I have had a number of people over the years ask me what my favorite books are. I never do well with that request. I always want to make a “top 5” kind of list into a “top 8, but don’t ask me to rank them” sort of thing. So here is what I’d like to share with you- an autobiographical journey of SOME of my favorite books. These are books that were course corrections to my spiritual life, books that drastically changed the way I thought about God… These are books that you will not waste your time reading.
Of course, I’m going to start with the Bible. I’d say that this is a given, but then I had someone call me out on it when I offered a top 5 list and the Bible wasn’t on it. For the record, I don’t view the Bible as suggested reading. I love God’s book. I can’t tell you how often I can get hung up on one verse, plumbing the depths of something that once seemed simple.
In high school I found myself reading a book for my own enjoyment, and not assigned reading. That book was The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. I had read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was younger and loved them tremendously… so I thought this book by the same author would be a similar experience. In some ways I was correct, and in others I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is a book that is a piece of fiction- it is written from the perspective of a master demon, Wormwood, training his apprentice, Screwtape, in the art of being a demon. (Don’t forget C.S. Lewis was a Christian!) This book opened my eyes to the reality of Spiritual warfare and to the methods that Satan uses to tempt us.
When I was out of high school I came across a book in our basement that belonged to my dad. Even though it was old and musty smelling, I still felt compelled to read it. It was the book The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer. I took an entire summer to pour into this book of 124 pages. In fact, I thought it would be a quick read, but this book stretched my understanding of God. There are 23 chapters in this book, each focusing on a different character trait of God. Even though I first read it 19 years ago, this book continues to help me understand the God of the Bible.
While a student at Bible college, one of the books I was required to read was Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. Normally “Required Reading” is the kiss of death for me, but I remember how difficult it was to stay within the assigned parameters, reading certain chapters before each class, rather than reading it cover to cover in one sitting. Here’s the thing about this book- it teaches you how to be a disciple. You want to know how to pray? Read this. You want to know how to enjoy other aspects of discipleship that we often don’t talk about (Fasting, Giving, Meditation, Simplicity, Fasting, Confession)? Read this book. God will use it to transform your life.
After college I went into Pastoral ministry. There are a number of books I could recommend for pastors and teachers, one of them being Pastors and Teachers, by Alistair Begg and Derek Prime, but I’ll save that list for another time…
Something I didn’t realize for quite some time, I wrestle with pride. Everyone does, so that’s not really a confession, I guess, but I didn’t know just how infected I was by pride. And then I came across this book, Prodigal God, by Tim Keller. He takes the parable that we often refer to as “The Prodigal Son” and makes you look at it from another perspective… (you’ll notice that already in title alone. “Prodigal” means spending everything. Tim recognized this title only applies to God.) A significant portion of that book pays attention to the reason why Jesus told that parable in the first place. I don’t want to spoil the book for you. Read it. It will mend your heart.
John Stott has always been one of those authors that seems to say things better than anyone else ever could. I have enjoyed studying his commentaries, and reading a number of his books, they are all worthwhile (see why I have a problem listing my favorites?!) There is one that changed my theology- The Cross of Christ. So much of my copy of this book has been dog-eared, highlighted, and now has writing in the margins. I have legalism in my past (see above), and in that there is a temptation to rest on your best- but there is something the cross of Christ says to us in our “best”, “You cannot do this. You cannot pay this debt.” Only Jesus can. Not only has my theology changed, but my love for Jesus has grown because of this book.
I picked up a book not too long ago because I thought it might be a good resource for something I was about to preach on… that book was “Church Membership” by Jonathan Leeman. It’s amazing to me how something can dawn on you so vividly, and you should’ve known it all along. This short little was able to do that with the topic of Christ’s church. If you wrestle with your place in the body, you need to read this.
So what if I can’t make a “Top 5” list. Maybe it’s because I still have course corrections to go through… These books have blessed me tremendously, and I would guess they could be a blessing to you as well.