What books have shaped me the most? Taking IVP books out of consideration (to keep bias to a minimum), the books below have formed my thought life, my spiritual life, my sense of aesthetics, and how I view and interact with the world.
After making the list I noticed that I read most of them before I was twenty-five. And I suppose that’s to be expected. In midlife and beyond, most people have already been shaped, and it’s harder for any one book to have a significant impact. The last book in my list (presented here roughly in the order in which I read them) is the exception.
I had a stellar high school English teacher who spent weeks taking us line by line through what he called the greatest book by the greatest author in history. Mr. Ryan opened our eyes to a feast so we could partake of a whole new world of life, ideas, emotion and drama.
Mere Christianity–As a new Christian I read ravenously and widely. Lewis’s classic still stands as a landmark of clear thinking, showing me how faith and reason can be good friends.
How to Read a Book–Mortimer Adler’s and Charles Van Doren’s essential guide offers a wide variety of ways to understand and appreciate what we read. More than that, this still widely used volume taught me how to think.
The Lord of the Rings–Tolkien’s trilogy showed me the power of imagination. In creating a fictional world of orcs, wizards, hobbits and Ents, he helped me believe that courage and honor, faith and friendship, and truth and love are possible in our world too.
I was delighted to be able to bring this book back into print at IVP in 2005 since I had read it first in the mid-1970s, in its original Concordia edition (so it technically passes the “non-IVP” test). Ken Bailey revolutionized the way I read the New Testament.
Jesus and the Victory of God–This tour de force still astonishes me in its ability to challenge at once the academic establishment to take the Gospels more seriously and the church to see anew the cosmic, multi-dimensional achievement of Jesus.
What books have influenced you most?