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Most Influential Books?

December 31, 2009

First off, let me wish you a merry Christmas. It’s good to be back in Raleigh after traveling the past 10 days.

As part of a church planting questionnaire I recently filled out, I was asked to include the five most influential books that I’ve read outside of the Bible.

If you enjoy reading this is always a difficult question to answer. I often find my brain locking up when asked this question because I either want to pick the most impressive books (“I was just skimming Augustine’s City of God the other day and…”) or because there are so many that have influenced me. The list I gave didn’t necessarily include the most challenging or enjoyable books, but rather those books that changed the way I think about God.

Here were my five, including why they’ve been so influential:

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity – As a new believer and religious studies minor at USC, my faith was challenged continually both by friends and professors. One of my classes featured a professor who used J.D. Crossan’s (Jesus Seminar) notes and called me a fool for believing Job was a real person. Reading Mere Christianity exposed me to a logical explanation of the Christian faith, and was used by God to protect my new belief during my college years.

Tim Keller, The Prodigal God – The centrality of the gospel and its application to all people came alive to me in this book. I also found out that I had become an “older brother” in reaction to my “younger brother” behavior earlier in my life.  Short, sweet, and simple, but it was like a glass of cool water during a spiritually dry time in my life.

John Sailhamer, Commentary on Genesis (Expositor’s Bible Commentary) – A commentary?! Yes! I read this my first month after coming to Southeastern. I picked this up after recognizing I was biblically illiterate compared to other students, and thought Genesis would be a good place to start learning more about the Bible. Sailhamer’s ability to capture the depth of the biblical text, Scripture’s overarching narrative, and that the Old Testament isn’t just a collection of stories that teach a moral rocked the way I read the Bible.

If I had read his The Meaning of the Pentateuch back then, which I’m reading now, I imagine it would have had the same effect. It is fantastic.

John Piper, God is the Gospel – What is our chief end in ministry? While we may claim it is God’s glory, it is so easy to allow the gospel to be another rung on the latter to reach another end – our own fame, success, or praise from others. This work by Piper kills the prosperity gospel (which tempts me daily) within the first few pages.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together – Bonhoeffer’s description of biblical community grabbed my heart and articulated beautifully what I had been thinking through for some time. I came to realize that biblical community is counter-cultural, and the way I treat my brother or sister in Christ is a reflection of what I really believe about the gospel.

In reflection, my list is fairly unimpressive. The authors are well known, most of the books are popular, and nothing is over a couple hundred pages long. However, the Lord used these five books to radically shape who I am today.

Any books that have shaped who you are today?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 31, 2009 6:18 pm

    Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
    Knowing God – J.I. Packer
    The Pleasures of God – John Piper
    Dynamics of Spiritual Life – Richard Lovelace
    A Heart for God – Sinclair Ferguson

  2. pastorjeffcma permalink
    January 4, 2010 9:25 pm

    I love booklists–it must be some form of a genetic weakness or something. I like your list. I really enjoy Piper’s stuff and it would be hard for me to pick one–if I did it would have to be “Desiring God,” although a very close second would be “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.” Also, I will be reading Sailhamers book on the Pentateuch soon.

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