When the Modern Library published its list of the top 100 novels of the century, critics complained that it was not inclusive enough of women and minorities, a mistake made up for when ML published its top 100 nonfiction titles. Then William F. Buckley's National Review complained that the nonfiction list was not inclusive enough of conservatives, so NR published its own top 100. None of the lists, as might be expected, was particularly inclusive of Christian titles, so in the spirit of end-of-the-century listmaking, here's WORLD's offering.
The top books of the last 100 years, as far as WORLD is concerned, are those that proclaimed or applied a Christian worldview in a hostile century. Not all of the books listed here are necessarily by Christians, though most are, but they all exerted not just an influence (as in the secular lists that hold up Marxist or Freudian or obscene titles only because they were influential), but a positive influence.
Only one title per author is listed, though the author's other books may be equally worthy of inclusion. Also, since this is a retrospective look at a century that is all but over, only authors who are dead are listed. The many excellent writers still living and writing may, if they stand the test of time, be listed a hundred years from now, since their influence will mainly be felt in the next century. Also, not too much should be made of the exact ordering, as if a book listed in the 20s were greatly superior to one listed in the 30s. Certain groupings, as well as rankings, will be apparent.
Readers will no doubt note gaping holes and flagrant omissions. Notice that while most lists tend to come in 10s or 100s, WORLD's list follows the radio format of giving a top 40. This allows room for additions. Readers are invited to nominate books they think are among the top books written over the last 100 years.
1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1943). Modernists did not realize that Christianity made so much sense or was so exhilarating until they read Lewis, the century's foremost defender of the faith.
2. T. S. Eliot, The Collected Poems (1963). The Modern Library made the wildly experimental Ulysses by James Joyce the No. 1 novel of the century, despite, or perhaps because of, its obscenity trial and the fact that it is nearly unreadable. Against this quintessential modernist novelist, we offer the quintessential modernist poet, who charted the spiritual wasteland of the 20th century, in the process becoming a conservative Christian.
3. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908). This exuberant, joyous, humorous journalist defended the faith with a razor logic and a razor wit. He also showed how Christianity can transfigure all of life.
4. Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There (1968). Schaeffer taught evangelicals to become engaged with culture, art, and the world of ideas. His worldview criticism became a catalyst for Christian activism.
5. The Fundamentals (1909-1915). This series of monographs by various authors battled the liberal theological modernism that would take over much of mainline Protestantism. Those who consider "fundamentalism" a synonym for narrow anti-intellectualism have never read these books, which, for the most part, remain strikingly relevant.
6. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (1974). By documenting and describing the evils of communism in his powerful and evocative style, Solzhenitsyn did much to pull down the Soviet Empire, showing that the pen really is mightier than the sword.
7. Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952). The moving autobiography and reflective mediation of a communist spy who became a Christian and, to the scorn of the intellectual establishment, witnessed to God's grace. Chambers didn't know it, but he was on the winning side after all.
8. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (1923). This Princeton professor and Westminster Seminary founder showed that liberal theology actually constitutes a new non-Christian religion. This insight got him kicked out of his increasingly liberal denomination, but Machen was right-then and now.
9. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (1955). Although his attention to "presuppositions" rather than "evidence" in Christian apologetics continues to spark debates, Van Til remains the father of worldview criticism.
10. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (1954-1956). The Oxford professor whose witnessing to C. S. Lewis helped bring him to Christ wrote the century's grandest fantasy epic, a staggering work of self-contained imagination.
11. Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery (1901). A freed slave at the beginning of the century laid out a strategy for pulling out of poverty, based on faith, hard work, and character.
12. Harold Lindsell, Battle for the Bible (1976). This book caused scandal, provoked fights, and split churches, but it arrested the slide of evangelicals toward a liberal view of the Bible, establishing instead the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture.
13. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (1965). A master preacher and evangelist, Lloyd-Jones here writes about why there are so many joyless Christians. Answer: We do not fully understand the grace of God.
14. Adolf Koeberle, The Quest for Holiness (1936). A classic of the spiritual life, exploring how sanctification and good works really do grow out of a rigorous, Lutheran understanding of justification by faith.
15. A. W. Tozier, The Pursuit of God (1949). Evangelicals do have a legacy of spiritual depth.
16. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (1937). Grace may be free, but it isn't cheap, as this young theologian showed both in his words and in his martyr's death at the hands of the Nazis.
17. Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (1941). Cut from the same cloth as C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers was an apologist, an imaginative writer, and a scholar whose essay on classical education has provided a model for the current renaissance in Christian education. This book shows how human creativity has its origins in nothing less than the Triune God.
18. Hans Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (1970). This friend of Francis Schaeffer showed evangelicals how to read art as a manifestation of the worldview of the artist and his times. It also encouraged Christians to find ways to express their biblical worldview.
19. Flannery O'Connor, The Violent Bear It Away (1960). The conflict between sin and grace, between the modernist and the Christian worldview, is pushed to shocking extremes in the fiction of this nice handicapped Southern lady.
20. Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory (1940). The melancholy Catholic novelist has written a masterpiece about a priest being hunted down by the anti-Christian socialists during the Mexican revolution.
21. George Orwell, 1984 (1944). The novel that alerted our imaginations to the encroachment of totalitarianism. Although 1984 came and went, the specter of Big Brother taking care of us, the technological violations of privacy, and the perversions of language were all predicted by Orwell.
22. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932). This novel is even more prophetic, predicting virtual reality, hallucinogenic drugs, entertainment-mad hedonism, and genetic engineering-all to keep the population happily in line, oblivious to its enslavement.
23. Charles Williams, The Descent into Hell (1937). C. S. Lewis's friend was an odd, original, yet in the final analysis, orthodox theologian, who worked out his ideas in supernatural thrillers.
24. William Golding, Lord of the Flies (1955). This tale of schoolboys shipwrecked on a desert island, and how, without adult supervision, they revert to primitive violence is a good answer to those who do not believe in original sin. And it has a particular resonance in light of the recent killings in Littleton, Colo., and other schools across the nation.
25. Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos (1983). This combination of short stories, theoretical essays, and a mock self-help quiz is both an offbeat Christian apologetic and a devastating satire of America's real religion, pop-psychology.
26. Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon (1940). A novel about the Stalinist show trials that exposed the lies of Communism to many who once accepted them as gospel truth.
27. Michael Shaara, Killer Angels (1974). A pioneering historical novel, taking us inside the combatants at the Battle of Gettysburg.
28. Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered (1969). A witty but cynical curmudgeon, whose journalistic career put him at the center of many of the century's most notable events, finds the Lord.
29. Anne Frank, The Diary of A Young Girl (1953). The magnitude of human sin expends itself against ordinary, sympathetic human beings, as this diary of a child hiding from the Nazis shows.
30. Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place (1983). The autobiographical account of a woman whose Christian faith led her to imprisonment in a concentration camp for helping the Jews.
31. Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind (1953). The godfather of cultural conservatism, Kirk inspired the revival of conservative thought in America.
32. Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (1947). Another catalyst of the conservative revival, this book provides a still relevant critique of modernist thinking and its catastrophic results.
33. F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (1944). Hayek showed how personal and political freedom was tied up with economic freedom. A prophet of the free enterprise system at a time when socialists and big-government Keynesians ruled the world of economics, he has been proven right every time.
34. Richard Crossman, ed., The God That Failed (1949). A collection of essays by ex-communists who woke up to the true nature of their false religion. This book contributed to the containment of the evil empire and portended its eventual collapse.
35. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). What she describes about the dynamics of fascism and communism needs to be heeded today.
36. Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word (1981). This continental Christian intellectual defended language and the Word of God against the image-worshippers of modern technological culture.
37. Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History (1945-1961). In this tour de force of scholarship, Toynbee studies all of the world's major civilizations through history, traces how they rise, and shows that the Aztecs and the Romans look a lot like us.
38. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution (1962). Kuhn showed why Christians do not have to fear science anymore: It keeps changing.
39. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1988). A devastating account of how today's moral and intellectual relativism is stifling American education.
40. Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1918). This book by a descendant of presidents, who could not summon up his ancestors' gumption, offered a fine contrast between the pre-modern mind (symbolized by the "Virgin" of the great cathedrals) and the just-emerging modern century (symbolized by the industrial "dynamo"). The Modern Library listed it as the No. 1 nonfiction book of the 20th century. While it is a good book, it is not quite that good; but we will let it make the cut of the top 40.
Copyright 1999World Magazine. Used by permission.