Most Influential Books Part 1

Sometimes a book doesn’t have to be brilliant to have a major impact on your life. Sometimes it has to simply have the right message (assuming it is a truthful message, of course) at the right time. I’m a firm believer that books change lives and see us through the bright and the dull and the pain.

Of course the one constant book in my life has been The Book – the “Good Book.”  The scripture certainly has no rival in any library. There are no other pieces of literature that even play on the same field. It’s advantage, of course, is that it is alive. Not metaphorically, not allegorically, not even in the way that it makes us feel alive as if it were the sum of its’ effects or stimulations on the reader. Rather, its’ words are used by the Spirit of God to wake us up to unrealized truths as He begins to work in our minds and in our hearts. Christianity is not a “blind faith”, it is an informed faith which conquers both the mind and the heart.

Therefore, the Bible is unique and simply without rival.

Nevertheless, Providence has seen fit to use other literature in my life to bless me, entertain and brighten my day, and deepen my relationship with Him and others, all the while growing in my appreciation for life and creation and many other undeserved blessings.

Here are the books that have impacted me the most at the ripe old age of 31 – note that these aren’t all necessarily “favorites” per se, there are some I have no desire to read again, but all that will be made plain as you scroll through the selections.  There are so many of these that I think I’ll roll them out in a series.  There are far too many to write (or read) about before you fall asleep of boredom.  So here (in no particular order) goes the first five in the series…

  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin’s masterpiece saw me through one of the worst illnesses I’ve had (which is saying something) – 10 days in bed with pneumonia.  I own several copies of this one, and will probably keep collecting nice editions. I love to open its pages and just get lost for a few minutes in laughter and pros. The writing is superb and brings me back to my childhood where we would watch the six-hour movie edition over and over again. We’d poke fun at the characters and put ourselves in their shoes as we watched the social instability and family upheaval course through the plot. It never gets old, and will always be one of my favorite books/stories of all time.
  2. Leadership as an Identity – I got this book for free at my church and it transformed the way I thought about pride and leadership – especially as a dad. It spoke very powerfully to me and brought my heart to a place where I was more open to leading my home as I ought to. I really appreciate Crawford Loritts’ writing and think he brings a unique perspective to the leadership book collection.
  3. Defending Your Faith – This was my one of my first encounters with Theologian R.C. Sproul and it whetted my appetite for more.  His intellectual approach drove me to understand that all truth is God’s truth. This is a book on apologetics and it is framed in a classical style, which means that he isn’t going to spend as much time on proofs for the resurrection or other modern arguments, but will address much of the philosophical and even scientific ground that Anselm, Aquinas, Newton and other master theologians and thinkers have laid down in bygone eras. As I read this I began to see that being a Christian didn’t mean I had to sacrifice my intellect. Read this book cautiously, it may open the door to deeper waters….
  4. The Religious Affections – This is a more recent one for me, though it is largely considered to be Jonathan Edwards’ magnum opus, I had not cracked it open until just last week.  It took me a week or so to traverse its 400 pages, but it was well worth the journey.  This is not a book for a young Christian, this is a book for someone who has read pretty widely and is now ready for the deeper things of God. However, if you have not at least sampled Jonathan Edwards’ work, this would be a great one to pickup and scroll through. The book seeks to explain the essence of what the true Christian life consists of, looks like, and how we can know we are truly Christians at all. Through many rigorous examinations I found again and again both challenges and assurances that woke me up to some things, and also secured my mind and soul in many ways. The influence this book has had has been significant even this week in shaping my thought and confirming many of my beliefs. I can tell this is going to be one I go back to time and time again, year after year. This is one for your book bucket list!
  5. Chosen by God – There may not be another book in recent memory that has so greatly altered and impacted my life as this classic by R.C. Sproul. I had read a few of his other books in recent months and wanted to keep going. This one seemed like another popular work from him, so I picked up a used copy and started pouring over the pages.  What ensued was nothing short of life changing. The book details how God’s election of sinners to salvation works. It confronts Calvinism (so-called) head on, and shows how men interact with these ideas, which as it turns out are rock solid Biblical teachings. There were several moments where I felt that the book had a great impact on me and others around me.  During an airplane trip for business with my business partner Matt, we got into a quite a severe argument based on the book’s propositions.  I was just starting to put the pieces together from all that I had studied growing up, and Matt was deeply offended at the idea that God chose people and not the other way around (at least that He is the antecedent Chooser). His temper flared, and the argument spilled out into the Nashville Airport (BNA) where we were awaiting a connecting flight. I was not an expert on theology at the time, but I knew Romans like the back of my hand, so everything Dr. Sproul said was clicking with me…but not with Matt.  I challenged Matt to read the book and sort it out for himself. A few days later, I returned home from the trip and had kept up my reading when around 2am one evening as I was sitting in the living room of my house I realized all at once that I had been a fool.  I had such a pride about my learning and my salvation and what hit me was that I was a moron…literally.  I knew nothing and was responsible for nothing good ultimately in my life. I got down on my knees and with tear-filled eyes prayed for forgiveness for my pride and ignorance about spiritual things.  Not long after that Matt read the book as well and his eyes were opened.  It was a transforming experience.  Soon he went to seminary and began pastoring a small church, I followed suit and enrolled at Southern Seminary in Louisville a few years later after much more learning, reading, and praying. I still have that copy of ‘Chosen by God’ and now its signed on the inside cover by its author, and is more marked and highlighted than those several years ago when I first turned its pages.

Stay tuned for my next installment of ‘most influential books’…

Getting to Know Jonathan Edwards

This week we’ll be learning about Jacob’s Ladder, and how Christ fulfilled the dream that Jacob had had hundreds of years before He stepped foot on earth.  The man who probably best described this vision and its full meaning, was Jonathan Edwards.

Most modern Christians have never studied much of what Edwards had to say, or who he was.  So I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief sketch of who this brilliant man was, so that you may more fully appreciate what he has to teach us in our study through the book of John.  To do this, I’m going to post below some excerpts from a few sources, but mostly from John Piper’s short Biography of the man which can be found by clicking here.

Chuck Colson says this about Edwards, “The western church – much of it drifting, enculturated, and infected with cheap grace – desperately needs to hear Edwards’ challenge. . . . It is my belief that the prayers and work of those who love and obey Christ in our world may yet prevail as they keep the message of such a man as Jonathan Edwards.”

Edwards was an 18th Century puritan preacher who is perhaps best known for his sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” Many of you were probably made to read this sermon in high school – even if you went to a secular school.  Edwards is often demonized as a puritan who was himself angry at sinners, and concentrated most of his preaching powers on scaring people into the kingdom of heaven.  The truth, as is often the case, couldn’t be further from this ill-conceived caricature.

As John Piper says, “Most of us don’t know that he is considered now by secular and evangelical historians alike to be the greatest Protestant thinker America has ever produced. Scarcely has anything more insightful been written on the problem of God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability than his book, The Freedom of the Will.”

In his book, ‘The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards’, Steven Lawson notes that, “All Christian writing is influenced, to one extent or another, by the theological foundations upon which the author stands. Edwards’ writings, including his ‘Resolutions,’ rested squarely upon ‘Reformed theology in its English Puritan form.’ This theological system, which emphasized God’s glory and absolute sovereignty,’ provided a structural framework for Edwards’ thought.’ In short, Edwards was a ‘convinced Calvinist’; he had drunk deeply from the wells of Scripture and had tasted the supreme authority of God to his soul’s satisfaction.”

The influence that Edwards had on America, and the cause of Christ here in the relatively young colonies was profound.  As Piper says, “Does any of us know what an incredible thing it is that this man, who was a small-town pastor for 23 years in a church of 600 people, a missionary to Indians for 7 years, who reared 11 faithful children, who worked without the help of electric light, or word-processors or quick correspondence, or even sufficient paper to write on, who lived only until he was 54, and who died with a library of 300 books – that this man led one of the greatest awakenings of modern times, wrote theological books that have ministered for 200 years and did more for the modern missionary movement than anyone of his generation?”

For current leaders like Piper, Edwards has been a great source of inspiration.  “Alongside the Bible, Edwards became the compass of my theological studies. Not that he has anything like the authority of Scripture, but that he is a master of that Scripture, and a precious friend and teacher”, Piper says.

Piper describes the balance between studying the Bible and practical living as portayed by Edwards:

Edwards did not pursue a passion for God because it was icing on the cake of faith. For him faith was grounded in a sense of God which was more than what reason alone could deliver. He said,

A true sense of the glory of God is that which can never be obtained by speculative [reasoning]; and if men convince themselves by argument that God is holy, that never will give a sense of his amiable and glorious holiness. If they argue that he is very merciful, that will not give a sense of his glorious grace and mercy. It must be a more immediate, sensible discovery that must give the mind a real sense of the excellency and beauty of God. (Works, II, 906)

In other words, it is to no avail merely to believe that God is holy and merciful. For that belief to be of any saving value, we must “sense” God’s holiness and mercy. That is, we must have a true delight in it for what it is in itself. Otherwise the knowledge is no different than what the devils have.

Does this mean that all his study and thinking was in vain? No indeed. Why? Because he says, “The more you have of a rational knowledge of divine things, the more opportunity will there be, when the Spirit shall be breathed into your heart, to see the excellency of these things, and to taste the sweetness of them.” (Works, II, 162, see p.16)

But the goal of all is this spiritual taste, not just knowing God but delighting in him, savoring him, relishing him. And so for all his intellectual might, Edwards was the farthest thing from a cool, detached, neutral, disinterested academician.

As we continue to learn and to study together, I hope you will continue to grow by reading and meditating upon the Word of God, but will also take some time to reflect upon the great lessons we’ve learned from men like Jonathan Edwards.

To ready more about this great Godly man, see below for some resources:

‘The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards’ – Steve Lawson’s short Edwards Biography

‘Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography’ – Biography by Ian Murray

‘The Freedom of the Will’ – Edwards’ most famous book on Election

‘Religious Affections’ – The book that probably most influenced Piper’s view of God and what it means to be joyful in God.

‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ – famous sermon by Edwards on the need for repentance and salvation by Jesus Christ

‘The Spirit of Revival’ – Longish article by RC Sproul on the marks that identified the revival that Edwards lead in the 18th Century.