Young Christians – either in terms of their age or the recency of their conversion – understand they should read the Bible, and even desire to. A major problem they encounter is knowing where to start. What are the best books of the Bible for young Christians to start with?
All of Scripture is God’s authoritative, inspired Word, but some books are more conducive for a young Christian’s first reading of the Bible than others. Earlier in my ministry career, I met monthly with a young Christian in his first year out of college, and I selected Jeremiah as our first book to read together. I cringe to remember my lack of wisdom in this decision. When we met up a month later, he sheepishly admitted that he had quit reading by Jeremiah 5. He was utterly clueless about what was going on in Jeremiah and understood little to nothing. His embarrassment and failure were my fault.
In negative terms, books like Jeremiah that require a great deal of redemptive historical and theological knowledge are not a great place to start. For example, Ezekiel or Jeremiah require deep knowledge about the divided kingdom and the exile. A young Christian could gain knowledge and insight from these books, of course, but they may encounter more frustration than necessary compared to others.
In positive terms, books that build basic foundations in theology, Christian living, and redemptive history provide a better starting point for young believers. The following are categories and specific books that I recommend young Christians try first. I have listed the four categories in the order I recommend starting and progressing.
Books that Educate on the Basic Foundations and Moments of Redemptive History
If a young Christian’s first book of the Bible is Ezra or Judges, it’s as if they have started reading a book in the middle of the story. Furthermore, the theology of the Bible is best understood in the context of God’s grand narrative of redemption. A young Christian can gain a basic narrative understanding of the Bible by starting at the beginning of the Old and New Testaments. Here is a recommended reading structure.
- The Gospel and Acts – The Gospels constitute the best place to start. Knowing about the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Christ is ground zero for the Christian faith. Among the Gospels, many identify Mark as the best “first” book to read. If I am meeting one-on-one with a non-Christian or new believer, I study John with them. In truth, starting by reading all four Gospels is not a bad first step.
After the Gospels, Acts, while a very challenging book, sets the stage for the foundation of the church, the coming of the Spirit, and the spread of the gospel. These events provide good foundations for understanding the epistles of the New Testament.
- Genesis and Exodus – When a young Christian reads Genesis, they will gain essential foundations for the entire Bible. Genesis contains creation, the Fall, the Flood, the patriarchs, and has three of the covenants in the Bible. Genesis is narrative-based and accessible in this way. It’s probably the most important book of the Old Testament to know well.
Exodus has similar ramifications. The exodus from Egypt is the central event of redemption in the Old Testament. The Passover, the journey in the wilderness, and the giving of the Law and Mosaic covenant are some of the most important and alluded to events throughout the Old Testament.
Books that Educate on Basic Christian Doctrine without the Advanced Knowledge of Context
Certain books contain rich, foundational Christian doctrine but rely on relatively extensive knowledge of the context of the Bible. Galatians and 1 Corinthians, for example, require knowledge of the historical context to fully understand. Here are some books that are accessible (not necessarily easy) and productive for learning the basics of Christian doctrine.
- Romans – Romans can be extremely challenging but it is relatively straightforward with regard to the basics of sin, the gospel, and growth in Christ. Romans 9 and 11 are a doozy but the rest of the book is as good as it gets with regard to basic doctrinal propositions. It ends with wonderful basics on the Christian life.
- Ephesians and Colossians – These books are also gold for a new Christian. Ephesians has rich basics related to salvation, the church, spiritual warfare, and the Christian life. Colossians is a great starting point for understanding the theology of Jesus. They contain challenging elements, but are both worthy starting points.
- Psalms – This book is a powerhouse for the theology of God, particularly his attributes. It may be the most accessible book in the Bible. After getting basics on redemptive history of scripture, Psalms may be a first stop in reading the Bible.
Books about Christian Living
After a young Christian has a nice sample of redemptive history and Christian doctrine, books that focus on Christian living are valuable. I wouldn’t recommend starting with these books. For a person to understand the lifestyle of a Christian, he or she must first view their it in relation to Jesus and the gospel. Here are some suggestions:
- James – This book is rich, simple, and clear. It’s one of the easier reads in the Bible.
- Proverbs – As long as a reader understands the Proverbs in relation to “the fear of the Lord” as the basis of all wisdom, this book can be excellent, easy reading. Furthermore, a young Christian needs to know that the proverbs are general principles, not absolute promises. The individual proverbs seem readily applicable to our lives and therein validate the relevance of the Bible to a young believer.
- Psalms – Once again, the psalms provide so much guidance on how to seek, praise, thank, love, trust, and lament to God. They exhibit a diverse cross-section of human experiences and demonstrate how to trust and relate to God in those situations.
Examples of Godly Living
Many personal narratives in the Bible provide accessible and engaging scriptural reading that can keep a young Christian’s attention. These narratives merge the basics of redemptive history, doctrine, and the Christian life.
- Nehemiah – I think Nehemiah may be the best text for servant leadership in the Bible. Nehemiah demonstrates prayerful trust, gritty toughness, and a servant’s heart. It’s a great story.
- Ruth – Ruth is a quick and easy read that has endless depth. We see God’s provision for a family that puts their trust in Him. It exemplifies Christian trust.
- Esther – This book has some challenges with regard to historical knowledge and requires reading between the lines, but it’s a fantastic story that reads smoothly and quickly. Again, God provides for his people when Esther takes a dangerous risk.
- 1 and 2 Chronicles – These books have numerous case studies in Christian living, some good and some bad. The narratives of the kings of Judah (the southern kingdom after the division) show what faithfulness looks like and what it doesn’t look like at times.
Honestly, no matter where a person starts, God’s word is God’s word. But sometimes beginners need concrete steps on where to start. I hope this guide is helpful to you in your ministry to new Christians.