The Ten Most Influential Books In My Life
I’m often asked: "What books influenced you most?" The question isn’t about those books that have had the greatest impact in the history of the church. If that question were asked, my list would be significantly different. Nor am I being asked what books are of the highest literary quality or the best-sellers of our time. The list below is simply those books that have shaped my thinking and my life more than any others. I’ve listed them in no particular order. It would be too difficult to pick one over the others. So here goes. Continue reading . . .
I’m often asked: "What books influenced you most?" The question isn’t about those books that have had the greatest impact in the history of the church. If that question were asked, my list would be significantly different. Nor am I being asked what books are of the highest literary quality or the best-sellers of our time. The list below is simply those books that have shaped my thinking and my life more than any others. I’ve listed them in no particular order. It would be too difficult to pick one over the others. So here goes.
(1) Gerald Hawthorne, The Presence and the Power: The significance of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991).
This volume has since been republished (in 2003) by Wipf & Stock. The reason it made my list is that it radically transformed not only my understanding of the humanity and earthly life of Jesus but also the role of the Holy Spirit in my own experience.
(2) Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will, edited by Paul Ramsey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957 ).
I first read Edwards on free will during my second year at Dallas Seminary and eventually wrote my master’s thesis on it. Its impact is due primarily to the way in which Edwards articulates what is known as compatibilism. How do we reconcile the biblical truths of divine sovereignty over all of life, even our choices, on the one hand, and the moral responsibility of free moral agents, on the other? Many argue that they are incompatible, mutually exclusive, and cannot coexist in a rational universe. Edwards argues biblically for their compatibility. My commitment to soteriological Calvinism was solidified by this volume.
(3) Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, edited by John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959 ).
I first read Religious Affections a year after reading Freedom of the Will. For someone who until then had reduced the Christian life to right thinking, I was rocked by Edwards’ rigorous, passionate, and altogether biblical defense of the centrality of our affections in Christian living. Of course, this incredible volume does far more. It also provides us with criteria by which we can discern the nature of religious experience, whether it be of the Spirit or from some other source. My own book, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’s Religious Affections (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), is an attempt to make this classic by Edwards more accessible to a world that struggles to make sense of Puritan prose.
(4) Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, translated from the Russian by H. T. Willetts (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).
I was first introduced to this giant of the 20th century when I read the biography of Solzhenitsyn by D. S. Thomas. I wish I could say that I have read all three volumes of The Gulag Archipelago, but alas. What I have read of this masterpiece was enough to awaken me to the horrors of Stalin’s labor camps and the oppressive wickedness of 20th century communism. Although not strictly autobiographical, this shorter volume, which contributed to Solzhenitsyn’s winning the Nobel Prize, is a portrait of what he endured on one typical day and the strength of the human spirit when energized and sustain by the divine.
(5) John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, with an Introductory Essay by J. I. Packer (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1963). It isn’t too great of an exaggeration to say that I didn’t know how to think until I read Owen’s defense of the doctrine of particular redemption. His rigorous exegetical analysis of the biblical text combined with a sustained logical development of the many theological issues at stake was something that I had never encountered before. One cannot read this volume casually. Owen not only awakened me to the biblical foundations of particular redemption, he also challenged me intellectually to analyze and evaluate contradictory claims, to ask questions of the text and to apply my mind to the logical foundations of biblical revelation.
(6) John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2011). This book, first published in 1986, rocked my world as I learned not only that it was permissible to enjoy God, it was mandatory if I wanted genuinely to glorify him. I try to re-read it every year, as each time I do I find new nuggets of truth, new challenges, new insights into the delightful and altogether biblical truth that God is most satisfied in me when I am most satisfied in him.
(7) John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971). This is the only biblical commentary on my list. When I first preached through Romans from 1974 to 1977 this was the volume that sustained me and shaped my thinking about the fundamental truths of God’s sovereignty in salvation. If asked today to recommend the best commentaries on Romans, Murray’s probably wouldn’t be mentioned (Schreiner and Moo top the list). Its prose is a bit stodgy, but I owe much of what I understand about the gospel to Murray’s deep and profound analysis of this most important NT epistle.
(8) Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1960). It’s not easy to describe the influence on me of Harper Lee’s only novel (it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961). I can’t recall the number of times I’ve read it (and now listen to it regularly as an audio book). Lee’s portrayal of racism in the 1930’s Deep South is penetrating and disturbing. But its greatest impact on me has to be the lead character, Atticus Finch. When people ask me: What is integrity? What does it mean to be a man of honor? How should I raise and educate my children? What is humility? In whom do you see the most exemplary combination of gentleness and strength? . . . I simply point them to Atticus Finch.
(9) John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, edited by John T. McNeill and translated by Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975). We’ve almost come to expect that virtually everyone who lists the most influential books in their lives will include Calvin. Perhaps there’s a reason for that! Perhaps The Institutes exert this influence because what Calvin has provided us is unparalleled in theological exposition. I’m on my third set of this two-volume masterpiece, having worn out the first two since I started reading Calvin back in the early 1970’s. If you haven’t yet immersed yourself in this classic, do so now!
(10) Jackie Pullinger, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens (Ventura: Regal, 2007 ). I first met Jackie in January of 1991. As we sat at dinner, she shared her story of how at the age of 18 she embarked on a journey from her native England that eventually led her to Hong Kong. The ministry she has undertaken there, initially in the infamous Walled City (which has since been destroyed), is breathtaking. I once told someone that Jackie was the most genuine and sacrificial Christian I’d ever met. My opinion hasn’t changed these many years later. Jackie, now in her late 60’s, is still in Hong Kong, preaching the gospel and ministering to the gang members and addicts to whom she has devoted her life for decades. I hope you’ll read her book. Perhaps it will have the same effect on you that it has on me.