My Book Recommendations
I am constantly asked for book recommendations, especially by young Catholics. This hunger for continuous learning that exists among today’s believers is greatly edifying, a promising sign that the Church is indeed alive and well underneath all the soot of scandal and sin.
Below is a reading guide for Catholics who wish to develop their intellectual chops. If you ask me (I’ll pretend you are) I think this is a necessary pursuit for every Catholic—to learn your faith.
You must do deepen your religious knowledge, first, because you cannot love what you don’t know. If you want to love deeper, learn deeper. The more you learn about Christ and his Church, the more you can love about them. The more you learn about the human person, the better you can love your neighbour.
Second, you must become a well-read Catholic because you will be able to more confidently share the Gospel with an increasingly secular culture.
Third, you must build up your mind through reading good Christian books because life’s biggest questions are fundamentally religious—and to be a rational creature (which you are) who does not think about life’s biggest questions is both a pity and an absurdity.
Fourth, you must study the Faith to deepen your conviction that Catholicism is true. The books below will have served their purpose if all they have done is made you a more rock-solid believer in Jesus Christ.
Now onwards! I hope these books bless you as much as they’ve blessed me. Happy learning!
NOTE: This guide is in no particular order (except for 1 & 2). Read these books in any order you wish according to your immediate needs or interests.
1. Begin reading the Gospels daily.
Even 2 minutes per day in the beginning is a good place to start. I recommend getting the Ignatius Press New Testament Study Bible. This Bible has footnotes by the renowned theologian, Dr. Scott Hahn and his co-annotator, Curtis Mitch, another Steubenville theologian. I can’t recommend this study Bible enough.
Also make sure you’ve got a complete Bible on hand as well. I strongly suggest the RSV (Revised Standard Version) version from Ignatius Press.
Some further recommendations:
Put tabs in your Bible for easy sifting. Mark it up with footnotes and cross-references. Underline key passages and write notes in the margins. God’s Word must be “chewed” on before it can be digested.
To supplement your reading of the Gospels, I especially recommend:
To Know Christ Jesus by Frank Sheed
The Lord by Romano Guardini
Life Of Christ by Fulton Sheen
2. Begin reading the Scriptures with the Catechism.
Once you’ve gone through the Gospels slowly and attentively, you can start to unpack the writings of St. Paul, St. Peter and the rest of the NT authors. Supplement your Scripture study with the Catechism.
St. John Paul the Great called the Catechism of the Catholic Church (free online version here) a “sure norm for teaching the faith.” As a compilation and summary of two thousand years of official Church teaching, this resource is indispensable for all New Evangelists. It is a great companion to the Scriptures as well. As a companion to the Catechism, I recommend Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism by Dr. Peter Kreeft.
3. Begin reading great conversion stories.
Conversion stories are easy to read, and if you read the right ones, they can be a fantastic introduction to Catholic apologetics as the authors detail how they uncovered the fullness of religious truth in Catholicism. They also serve as great “give-away” evangelization resources for the creative apologist.
Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberley Hahn
Something Other Than God – Jennifer Fulwiler
Crossing The Tiber by Steve Ray
Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic by David Currie
Surprised By Truth I, II & III (3 books) by Patrick Madrid
4. Begin reading practical books on spirituality/evangelization/apologetics.
First read at least one of these:
Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales
Soul of the Apostolate by Don Chautard
Knowledge can approach being useless, even dangerous, if a person doesn’t know how to use it properly. These books will help you to understand the “process” of doing apologetics and evangelization with clarity and charity.
My book Just Whatever: How To Help the Spiritually Indifferent Find Beliefs That Really Matter was written for this purpose, to equip the modern Catholic evangelist practically and intellectually.
I also recommend:
The Seven Deadly Sins Of Apologetics by Mark Brumley
Catholic Evidence Training Outlines by Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward
To Light a Fire on the Earth by Bishop Robert Barron
Philosophy helps a person to see things through a “sane” lens. That is, philosophy helps the thinker to see the world as it really is, with logical clarity. By thinking clearly and logically, an apologist can hear arguments and determine whether they are sound or not, and can (even more importantly) make sound arguments himself. This is an essential quality of a good apologist.
To start your reading in the philosophy genre, I recommend reading Dr. Peter Kreeft. Which books? All of them.
You may want to start with:
The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings (First you should read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. If this is not yet on your bookshelf, shame on you.)
Another philosopher —and one who profoundly influenced Kreeft — whose works should permeate your lifetime reading is the Oxford atheist-turned-Christian, C.S Lewis. For the beginning apologist, I especially recommend Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man as your launching point.
I also recommend introducing yourself to the work of two esteemed Christian philosophers: Drs. Ed Feser and William Lane Craig. Begin with Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism and Craig’s On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason And Precision. Once you’ve read those, read Feser’s Five Proofs for the Existence of God and Craig’s Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics.
For a classic work of philosophy, start with The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.
For insightful commentaries, both critical and fair, that discuss the interrelationship between medieval and modern philosophy, read Etienne Gilson’s The Unity of Philosophical Experience and Ralph McInerny’s Characters in Search of Their Author.
You will also want to get acquainted with the medieval heavyweight, St. Thomas Aquinas. To get started, I recommend getting a copy of the St. Thomas’s great Summa Theologiae. Get A Summa of the Summa by Peter Kreeft (A Shorter Summa is also available).
Then I recommend starting with any/all of these:
The One Minute Aquinas by Kevin Vost
Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master by Bishop Robert Barron
Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide by Ed Feser
The Thought of Thomas Aquinas by Brian Davies
St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox by G.K. Chesterton
Guide to Thomas Aquinas by Josef Pieper
St. Thomas Aquinas by Ralph McInerny
6. Begin steeping yourself in salvation history.
As I have already said, you must read your Bible—Old Testament and New Testament—every day. But the following books will make the entire Bible come alive for you in a way you could never anticipate.
I especially recommend for starters:
A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn
7. Begin reading Frank Sheed’s stuff.
Francis J. Sheed, the great English soap-box orator, apologist, and founder of Sheed & Ward Publishing, is as good as Catholic teachers in print come. For the best popular introduction to Catholic theology, read the following four books in order:
III. Theology And Sanity
8. Get to know the arguments of today’s best Catholic apologists.
Read the writings of Karl Keating, Patrick Madrid, Karlo Broussard, Trent Horn, Tim Staples, and Steve Ray to name a few. You may want to start with:
Catholicism by Bishop Robert Barron
Where Is That In The Bible? by Patrick Madrid
Prepare the Way by Karlo Broussard
Why We’re Catholic by Trent Horn
The Case for Catholicism by Trent Horn
The Protestant’s Dilemma by Devin Rose
Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating
I also highly recommend the Catholic Answers 20 Answers series. This series covers a wide range of topics, ranging from abortion to the papacy, with each booklet authored by one of the Church’s leading apologists.
9. Begin reading the early Church Fathers.
This will be one of the most important parts of your study. When disagreements arise regarding biblical interpretation, we can test these things as St. Paul exhorted us to (1 Thess. 5:21) by turning to the writings of the earliest Christian leaders who were, as is evident in their writings, undeniably and unambiguously Catholic.
To get started, I recommend:
The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin
Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine by Pope Benedict XVI
Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man by Henri De Lubac
Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers by Penguin Classics
Why Is That In Tradition? by Patrick Madrid
10. Focus your reading on the “big issues”.
With Protestants, it’s Mary and the saints, the Eucharist, Salvation and the question of authority are the place to start.
Here are some recommendations to get you started:
Hail Holy Queen by Scott Hahn
Refuting the Attack on Mary by Father Matteo
Behold Your Mother by Tim Staples
Any Friend Of God Is A Friend Of Mine by Patrick Madrid
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre
The Drama Of Salvation by Jimmy Akin
Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger by Gary Michuta
Where We Got The Bible: Our Debt To The Catholic Church by Rev. Henry G. Graham
Pope Fiction by Patrick Madrid
Jesus, Peter and the Keys by Butler, Dahlgren and Hess
At the centre of our faith as Catholics is the Holy Mass. As an apologist defending Catholicism, you will need to know the Mass and the common objections against it.
For reading I recommend:
Mass Revision by Jimmy Akin
The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn
The Mass of the Early Christians by Mike Aquilina
12. Begin learning the real facts about Church history.
Our society is awfully confused about historical events such as the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Reformation, for example, and what really happened there. There has never been a more necessary time for Catholics to brush up on their historical facts regarding these significant events in Church history.
To get started, I recommend:
The Glory of the Crusades by Steve Weidenkopf
Seven Lies About Catholic History by Diane Moczar
How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods
Inquisition by Edward Peters
13. Read up on Catholic social teachings and how to defend them.
For a general overview from a philosophical and theological perspective I would point back to Society and Sanity by Frank Sheed. IAlso, A Refutation Of Moral Relativism by Peter Kreeft and Relativism: Feet Firlmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis Beckwith and Greg Koukl.
Also to get you started in this vast area:
Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West
Good News About Sex And Marriage: Answers To Your Honest Questions by Christopher West
What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense by Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson & Robert George
The Unaborted Socrates by Peter Kreeft
If You Really Loved Me by Jason Evert
Delivered by Matt Fradd
Sex Au Naturel by Patrick Coffin
Humane Vitae by Blessed Pope Paul VI (free online version)
14. Begin learning how to handle common objections against Christianity and/or the existence of God.
First, get Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity by Trent Horn and Ed Feser’s Five Proofs of the Existence of God.
Then get Brant Pitre’s The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Case for Christ.
This is a vast area with many sub-groups of recommended reading. I will recommend some big titles that I think are really helpful for getting started in the area of Christian apologetics (in no particular order):
Making Sense Out Of Suffering by Peter Kreeft
Handbook of Catholic Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ron Tacelli
Christianity For Modern Pagans by Peter Kreeft
The Godless Delusion by Patrick Madrid and Ken Hensley
On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason And Precision by William Lane Craig (see #5)
God?: A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist by William Lane Craig
The Case For The Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright
New Proofs For The Existence Of God by Fr. Robert Spitzer
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg
Faith and Certitude: Can We Be Sure Of The Things That Matter Most To Us? by Fr. Thomas Dubay
The Evidential Power Of Beauty: Science And Theology Meet by Fr. Thomas Dubay
When Mormons Call: Answering Mormon Missionaries At Your Door by Isaiah Bennett
Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses by Jason Evert
For an even more complete list of great recommendations in the area of Christian apologetics, go to strangenotions.com.
15. Start getting to know the great British apologists.
G.K. Chesterton, Arnold Lunn, Frank Sheed, Maisie Ward, Hilair Belloc, Blessed John Cardinal Henry Newman and C.S. Lewis to name a few. These folks are articulate, intelligent and a force to be reckoned with. Their writings are a challenge at first but stick with them; suddenly and without warning they seem to burst into life leaving you begging for more. These people and their writings make it exciting to be an apologist (and, especially, a Christian!).
To get started, try:
Orthodoxy by G.K Chesterton
The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
Miracles by C.S. Lewis
Apologia Pro Vita Sua by John Cardinal Henry Newman
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Cardinal Henry Newman
The Third Day by Arnold Lunn
Also, you can check out the Word on Fire Classics here.