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.