September 25, 2014

3 best books for non-Christians

by Jesse Johnson

There are three books I often give away to non-Christians. I don’t use these like tracts. I don’t hand them out on street corners, or give them away at Starbucks. But I do hand them out frequently. I give them to those to whom I’ve explained the gospel, and who have indicated that they would be willing to read a book that urges them to come to faith in Christ.

With all three of these, I usually will give the book to the person, then ask to meet with them in a few weeks to talk about as much of it as they’ve read. I avoid going through them a chapter at a time—that’s a huge time commitment and might likely scare the person off. I also don’t want to just leave it open ended, as in “call me when you’ve read the whole thing,” because I don’t want the person dodging me! I’ve found that setting up a time to talk through the book is usually an effective way to encourage them to read it, without falling into an open-ended commitment.

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ:

This is a book I literally order by the case. John Piper borrows from Jonathan Edwards to explain that Jesus Christ is “an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.” Don’t be overwhelmed by that sentence, because Piper takes the rest of the book to explain it. The glory of Jesus Christ is seen in the fact that competing glories are both true in the person of Jesus. The glories of humanity, and the glories of deity. The glories of the conquering lion, and the glories of the slain lamb. The glories of holiness, and the glories of a scandalous reputation. These are all true in one person.

Each chapter begins with a verse that sets the tone, and then precedes to unpack two diverse excellencies of Jesus. Every chapter ends with a prayer for more understanding of how the glories of Jesus relate to the reader.

The point of every page of this book is to convince the reader that Jesus is the most glorious and soul-satisfying reality in the universe. Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ is written not only for the non-believer, but for the person who knows nothing about the Bible or the gospel. This is easily Piper’s most evangelistic book, and is certainly some of his best work. It is about 120 pages, and the 13 chapters each take about 10 minutes to read. You can buy it from Amazon, but it is also free in PDF here.

What is the Gospel?

Greg Gilbert begins by asking the title question: “What is the gospel?” He turns to Romans 1-4 for his answer, which then follows the traditional God/sin/savior/response outline. He follows that with chapters on the kingdom, Christian living, and what could be called “Christian thinking.”

At 120 pages, What is the Gospel? is short, and would take between 1-2 hours to read in one-sitting. Unlike Piper’s book, Gilbert writes to an audience that is familiar with the Bible, Christian terminology, and books like The Pilgrim’s Progress. For that reason, this book would be a better gift for someone who was raised in the church and knows how to find Romans in their Bible, but is not living in submission to the Lord now.

As a side-note, his chapter on the kingdom is clearly from an amil perspective, but nothing he writes in it would contradict a premil understanding, and none of the nuanced differences would be noticeable to a non-believer anyway.

A Sure Guide to Heaven (aka: An Alarm to the Unconverted)

“An earnest invitation to sinners to turn to God”

So beings Joseph Alleine’s book, first published this in the late 1600’s appropriately titled An Alarm to the Unconverted. His target was those who thought they were saved because they had been baptized into the church. Alleine explains that there is only one way to be a Christian: to experience conversion.

This book reads like many of Banner of Truth’s Puritan Paperbacks. The author is relentless in his points, making them again and again, harder and harder. Reading this would make even the strongest conscience feel battered by conviction. It is impossible to get through it without asking the question: “am I really converted?”

Alleine opens with a few common misconceptions about what it means to be a Christian. Then he compares those with the reality of what it means to be found in Christ. He shows that the only way to move from darkness to light is to have experienced this supernatural act on your soul.

While the first half of the book is spent describing real conversion, the second half changes gears, and that is what makes it so effective. There Alleine describes the unconverted. He describes their lives, their thoughts, their consciences, and their fears. He concludes by describing good motives to be converted, and making an appeal to his readers.

Because of the age of this book, it obviously takes longer to read than the others. But it is edited extremely well, and the difficulty is not at all what you might imagine. I’ve gone through this book with a few different people, and have never had anyone say they couldn’t follow the logic.

You can buy it as a Puritan Paperback, or you can download a PDF for free.

What books have you found effective with non-Christians? Anything you’d add to the list?

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • JackW

    The World Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips

  • Mr. Mike

    Thanks for the info. I’m going to check those books out.

  • Thanks for the recommendations. I will get these books and hopefully get to use them to help win souls for Christ!

  • Johnny

    Greatly appreciate these suggestions. I’ve been looking for some titles like this share.

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  • Thanks, Jesse. This is helpful, especially the tips on how to use books in evangelism. I second Gilbert’s book, we use that a lot in our church.

    For people with a Roman Catholic background, which is a lot (if organized, non-practicing Roman Catholics would be the largest denomination in the US), I would recommend Ray Galea, Nothing in My Hand I Bring (Matthias Media).

    I’ve handed that out and seen a couple of folks come to the Lord, with that book as a means of differentiating the true Gospel from their prior understanding of (Roman Catholic) Christianity.

  • Soullifter

    The World Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips is excllnt.

  • tovlogos

    Thanks Jesse, looks good — and more practical than always giving out Bibles; especially since only the most dedicated recipients will actually read them.

  • Jesse Randolph
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  • Pope of Geneva

    My choice would be Calvin’s “Institutes” – get it for free in PDF format…
    Consider Calvin’s “intention” from his introduction:

    “HIS SOVEREIGN; 1 JOHN CALVIN PRAYS PEACE AND SALVATION IN CHRIST. 2
    Sire,—When I first engaged in this work, nothing was farther from my thoughts than to write what should afterwards be presented to your Majesty. My intention was only to furnish a kind of rudiments, by which those who feel some interest in religion might be trained to true godliness. And I toiled at the task chiefly for the sake of my countrymen the French, multitudes of whom I perceived to be hungering and thirsting after Christ, while very few seemed to have been duly
    imbued with even a slender knowledge of him. That this was the object which I had in view is apparent from the work itself, which is written in a simple and elementary form adapted for instruction.”

    John Piper? A controversial reformist, a crypto-continuist? He would not have lasted long in Old-Geneva.

    PopeofGeneva

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