I was given the opportunity to write a guest post over at Kevin Martineau's blog, Shooting the Breeze. Kevin and I have one of those new millennium relationships that doesn't fit into a category. We have many things in common, I enjoy what he writes, he apparently likes what I write enough to let me write for his blog. And he lives in Canada, where I've never been, and I haven't seen any evidence he's been to Arkansas. We've never met, though I think if we did we'd be great friends.
So, the theme for my post over there was the book that influenced me the most, apart from the Bible. So declared, since all of us believers ought to claim that as our greatest influence. It was difficult for me to narrow that down to one book, but I did! Well, it took a little cheating. Namely, I decided to list most of the finalists here, and pick one for his blog. So, read here to see the variety, and the read over on Shooting the Breeze to see what I took off this list to count as my most influential book.
Elton Trueblood's autobiography, While it is Day. For my History of Preaching class in college, we were assigned a 20th century preacher to do a 20 page paper on. 10 pages about his life, 10 pages of analysis of one of his sermons and his methods. Mine was Dr. D. Elton Trueblood. Dr. Trueblood was a Quaker, and was quite different from most of my deep south Baptist roots. Reading his autobiography led me to his books, which were quite fascinating. I still like his answer to what was the Quaker equivalent to an ordination questionnaire: It was several pages, pondering all sorts of deep issues and questions. His reply to the whole thing was: "I am endeavoring to teach and live the religion of Jesus Christ." He was accepted. I think I've long tried to live up to that answer myself.
Great Divorce, CS Lewis. What can I say here? This book, more than Peretti or other more modern authors, helped me see that what I see is not all there is going on here. It also carried the assurance that whatever is going on here, God is control. Never thought about it until it was mentioned in a youth camp drama one year at Student Life. This remains my favorite of Lewis's works, though I've read many of them. The Space Trilogy runs a close second, with Narnia, Screwtape, Mere Christianity all coming close behind.
Lord of the Rings, Tolkien. Nobody messes with elves. Period. You may not realize how true that is without watching the movie, but it's pretty clear in the book, too. Tolkien often gets quoted on his statement "Not all who wander are lost," which seems a motto for the blurry religion crowd, but it's taken well out of context. Better still is his personal quote that "God is the Lord of men and angels...and elves." This trilogy has it all--self-sacrifice, love, action, betrayal. It's a beautiful chaos. At various times, I think I've felt like many of the characters, though I know my world will not rise or fall on my decisions, I feel the pull of plunging into the greater conflicts of this world or trying to stay home, and not get involved. I think that Star Wars, the original trilogy, had some influence from Tolkien, whether Lucas admits it or not. I like Star Wars too, but the books are so-so, as any movie novelization is. Better the novel that gets made into a movie than a movie into a novel. Except maybe The Abyss.
Red Storm Rising, Tom Clancy. Yes, World War Three, between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Remember those alliances? The nuclear issue, the Cold War? This book opened my eyes, along with General Sir John Hackett's The Third World War, which was much more reality based, to the fact that war was not as the movies of childhood. This was the point at which the GI Joes and the little green army men made their way into the closet, and then into boxes. Are some things worth fighting for? Certainly. But not many things. It was a useful lesson for a teenage boy.
Developing the Leader within You, John Maxwell. Oh, you mean all this about being a 'born leader' isn't true? Nope, not really. It's like born athletes. They may have some natural abilities, but a great deal of it is learned and practiced. Maxwell's Failing Forward would be a close second for me.
What Jesus Demands from the World, John Piper. Actually, the only book by Piper I've ever read. Yep. I'm a 30-something pastor that has only read one book by John Piper. I've never read a MacArthur book, and have never heard Piper, MacArthur, Dever, or Ed Young preach. But I did read this one. And it's good. To remember that we are called to holiness and obedience, and to think through the actual impacts of that. This is a doozy. Need Sunday School tools that will aggravate your entire church? Skip the quarterlies for a year, buy every teen and adult a copy of this book, and take a chapter a week. The church members you have left at the end of the year will be the committed Christians who know what it's about.
Exegetical Fallacies, D.A. Carson. This was an assigned textbook for a class I took, but I don't remember having to do anything other than read it. Of course, I didn't do well in that class, so I may have missed something. Carson does a good job here with explaining a good many of the errors that well-meaning Bible students, like preachers and authors fall into. It's not so much as about the ends as it is the means. Several times he uses an example where he agrees with the conclusion reached, but points out the fallacies involved in the offered argument. If you want to be challenged about why you hold a belief or opinion, get this book. If you want to know how to offer a cogent argument for why you believe things, get this book, and check your boat for leaks, if you catch the meaning. If you have an interest in strengthening your ability to rightly divide the Word or if you want to equip someone who will be selecting their own spiritual influences, get this. Read it, and pass it on.
Epitaphs for Eager Preachers by J.D. Grey. If you are new in ministry, burned-up in ministry, or know someone in either of those situations, get them this book. You'll have to hunt it down in out-of-print shops, but that's what the internet is good for. Dr. Grey points out 10 major errors that young, or new, preachers will tend to fall into. Each chapter points out a tombstone in the ministry graveyard. It's not entirely dark, but is well rounded with positive advice and humor. This book features a positive direction that will help with longevity in ministry. Really. For many of us young preachers, it's so easy to give in when things don't go quickly. It's also easy to mail it in somedays. Pastor Grey has a response to both of these, and a few others. Now, since he wrote in the heady days before the great "Conservative Resurgence" in the SBC, he might have been a liberal. I honestly neither know nor care. His advice is sound, his counsel based on Scripture, and his lessons hard-won in a life of ministry. If we toss aside good books like this simply because of their dates, we're missing a lot in SBC life. This book should be required reading at all 6 SBC Seminaries, and at MABTS, LBTS, Gordon-Conwell, and even for diploma mills. Really.
To go along with these, there's a couple of books by Helmut Thielicke. One is entitled A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. No, not that kind of exercise, but you do need to get off your tail and move a bit. It's a good thinking through challenge for newer theology students. Good stuff. Thielicke also wrote a volume called Encounter with Spurgeon, which features his opinions about Spurgeon and his editing and reprinting of Spurgeon's writings on preaching. Interestingly, as Thielicke was German, it was also his translation of Spurgeon into German. When the book was translated into English, the actual writings of Spurgeon were translated to know exactly what Thielicke was quoting, then the original was used. Funny stuff, this language thing. Stupid Tower of Babel. Anyway, this was my introduction to Spurgeon on the practicals of preaching. Not so much on theology, but little things, like why Spurgeon never wore a scarf and did grow a beard. His methods on vocal projection, that type of thing.
If you had the money to buy all of these, you should. Well, you could skip Clancy's Red Storm Rising and go with his Executive Orders or The Sum of All Fears. They're about terrorism.
If you've got a limited budget, get Encounter with Spurgeon, While it is Day, Exegetical Fallacies, What Jesus Demands from the World, and Epitaphs for Eager Preachers.
If you've got a really limited budget, get Epitaphs for Eager Preachers. Use your internet to read Piper and Spurgeon, and recycle coke cans until you can buy Exegetical Fallacies.
There's my list.