Most Significant Christian Books of the Twentieth Century

by Don Otis

Christian book publishing has certainly changed in the past century. Today, two hundred and thirty Christian publishers receive 152,000 manuscripts each year. That is a staggering 660 manuscripts per editor per year-and the numbers continue to grow.

In a look back at the books and authors that most influenced Christian thought in the last century, William Petersen and his son, Randy, have compiled a list of the most powerful books written. In 100 Christian Books That Changed the Century (Revell), the Petersens not only provide a list, they offer us an explanation for the significance of each title they select. "This is not a list of best books, but those that have helped shape people, other thinkers and writers, churches, movements, and society in general," they explained.

What is the most significant book of the century? They point to C. S. Lewis and his simple, yet profound apologetic in Mere Christianity. The main opponent of Christianity at the time, in America but especially in England, was irrelevance. While society was supposedly "Christian" it made little difference in the lives of most people. Lewis changed that, claiming that Christianity did, indeed, make sense-far more so than the runaway materialism of the West.

In apologetics, the Petersens point to such names as G. K. Chesterton, Lewis, John Stott, Francis Schaeffer, Carl Henry, and Josh McDowell. In evangelism and missions they direct us to Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, Elisabeth Elliott, and Billy Graham. Other titles are selected for the authors' influence on social change: Booker T. Washington, John Perkins, Ron Sider, and Aleksander Solzhenitsyn.

The books that most influenced our faith or religion came from J. I. Packer, Philip Yancey, F. F. Bruce and A. W. Tozer. As the twentieth century progressed, two pivotal writers made Christian fiction more acceptable: Catherine Marshall and Frank Peretti. Their contributions guaranteed that Christian writing would never be the same and broadened the way we communicate about faith.

As the church moves into the twenty-first century, which Christian voices will lead the way? How will the legacy of past heroes and writers influence our journey? The Petersens believe we not only owe a debt of gratitude to past writers, we owe it to ourselves to know what they have said. Past wisdom, they believe, is paramount to future success.

Don Otis is president of Creative Resources, a Christian consulting and public relations agency, of Sand Point, Idaho