Book suggestions for unbelieving friends

So every Christmas our family meets up with the in-laws and does a gift exchange. This is the first year my father-in-law is retired after 50 years working in produce. He wants to read more and books are what he put on his list.

If he is a believer, their are strong remnants of his formerly Roman Catholic upbringing. He seems to think theology is high brow and snooty.

I’m wondering what classics I might get him that he would enjoy and that might shape his conscience a little, even if not explicitly Christian. The tragedy of A Brave New World profoundly effected my evaluation of society’s sexual ethic, but maybe that is too high brow. Any other suggestions?

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Pilgrim’s Progress
The Idiot
Born Again (Colson)
Life Together


What about Ralph Moody’s fictionalized memoirs? Starting with Father & I Were Ranchers. Imminently readable. Old-fashioned manly honesty and courage are big themes in the series.


I am very interested in these and had never heard of them before. I think I will be asking my library to buy a copy of at least a couple…


Good suggestion, Kelly. Moody’s books are wonderful.


Thank you for the suggestion.

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I recommended these Ralph Moody books to my unbelieving assistant at work a few weeks ago. She is a retired elementary school teacher. She has torn into them and is currently reading the 5th book in the chronological progression. She is bringing up themes that I have been able to pretty easily tie into scripture as she reads them. Her main comment: “Why didn’t I know about these when I was teaching?!! They would have been fantastic read aloud books.” She is telling all of her old teacher friends that they HAVE to read them to the kids.

So I heartily recommend them as well. However, I would use them as a tool to get your father-in-law really re-beginning to enjoy reading again and also very ready to take recommendations from you. Talk about the books. Then begin to move to other enjoyable story and narrative oriented non-fiction like “Boys in a Boat” or “Unbroken” or “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.” Then begin to intersperse Pilgrim’s Progress and Life Together when he is really reading again and talking about it…

Depending upon his interest level in that kind of thing, the Horatio Hornblower books or Aubrey/Maturin novels by C.S. Forester (Master and Commander movie was based upon them - 18 books in all I think) may be a good and fun read for him as well. This can provide good discussion material for masculine leadership, but isn’t quite the bridge to spiritual themes that the above are/can be in my opinion. More an enjoyable historical fiction action read.

Another book that I have recently REALLY enjoyed was How Green Was My Valley. Spiritual themes in there as well.


Since Moody’s books came up, a small printer called Purple House Press has republished the first two in hardcover with the original artwork. They’re not cheap but they’re very nicely done.


Try some Ayn Rand. She was wrong about a lot, but she at least held to objective reality, which offers the readers superior categories over the relativistic romanticism of most modern writing, even a lot of modern “Christian” writing. Atlas Shrugged is without an equal; even with her somewhat tiring prose I consider it one of the greatest stories ever put to paper. I think it’s about as far as mankind, unaided by Holy Scripture, can get to truth.

Piper wrote something interesting on Ayn Rand a while back:

A close friend of mine from childhood went deep down the Objectivism rabbit hole (Ayn Rand Institute conferences, etc.) and he and I had a good chat around Piper’s article. It helped my friend see some things about Christ’s teaching that he hadn’t seen before.


Interesting! I had no idea Piper had much grasp on Rand. I would not say that I went down the rabbit hole as a youth, but I will say I found her system more internally consistent than the romanticism of the modern day, which I describe as “It’s good to be good because being good is good.” It was John Robbins’ book “Without a Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System” that really solidly closed off Objectivism as a viable “ism” to me. To my understanding it is the only philosophical deconstruction of Rand that meticulously avoids commentary on her person, and deals with Objectivism in a thoroughly scholarly way. I guess it seems appropriate that the spiritual heir of Gordon Clark would take on such a task :slight_smile:

You are the only person I’ve ever met who has ever mentioned that book. I think I bought it mail order out of the back of some Libertarian publication. I read it in high school as an apologetic work to have discussions with my friend. I wasn’t reformed at the time, and gave it a skim a few years back now that I had some grasp on Reformed theology and the Clark-Van Til controversy.

And for the record, I consider attacks on prophets’ characters entirely warranted. If someone is going to found a new philosophical system, perhaps they should consider not committing adultery. It’s such a consistent pattern: Preach sexual continence, practice sexual incontinence, invent post hoc rationalizations for one’s own sexual incontinence. Mohammed, Joseph Smith, Ayn Rand, I’m sure the list goes on.

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Certainly appreciate the clear rejection of relativism. I’ve read a bit of Rand but not a lot. I’m gonna read that article more thoroughly but I do think Piper was right, there’s some good stuff and some dangerous stuff. Not really the direction I want to point my unbelieving family though.

Rand was very careful to include allowances for what we know as adultery - think of Dagney Taggart’s several encounters in Atlas Shrugged - in other words Rand wasn’t being inconsistent with her own philosophy in hooking up with Branden. It can be condemned from a Christian perspective but at that point one isn’t engaging Rand on her own ground. What I like about Robbins’ approach is that he engaged her on her own ground. He showed very clearly and dispassionately, even respectfully how her philosophy was inconsistent at the basic level - his deconstruction of her “tabula rasa” theory of man is particularly compelling

Understand entirely, you never know what will resonate with people. Rand was, if I can put it this way, used by God to clear out a lot of unhelpful, contradictory clutter in my thinking and implant a healthy skepticism of people who blindly assert things. However in His mercy He did not leave me there. To think He would do that for everyone in every case is presumption. Still, depending on the personality of the person, a ricochet effect may be more or less likely.

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I read The Fountainhead in high school and was entranced. I loved it. It didn’t sit quite right, though. I knew there was truth there, but I also knew it was tangled up in lies. I wasn’t able to do much untangling, so I just moved on. But I really did love the book.

That said, I would go further than @Krlamb1 and say to you, @Auslander, that it’s a really bad idea to recommend Rand to someone like the individual described at the top of this thread. I would certainly be willing for church officers and pastors to read the stuff to understand and teach and dissect it, but, as the Piper article points out, it’s really dangerous.

If I can get inside your head a little, Eric, I would guess that you recommended it because Rand fired your imagination. She was exciting, especially for men. “Bear the weight of my own existence and go out and try to be a hero? Face reality like a man? Sign me up!” says every red-blooded young man ever. It’s precisely what is so exciting about Jordan Peterson to so many young men. (You can read my annotations to Pipers article on Rand here.)

Both Rand and Peterson preach a different gospel, which, of course, you concede, Eric. But I’m also sure you’ve noticed that when people who don’t have a good foundation in the truth come into contact with them, they are led astray. I think this is even more true of Peterson than Rand precisely because he takes the Bible and it’s stories seriously. (I haven’t wrapped my mind around Peterson yet, but I’m trying. I think it will be important for us to answer him. Otherwise he will steal our young men.)

So what would I recommend?


Sadly, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, also. Scammel’s bio records that he justified his adultery by telling his first wife it was necessary for the continuity of his creativity. If I remember correctly.

John wrote that back in 1979. Four years earlier I had started work as an air brakeman and car knocker at the Proviso Yard of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway just outside Chicago. We had three lines going through our shop and repaired everything that could go wrong on railroad cars. One of my best jobs ever.

I had recently finished Rand’s books and was gobsmacked the first day on the job by my foreman exclaiming to no one in particular, “Who is John Galt?”


And since it came up, I think it’s also worth cautioning our readers against Gordon Clark and John Robbins. Both seem to promote the error that all that matters is our intellectual assent to the truths of Scripture. Here’s a good place to start, if you’re curious:


Hi @ldweeks

All error is dangerous to the degree that one lacks discernment to handle it. The less discernment one has, the more dangerous the error.

Let me also share just a little bit of what was in my head - Rand did the opposite of “firing my imagination” - in my literary experience, it was Neil Gaiman who did that. Rand made sense on a lot of levels. Not on every level, but Rand reduced the squishy, shifting, romantic leftism of the modern mainstream to absurdity. She did it on logical and moral grounds. Up until Rand, many decades had passed without an accessible, moral defense of free enterprise - I’d even say, since Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law.” Many would take the pragmatic defense of free enterprise, which went along the following lines: “yes, socialism is inherently more moral; however, people are selfish and therefore free enterprise is the more pragmatic option.” Rand would not grant that and I’m convinced that anyone who supports free enterprise owes her a debt of gratitude for her work on the cultural barricades along with many other voices from history, including our founding fathers.

I carefully do not concede the point then, that Rand is somehow more dangerous than anything else. An “objectivist” is easier to argue with than the modern romantic because at least the objectivist agrees on a framework for exchanging views between themselves and Christians. The modern romantic (the 80% ‘mainstream’ raised on Disney) empties out language and fills it up with new meaning, which is dishonest (words like “justice”, “tolerance”, “experiences”, etc). I personally find “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to be more dangerous than “The Fountainhead.”


The Clark-Van Til controversy and the bad blood it left behind is a sad episode in the Church but having read both, and attending a VanTillian seminary, I would certainly say this is an intramural difference and not something that Christians need to be “warned against” unless we are being warned against getting too parochial/tribal.

I’m confused. You say,

That made me think you didn’t consider any particular work or idea to be more dangerous than anything else. But then you also say,

So it would seem that we agree that some works are more dangerous than others, but we disagree on where the danger lies for a retired man. Have I understood you?

Yeah, that’s my bad for not being clearer. I would say that things that rely on emotional reaction to smuggle in a wrong assumption about the world are more sinister (perhaps “dangerous” is the wrong word) than things that openly, clearly meter out their arguments. When thinking of the Grinch, I had children in mind in the sense that their discernment is very low and they have little ability to tell when they’ve been emotionally manipulated. So in that, I did drift from the original topic.

For where the danger lies for a retired man, I have no idea as everyone is different and “retired” is a very broad category. Certainly OP can judge best on that.