Many times I have been asked, "Sam, what are the ten best books you've ever read?" Or some will ask, "What ten books most influenced your life and theology?" Some people just want to know what they should be reading on any particular topic. So I have decided to provide on the website a regular list of books that I recommend for your reading. Every few weeks I will list three to five books, with brief comments on why I think they are worthy of your time and effort. I want to begin with my top thirty. I couldn't stop with just ten!
1) Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Multnomah Press), by John Piper.
On a number of occasions I have commented on how powerfully this book has affected my life and thinking. The concept of Christian Hedonism can be reduced to three principles: First, the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. Second, the God of the Bible takes greater delight in meeting needs than in making demands. Third, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. No Christian should be permitted to depart this life without having read Piper. [O.K., so I tend to exaggerate a little. But you still need to read it!]
John's most recent book is appropriately titled, When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (Crossway Books, 2004). I will review it in full at later date.
2) The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God's Delight in Being God (Multnomah Press), by John Piper. In this sequel to Desiring God, John sets forth another revolutionary thesis: "The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever." If you are interested in what ultimately pleases God, Piper will give you the answer.
3) Anything and everything written by Jonathan Edwards. In particular I would mention his writings on revival, as found in the volume, The Great Awakening (Yale University Press) and his work on the nature of spirituality entitled, Religious Affections (also by Yale Press). Early in my seminary days I was greatly challenged by his more theological writings such as his treatises on Freedom of the Will and Original Sin. The latter two works were the focus of my Ph.D. dissertation.
4) God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards, by John Piper (Crossway). I recommend this book by Piper primarily because it contains the full text, together with commentary by Piper, of Edwards' most important treatise: A Dissertation on the End for which God Created the World. Piper's short biography of Edwards and discussion of his relevance for the contemporary church are great, but nothing can compare with reading Edwards himself. This treatise is Edwards' (successful) attempt to explain why there is something rather than nothing.
5) Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster Press, 2 vols.), by John Calvin. Calvin's writings were probably more influential in giving broad shape to my theology than anyone else. The Institutes are both profound and practical, both substantive and spiritual. Don't be put off by what others may have told you about Calvin. These volumes are more than meat . . . they are filet mignon!
6) Anything and everything written by Larry Crabb. I would especially point to Understanding People (Zondervan), The Marriage Builder (Zondervan), Inside Out (NavPress), Connecting, Shattered Dreams, and The Pressure's Off. Larry is one of the most honest and forthright authors I know. He pulls no punches, which means you are going to get hit hard, often right where it hurts.
7) Most everything written by J. I. Packer, in particular Knowing God (IVP), Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (IVP), Rediscovering Holiness (Vine Books), and Keep in Step with Spirit (Revell).
8) The Presence and the Power: The Significance of the Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus (Word), by Gerald Hawthorne. I rank this book highly because of the way God used it to awaken me to the reality of how Jesus lived the life he lived and the implications for how I am to live the life I live, namely, in the power of the Spirit. My doctrine of the person and work of Christ was forever changed by what Hawthorne showed me in Scripture. This isn't easy reading, but it will pay rich dividends for the work you put into it. Let me also mention Jesus, Man of Joy (Here's Life), by Sherwood Wirt. This little book will challenge your traditional understanding of Jesus and the place of joy in his life and yours.
9) Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Baker), by Donald A. Carson. This is the book that exposed the fallacies of cessationism for me. It is an excellent analysis of 1 Cor. 12-14 but also addresses related themes pertaining to the work of the Holy Spirit and His gifts.
10) The Presence of the Future (Zondervan), by George Ladd. This book had the greatest influence on my views of the kingdom of God and the broader issues of eschatology. It is a devastating and irrefutable critique of classical dispensationalism. John Wimber also credits Ladd with having the greatest influence on his view of the kingdom.
11) Trusting God (Navpress), by Jerry Bridges. Everyone struggles with the sovereignty of God and how it relates to the pains and problems of life. Is God really in control? Does God providentially direct and oversee everything that happens, even the bad things that make life hard? I strongly recommend that you read and ponder this book by Bridges. I would also recommend his book, Transforming Grace (Navpress).
12) The Holiness of God (Tyndale), by R. C. Sproul. This is Sproul's best book, in my opinion. It will challenge your views of God and invite you to share in Isaiah's experience (see Isaiah 6:1ff.). Charles Colson also credits this book with having transformed his life and providing him with a truly biblical perspective on the majesty of God.
13) Here I Stand (Abingdon), by Roland Bainton. This biography of Martin Luther is regarded as a classic. It is both instructive and inspiring and reveals the heartbeat of the leader of the Protestant Reformation. Its major failure is the absence of any discussion of Luther's darker side (and trust me, he had one!). For the latter, I highly recommend Heiko Oberman's Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (Image Books / Doubleday).
14) Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon (Banner of Truth Trust). These two volumes on Spurgeon's life are a must. A one volume paperback biography of his life by Arnold Dallimore may be more accessible to most readers, but don't pass up the opportunity to get and read the Banner of Truth edition.
15) Surprised by the Power of the Spirit and Surprised by the Voice of God (both from Zondervan), by Jack Deere. Jack's books are the most thorough refutation of cessationism ever written.
16) The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and for Today (Crossway), by Wayne Grudem. Wayne's book is the best and most scholarly treatment of the prophetic gift I've read. It is exhaustive and essential for every student of the Word.
17) Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home (Harper Collins), by Richard Foster. This is the best devotional treatment of prayer and meditation you can get. It is challenging and inspiring.
18) Hearing God (formerly titled In Search of Guidance, Harper Collins), by Dallas Willard. There are precious few books on how to hear the voice of God. This one is the best. Willard is a professional philosopher who teaches at the University of Southern California. But he is first and foremost a Christian who knows what it means to develop a conversational relationship with God.
19) Worship His Majesty (Word), by Jack Hayford. When I first began to study the subject of worship, this book by Jack Hayford touched my heart like no other. It isn't technical or especially innovative, but God used it to awaken me to both the priority and power of worship. This is Hayford at his best.
20) Chasing the Dragon, by Jackie Pullinger. The fact that this book appears toward the end of my list is no reflection on its value. I am tempted to place it number one, simply for the impact it continues to have on my understanding of what it means to take up your cross and follow Christ. If you have not yet read the life-story of Jackie Pullinger and her experiences in Hong Kong's Walled City, don't wait a day longer. It will change you forever. You may even find yourself sensing God's call to Hong Kong to assist Jackie in her ministry there. Read at your own risk!
21) Confessions, by Augustine. This classic by the late fourth, early fifth-century philosopher, theologian, and churchman is a testimony to the marvels of sovereign, saving grace. Most people talk about the so-called "classics" of the Christian faith, but very few read them. Take my word for it and read this one.
22) The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Eerdmans), by G. K. Beale. This is a massive, 1,245 page commentary that is exhaustive in its treatment of the Revelation of John. It is meticulous, demanding, deep, and, in my opinion, correct in its interpretation. No one reading or thinking about Revelation today can afford to ignore this magisterial work. You may end up disagreeing with Beale, but you owe it to yourself to hear what he has to say.
23) God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism, and Their God is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God, both by Bruce A. Ware (Crossway Books). Bruce has written two excellent volumes, designed for different audiences, that address the issue of God's foreknowledge and human freedom. The first volume is more technical and detailed than the second. Their God is Too Small is intended for those unfamiliar with the debate and targets a lay audience. God's Lesser Glory is written for the pastor and scholar. But both do a superb job of refuting one of the most pernicious heresies confronting the evangelical church today: open theism. I highly recommend both books.
24) The Doctrine of God: A Theology of Lordship, by John Frame (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishers). While I'm on the topic of God, let me recommend Frame's most recent volume. This is an 864 page treatment of virtually all aspects of the existence and attributes of God with a focus on His power, Lordship, and sovereignty. Don't be put off by its size. It is quite readable and most applicable to life.
25) Jonathan Edwards: A Life, by George Marsden (Yale University Press). Marsden wrote this excellent biography to coincide with the 300th anniversary of Edwards' birth which was celebrated last year (2003). There are several biographies of Edwards available but this one (615 pages) is the best. Some biographical studies focus exclusively on the historical and social context of the figure in view, while others are intellectual and theological in focus. Marsden does an excellent job of combining the two to provide us with the most exhaustive and thoroughly researched volume yet produced.
26) The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, by Max Turner (Hendricksen Publishers). Max Turner may not be familiar to many American readers. He is Director of Research and Vice Principal for Academic Affairs at London Bible College in London, England. This is the most scholarly and detailed analysis of the Holy Spirit and the charismata that I've read. His treatment of prophecy, tongues, and healing is especially good. Highly recommended!
27) Pretty much anything written by Stephen Carter, but especially Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy (Basic Books), and Integrity (Basic Books). Carter is a law professor at Yale University Law School and a prolific author. I recently had the privilege of meeting Carter when he delivered the commencement address in May of 2004 at Wheaton College where I taught theology. If you have to choose between the two, read Civility. It should be required reading for every human.
28) Jesus and the Victory of God, by N. T. Wright (Fortress Press). Again, this is a massive volume (739 pages), but it will richly repay your effort to wade through its deep waters. I don't always agree with Wright, but I'm always challenged and edified. His view of the nature and purpose of Christ's earthly mission will challenge your long-held beliefs about the kingdom of God and biblical eschatology.
29) Let the Nations be Glad! by John Piper (Baker Books). This is quite simply the best book on missions I've ever read. It provides a solid biblical rationale for evangelizing the world, namely, the glory of God!
30) Systematic Theology, by Wayne Grudem (Zondervan). This is an excellent and comprehensive treatment of biblical doctrine from a Reformed and charismatic perspective (yes, there are Calvinistic charismatics other than myself!). Wayne writes with clarity and conviction. A great resource to have sitting on your shelf.