated purpose admirably. One will especially appreciate his gradual building up of the Catholic world-view, starting with the consideration of matter and spirit and leading up gently to the attributes of God. 

I found Sheed’s introductory discussion of the concepts of “unthinkable” and “unimaginable” and of the roles that intellect and imagination play in intellectual pursuit particularly illuminating. His presentation of the Holy Trinity, of the Fall of Man and of the Mission of Christ is unparalleled. All subjects are treated rigorously but they are presented in a language accessible to the non-professional. Those who are used to seeing the faith as a make belief (like “faith makes things true by believing in them”) will be shocked at Sheed’s insistence on the use of logic and reason. And die-hard atheists might be dismayed at his claim that life without a belief in God is insanity, but they should not be. Following Sheed’s example, we have made the same claim in our opening chapter.

 G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man.

The book, like its author, eludes neat classification. It is hard to define its genre, other than saying that it is utterly Chestertonian, and what that means one discovers only by experience. In most general terms, The Everlasting Man is a work at the crossroads of anthropology, religion and history of culture, written by a philosopher, theologian, author, columnist, economist and playwright who thought of himself as a mere journalist interpreting the wealth of data offered by the sciences. The book’s two chapters, The Man in the Cave and The Man Called Christ, sum up the author’s approach: a study of the uniqueness of Man and of Christ, seen from a broad historical, cultural and anthropological perspective. Perhaps the finest recommendation of Chesterton’s masterpiece is that C. S. Lewis acknowledged The Everlasting Man as one of the works that most influenced his thinking.

 Joseph-Marie Verlinde, L’expérience interdite.

The claims of New Age and the aggressive reinterpretations of the Gospels offered by its proponents are responsible for much confusion among the Christian faithful. To see the extent of the problem it is enough to compare the number of titles found under Christianity and under New Age headings in any bookstore. Therefore, an informed Christian critique of New Age and of the underlying principles of spirituality modelled on eastern mysticism is necessary for anybody who approaches Christianity in today’s religious climate. 

To start with, Fr. Pacwa’s Catholics and New Age is a good introduction to the subject. If you can read French, L’expérience interdite by Fr. Joseph-Marie Verlinde is perhaps the most brilliant analysis of pantheist and Christian spiritual experiences you can read. The author’s credentials are impressive. He made a long spiritual journey, from cradle Catholicism to the very heights of Hindu mysticism, then back to Christianity, through various schools of Western Esoterism. He combines the depth of his personal spiritual experiences with a solid philosophical formation. He offers his readers unique and compelling insights and the clarity of his presentation is exemplary. Fr. Verlinde also produced many excellent audio and videotapes on the relationship of Christianity to “new religions”. They are available from his web site.

 Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist Tells His Story.

Perhaps it sounds strange that a book on the demonic should make its way to the list of recommended reading. Clearly, one does not start studying the divine sciences by a consideration of the demonic. But the ignorance of the presence of personal and positive evil, of its roots, its nature and dangers can be spiritually deadly, as is apparent from Fr. Amorth’s impressive presentation. The author gives a dispassionate account of the principles and modes of operation of the demonic in the life of affected individuals, drawn from his long experience as the exorcist of the diocese of Rome. 

Fr. Amorth tells his story as an exorcist, but he is careful to present a composite picture that includes input from medical sciences, especially from modern psychiatry and psychology. Of particular interest is his discussion of how demonic association differs from mere mental disorders as well as his exhaustive presentation of the different forms and degrees of demonic association. The entire series of Fr. Amorth’s works, which includes two other titles, is worth consulting.

 Paul Johnson, Intellectuals.

In Intellectuals, Paul Johnson, a renowned British historian and journalist, draws a fascinating portrait of the minds that have shaped the modern world. He examines the lives of leading intellectuals over the last two hundred years, scrutinizing his heroes’ characters and private lives, revealing stunning contradictions and inconsistencies. The series of case studies includes such towering figures as Rousseau, Shelly, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Sartre, and Chomsky. 

Some critics object that Johnson’s enterprise is unfair, that any man’s life, if examined with an inquisitive and critical spirit, is likely to reveal sins of weakness and malice, that Johnson’s work is therefore an exercise in partisan bashing. However, such criticism entirely misses Johnson’s stated purpose. The individuals he examines presented themselves as teachers of humanity. They used (or abused) the reputation and prestige they acquired in their fields of expertise in order to offer advice in areas far exceeding their competence. In fact, they presented themselves as secularized sages, akin to the saints and prophets of old and they expected assent on the part of the secular faithful. Of such individuals, it is right to inquire how they lived their lives with respect to their own stated principles. When you read Intellectuals, be prepared to do a lot of unlearning.