Some friends began sharing the top ten books that influenced them on social media this week. One of them asked me to post my ten most influential books and it took a while to trim down the list. Good books tug at your heart and make you think. My list includes some Christian classics you would expect and a couple of fiction books that helped me understand human more completely. I was tempted to add Laura Hillenbrand’s amazing book Unbroken to this list, but I just finished it yesterday and time will tell how I’m impacted by it’s amazing story.
Wendell Berry’s Port William novels impacted me in many ways as I read through them this Spring. Jayber Crow is the story of the Port William’s barber. Both parents died when he was young and he never married. Through this work I saw again the importance of community, place, and living life where you are. Jayber Crow also showed a great attentiveness to the people around him that has reminded me not to be distracted when I am around other people. The entire series is great, but this stayed with me the longest.
Chosen by God
Early in my Christian life I began wrestling with the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace. Even though a plain reading of Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 supported these doctrines, my heart resisted and my head threw out objections. R.C. Sproul’s classic look at the sovereignty of God in salvation helped me see the goodness of God in election. He also shattered my objections through his discussion of the fall on the human will.
This book by Jared Wilson still affects me even almost daily even though I read it over two years ago. He shows what it means for us to be awakened to the realities of the Gospel. The chapters on depression and spiritual rhythms constitute some of the best thoughts I’ve read on the subjects. This book is a good to read at the beginning of the year to orient your heart and affections.
Some books are meant to be savored. This is one of those books. I’ll never forget reading Knowing God on a mission trip to Scotland in 1997. Packer talks about God in way that is real. The biblical text has saturated his thinking and he has spent time in the presence the Bible’s God. This book opened my eyes not only to who God is, but to who we are in Christ. The chapter on adoption is worth the price of the book.
The Cross of Christ
If you tell me that I need to recommend one book for Christians to read, I think this would be it. John Stott walks through the Bible explaining the nature of Jesus’ death on the cross. He shows the need for the atonement and how Jesus gave his life in our place bearing the wrath of God for our sins. Then he discusses how Jesus’ death brings forgiveness and redemption.
The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger narrates this classic through Holden Caulfield. Reading the thoughts of this fictional character walking through struggles no one could see reminded me of the battle going on in the minds of many people. His struggles with identity, depression, and rage are not different than what many of the people we encounter on a daily basis deal with. This book reminded me that people are often dealing with inner turmoil and talking to no one about it.
“God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.” These words taught me an approach to Christianity I had never heard. “Satisfied in God.” Those words had never entered my mind. Reading the Bible after reading this book showed me that this theme was everywhere. Desiring God so revolutionized my thinking that I’m constantly saying things I’m sure came from the book, but now they are such a part of me that I don’t feel like I’m quoting John Piper.
The Art of Neighboring
“In this life, we can do only a few things really well; I think it’s a good idea to make certain that one of those things is what Jesus says is most important.” Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon write this referring to Jesus’ command to love our neighbors. They give their readers a test to determine how well they know their neighbors and then give practical steps to help us understand how to love our neighbors well.
The Deliberate Church
The Lord has used Mark Dever to shape my thoughts on church life in a profound way. One of the most helpful things I did in Seminary was to go spend a weekend at Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington to learn about their leadership and church life. Deliberate Church shares everything we learned that weekend and then some. Dever and Alexander talk about how elders are gathered and what they do when they gather as well as how the congregation is gathered and what they do when they gather. The chapters on elders meetings are worth the price of the book.
This is another R.C. Sproul book I read early in my Christian life. This book helped me understand how to read and interpret the Bible. He walks through the different genres of Scripture and how we should interpret them. One especially helpful chapter gives some basic rules for interpreting the Bible. My well worn copy of this book has a sentence highlighted in almost every paragraph of that chapter.