These are 10 of the books that have had the most influence on my life outside of the Bible. I list them in order of when they impacted me – from youth down to the present day.
1. This Present Darkness, by Frank E. Peretti. I think I was about 19 years old when I read this. I grew up in the church but by this time I was living a very double life. I would say my prayers and go out and live like the rest of the world. No spiritual backbone to me at all. And then I picked up this book and it was a wake up call. I was like, “What in the world am I doing? I know this stuff, I know the spirit world is real, and I better start doing something about it!” This book marks the first time I remember wanting to stand up and be counted.
2. No Compromise, by Melody Green. Two years later I was off to college and got hooked up with a very dynamic church. A friend I greatly admired started telling me about Keith Green so I got this book and was deeply inspired. I read about a man who decided to go full tilt for Jesus and I was blown away. I remember closing the book and slumping down by my bedside with weeping eyes and a heaving chest. This book was a cleansing agent to me, purging me of my teenage years of hypocrisy.
3. Love Not the World, by Watchman Nee. I wish this book had a better title. “World” is not speaking of the people (for God so loved the world), but the system that drives the present age (love not the world, nor the things in the world. 1 Jn. 2:15). If the first and second book started God’s work in my life, this third book finished it off. After reading the first chapter – I remember putting the book down and having this holy resolve wash over me (I still remember the time and place) and I knew: “It’s a done deal. I’m all in. I have no other choice.” This book galvanized my faith.
4. Spiritual Leadership, by J. Oswald Sanders. When I began ministering on the college campus at Washington State University in 1993 this was the book that was placed in my hands. And I devoured it, seeking to live out everything I read in it. This book really set the tempo and mode of my ministry until I left for seminary some 15 years later.
5. Biblical Eldership, by Alexander Strauch. This was the first book I read in seminary and it began my philosophical shift of how I viewed church leadership. Up to this point I had primarily been exposed to churches that were structured in a way that the senior pastor had ultimate authority, with no one internally to answer to. However, this book set forth the idea of a shared leadership by a team of equals, with the senior pastor being ‘the first among equals.’ I liked it and thought that this round-table approach could be the structure for a safe and healthy church environment.
6. The Pastor: A Memior, by Eugene H. Peterson. Some pastors are all thunder and lightening, especially in the Pentecostal movement. But never thinking that was me, I was always in search for (whether I knew what it was called this or not) a more contemplative approach. Well, needless to say, when I found this I was ecstatic. Peterson is an elder statesman I could see myself emulating. He’s studious, and reflective, he walks with people without having to be the expert. He’s attentive to Scripture. He prays and visits with people. And his tenure was 29 years in one church. He has become one of my favorite authors, writing extensively on the life and work of the pastor. (Other favorites of his have been The Contemplative Pastor, Working the Angles, Under the Unpredictable Plant.)
7. Why Johnny Can’t Preach, by T. David Gordon. Like Love Not the World this title is a little off-putting. But, man, what an important book. I think it inspired me more in terms of reading than it did of preaching. The preacher, if he’s going to hold people’s attention, should have a fertile and imaginative mind. He should have a facility with words. He should know how to compose his thoughts well. And (naturally speaking, at least) what better way is there than to immerse oneself in great literature? I’ve never read so much poetry and literary fiction before reading this book.
8. Christ-Centered Preaching, by Bryan Chapell. I’ve always loved expository preaching, but never had really been exposed to it in the Pentecostal circles I was in. My driving passion is to preach the Word, one passage at a time. And this, in my view, is the gold standard on the subject. Simply excellent stuff here. Then his material on preaching Christ from all of Scripture is worth an annual read. My week long class with Chapell remains my favorite experience in seminary.
9. Arminian Theology, by Roger E. Olson. With the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement afloat a classic Pentecostal can have a bit of an identity crises. Many of us read such authors like Piper, Sproul, and MacArthur with much benefit, but sense the undercurrents of a fundamentally different view of God. Is Calvinsim the only way to be truly theological? Is Arminianism really Semi-Pelagian as these authors seem to indicate? This book helped me settle the issue for me.