I love reading and have been blessed to have read a lot of great books over the years. It’s why I find it very hard make a “top 10” list of books that have been most influential on me. Maybe one day I’ll do that, but today won’t be that day. So, in defiance of my editor Jennifer Bell, I will just go ahead and list the books that come to mind, no matter how many there are, below (and, yes, I am even cheating in few cases by counting whole series). That’s just how gangsta I am.
Without further ado then, here is my list:
The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter
Written in 1656 and still the most relevant book in my opinion on what pastoral ministry should be all about. Most people won’t get through the whole book because the writing can be dense. However, no other book has been more instructive to me on the importance of being a pastor who pays attention to his own spiritual health and is diligent to care for the spiritual health of his congregation.
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
This will sound provocative, but I’m going to say it anyway. I have trouble taking seriously anyone who hasn’t really wrestled with the main ideas in this book, namely that black evangelicals and white evangelicals express their faith in some very different ways, which is why each group can radically differ from the other when it comes to how they view certain topics. The research the authors do in this book unveils some powerful, and at times unsettling, but very necessary truths that need to be heard if we really want to be a people of reconciliation and unity.
Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf
Best theological treatment I’ve read on reconciliation. His way of explaining how “in Christ” changes us so that we can now receive “the other” is one I constantly refer back to.
The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this series. And I’m currently in the process of reading the books all over again. I’m still amazed by how fully realized the world he establishes in the books is. It’s a world very different from our world yet one in which we can see and understand themes from our world like never before.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Another series I’ve read countless times. I think the The Lord of the Rings is better written, but for pure fantasy enjoyment, The Chronicles of Narnia is the series I readily point to. And, of course, the ways different Christian truths are illustrated in this story are memorable and profound.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Sure, you might think I put this in here just to look smart and impress the English teachers in our congregation. And you’re probably partly right on that! I have no shame.
However, it’s also true that this is the one Shakespeare play I remember the most from my high school days because it’s the story I thought about long after I had finished reading it. And since high school I have often taken advantage of opportunities to see this play performed. After each viewing, I almost always think to myself, “Exactly when did it start going wrong for Macbeth?” It’s not entirely easy to answer that question; it’s more of a slow slide than a sudden deep fall. A good lesson to learn especially as we consider how sin will slowly lead us down a spiritual slide in our own lives if we are not wary.
Knowing God by J.I. Packer
It’s not enough to know about God. We must actually know God. The whole book was worth reading just for that one truth. Still impactful. Still something I need to daily remind myself of and pray into my being.
Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson and A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller
The two books that gave me the most help and had the most influence on my prayer life. I still need to pray better than I currently do. But I feel like I know better how to get there because of the practical help and inspiring motivation these two books gave me.
The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man by James Weldon Johnson
I’ve read a number of classic books from African American authors, but this is the one that has stayed with me long after I read it. It’s an examination of race relations in the early part of the 20th century that is insightful and haunting. And still relevant today.
Black Power: The Politics of Liberation by Kwame Ture and Charles Hamilton
I (clearly!) have not ended up pursuing the same strategies these authors advocate n their book. However, I did find myself subtly attracted to how they addressed and initially framed their solutions to racial problems. This has helped me better appreciate why people are attracted to solutions that promote independence and self-empowerment (and hopefully know better how to reach them with particular Gospel truths).
Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Team and Your Staff on the Same Page by Larry Osborne