Most Influential Books in My Life

I saw that another SBTS faculty member posted a list of spiritual classics. I have been often asked by students and church members about the books that have most influenced my life. I am going to do a Top Ten with some annotations, and then I will list some “honorable mention” books. Except for the first one, they are in no necessary order, and if I wrote this a year from now the list might change a little, but not much. So, here goes . . .

The Bible. I say this not to be “spiritual,” or as a necessary and perfunctory comment, but because it is true. Literally true. I learned from my mentor early on, “Read the Bible every day to find God’s will for your life and do it every time you find it.” I have tried to do that. My early reading was from the KJV, so many passages are etched in my memory from that “most influential book in the world,” as it has been called. But I have also read it through in many other translations. A friend once said in a sermon, “We ought to know the Bible so well that our blood runs bibline.” I agree with that, and with Schaeffer’s famous dictum that nothing can so change a person’s life like reading the Bible every day for fifty years.

Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology. This may come as a surprise, what with all the newer theologies out there: Garrett, Grudem, Erickson, and with some of the great older ones now available to us like Bavinck. But they say you always remember your first kiss, and this was my first Systematic. I read it through in a one-semester theology class I took when I was nineteen. I though I was going t die in the first hundred pages, but by the time I was in the last hundred I heard the voice of the Spirit whispering (no, it was not a revelation, DB), “This is for you.” I do not use it as a textbook–I get enough complaints about Erickson and the fine print in Strong is a little daunting. But it was the book that sank in the hook. It still rests within arm reach of my desk.

D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Spiritual Depression. Some of my friends reading this are probably saying, “That makes sense.” I read this when I was twenty (a theme?), and it began a revolution in my understanding of sanctification. I spent my teen years immersed in Keswick Higher-Life teaching. I had read every book with titles like “Keys to the Deeper Life,” “Life on the Highest Plane,” and with key words in their titles life “victory,” “secret,” “path,” “overcoming,” and so on. Now those books are often helpful, and now in my later years I see how some of them were actually close to the mark–some of them. But Lloyd-Jones introduced me to the Puritans and to a Reformed spirituality that was closer to a biblical model than that of Watchman Nee or Hannah Whitall Smith. I will always be grateful to him for that and plan to tell him one day.

J. I. Packer, Knowing God. I read this in my early twenties and in many ways it drove home much of the good that “The Doctor” had begun. I have re-read it several times and have always found new refreshment in its pages. If I had a top-hundred list, both Packer and Lloyd-Jones would have multiple entries.

I. Howard Marshall, I Believe in the Historical Jesus. This one may seem surprising since it is no longer even in print. This book introduced me to how to employ the historical method in doing biblical and theological analysis, and how to do it right! That is a challenge, but it is necessary. (I think of Grant Wacker’s book on Augustus Strong entitled, Augustus Strong and the Dilemma of Historical Consciousness, also a good book, but not on my top ten list.) Marshall is not where we are on every thing, but he is always helpful, even when he is wrong.

Augustine, Confessions. I have read this little book many times, and its humble, self-deprecatory flavor has left a mark on my soul. If I were ever to write my memoirs (and no, honey, don’t worry), it would look something like this. Refreshing to hear a bishop of the church “confess” his sins, “confess” Christ, and “confess” this theology in such a way (even though his theology was to grow remarkably in the next several decades).

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I did not say these were all theology books, though this one might qualify. Next to the Bible, these writings have shaped me most. They gave me an appreciation for narrative, for the struggle between what is genuinely evil on the one hand and that which is good (even if tainted at times) on the other. I have read it thirty times (and no, just so you will know that I am not an idolater, I have read the Bible through many more times than that).

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. This is truly a monumental production. Here, biblical exegesis (and no, I do not agree with all of his exegesis), spiritual truths, pastoral advice, and theological wrangling are all wrapped together. You don’t have to be a “Calvinist” to like this (whatever your definition of that term might be). If nothing else, just read the first twenty pages and you will find your soul enriched.

John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress. One of the greatest sellers in history, Bunyan’s allegory also will enrapture your soul. Many characters from this remarkable book pepper my lectures and sermons. And don’t read the modern version! Take the trouble (and a dictionary) and read the original.

B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. I know this is old, I know that some of his arguments have been debated. But this was the book that nailed it down for me when I was struggling with biblical authority in my twenties. Few Americans write with such elegance–or such detail!

OK. There’s my Top Ten. Honorable mentions would go to Donald Bloesch, A Theology of Word and Spirit; Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers; A. Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes; Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom; John Warwick Montgomery, The Suicide of Christian Theology; Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism; J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism; C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (ask me some time); Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship; Carl Henry, Confessions of a Theologian; Isaac Asimov, Foundation (trilogy); Jules Verne, Mysterious Island; Richard Sibbes, A Bruised Reed; John Owen, Communion with God; Jonathan Edwards, The Freedom of the Will. That’s all the time I have since I have four grandkids upstairs. Send me your list. Let’s have coffee and talk about books.

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  • Fred Smith
    23 Jul 2012 | Permalink | Reply

    Would love to have coffee with you. Milwaukee, perhaps. My top ten would not be nearly as “deep” as yours. I love most of those books you mentioned, certainly but:
    The Bible–Um, maybe I am being spiritual. No. Well yes, well, no, uh.
    Francis Schaeffer–The God Who Is There. Much of how I understand apologetics and culture begins with Schaeffer-don’t always agree with him on details, but his broad outline affects my thinking to this day.
    C. S. Lewis–Mere Christianity. Taught me that Christian writing can be very GOOD writing.
    Lesslie Newbigin–Foolishness to the Greeks. The first real analysis I read after Schaeffer that made sense.
    Whitcomb and Morris–The Genesis Flood (if you can have Ayn Rand, I can have Whitcomb and Morris).
    J. R. R. Tolkein–LOTR (We agree on one–or three? after the Bible)
    Bonhoeffer–The Cost of Discipleship.
    Josh McDowell–Evidence that Demands A Verdict
    MIles Stanford–The Green Letters–wisdom on spiritual formation
    Victor Hugo–Les Miserables–I’ve re-read it and pondered it for decades.
    Norman Geisler and William E. Nix–formative for my early understanding of the Bible’s authority.

    As you can see, apologetics figures heavily for me, as theology does for you. I’ll give honorable mention to J, I. Packer, to John R. W. Stott’s Basic Christianity, to C. S. Lewis’ Science Fiction Trilogy, and his Miracles. Also, Moby Dick, . I find more and more that I “use” books–I read in them what I need, or I read them quickly to get information out of them. I rarely savor them any more. The ideas influence me, but I don’t “love” them as much. They are tools now. Hmmmm. I am not sure that is entirely good.

    • Chad Brand
      23 Jul 2012 | Permalink | Reply

      I like those books, but maybe not The Green Letters. Would love to link up with you soon, Fred.

  • Jonathon Woodyard
    23 Jul 2012 | Permalink | Reply

    I thought I would name a few of mine, although I have only been a Christian for 10 years come August of this year, I have tried to read widely. I will stick to book that are not the Bible, but agree with you, Doc, that reading the Bible everyday changes us like no other literary work is capable of. I try to get at least 10 chapters a day in…sometimes more, sometimes less.

    Here goes:

    1) Don’t Waste Your Life–Piper. This is one of the first books that someone handed me and I have read it about 5 or 6 times since. It puts things in perspective and helps me redeem the time that God has graciously given me.

    2) Systematic Theology–Wayne Grudem. This was the first book my brother bought me after I became a Christian. Since that 2002 Christmas, I have torn that book apart. It is literally falling apart at the edges. The way Grudem saturates his conclusions with the Bible is a cherished and much appreciated characteristic. I hope systematicians will model his desire to draw conclusions from the text more than from philosophical considerations.

    3) MacArthur Commentaries–I do not remember preaching one sermon without checking my work against what Dr. MacArthur has said. I do not always agree with him, but find him to be pastorally helpful. Not to mention the way he ties the rest of the Bible into the passages that he is handling.

    4) The Gospel According to Jesus–John MacArthur. This book, and its sequel (Gospel According to the Disciples), helped me think through the issue of Lordship Salvation. Christ is not divided! He is both Savior and Lord. Carnal Christianity (having Christ as Savior but not Lord) is a hellish idea…in my opinion.

    5) The Bondage of the Will–Martin Luther. Thinking through the issue of the will is tough. Luther helps clear things up. His ideas of “necessity of immutability” (which he found a defective title) vs. “necessity of compulsion” still help me to this day as I try to understand the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

    6) Knowing God–J.I. Packer. Dr. Mark McClellan, my first theology professor and my first missions professor (praise God for a man who loved theology AND mission!), assigned this book in Systematic Theology I at Boyce. I have used it a number of times and will, Lord willing, assign it to students that I hope to teach in the future.

    7) Systematic Theology(s)–Louis Berkhof and Charles Hodge. These two Presbyterians pushed me in regard to the baptism issue. The superficial baptistic arguments I had heard in Sunday School could not stand up against the deep theological thinking of these men. Their works forced me to study the issue and come to my own conclusions. I tried hard to be a Presbyterian…to no avail :) …Jeremiah, the Prophet, held sway and moved me towards credo-baptism.

    8) Desiring God–John Piper. This book has helped me think about Christian Hedonism and how it applied to all areas of life. I am a Christian hedonist today because Piper, in this book, shows these truths rooted in Scripture.

    9) God is the Gospel–John Piper. If you could have heaven, and your friends, and all the pleasures of this world, but God not be there…would you want it? That is a question that still haunts me. May I pursue God most of all…not simply His gifts. Being reconciled to God is the good news!

    10) The Institutes of Christian Religion–John Calvin. This book has constantly reminded me how little I know. I am not intellectually capable at this point of keeping up with Calvin! Every time I read a few pages of this book I am reminded that I am not as smart as I sometimes think. Yet, his deep thinking and clear conviction encourage me to pursue the same depth of theological reflection and to hold my beliefs with passion.

    I have many books to read and hope the Lord continues to give me time and desire to read. Not to simply gain intellectual weight…but to know Him and live to His glory.


  • 23 Jul 2012 | Permalink | Reply

    Excellent list, Dr. Brand. In my little corner of the world I have discovered that Marshall’s “I Believe in the Historical Jesus” is very much in print:

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