You Might Read

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Last year, the Banner of Truth published an interesting little book entitled, You Must Read: Books That Have Shaped Our Lives. To this book, various well-known pastors and theologians – men like Joel Beeke, Alistair Begg, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and many others – contributed short testimonials regarding books that have proven valuable in their lives.

Though I haven’t yet read the book myself, the idea intrigues me. A personal testimony seems so much more helpful than a short endorsement solicited by a publisher. And so today for our time together, I thought I would share with you a short list of my own.

Since I never like it when somebody tells me I ‘must’ or “have to” read a particular book, I’m entitling this lesson “You Might Read.”

The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis, 1942)

Though I had known Lewis from The Chronicles of Narnia, I didn’t read The Screwtape Letters until my late teens. Each of the short chapters contains a letter from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood. The letters contain advice, reflection, and strategy from mentor to protege on how to destroy the soul of the latter’s ‘patient’ (a new Christian convert).

In offering a “hell’s-eye-view” of the Christian life, the book serves as an anatomy of temptation – and awakened me to the reality of the invisible war which engulfs our world and in which our souls cannot remain neutral.

Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis, 1952)

A very different sort of book from The Screwtape Letters, this book was my first experience of apologetics – an articulate, logical account of why the Christian faith not only makes some sense, but makes the best sense of life, the universe, and everything.

Mere Christianity originated as a series of “Broadcast Talks” given on the BBC during WWII. Its tone is conversational and winsome. Beginning with “right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe,” Lewis proceeds to construct a powerful, rational defense of orthodox Christianity. More than 60 years later, it is still one of the very best works of apologetics written in the English language.

Having read Mere Christianity myself, I shared it with a young lady with whom I was getting acquainted (and eventually married). The Lord used Mere Christianity not only to fortify my own faith, but also as one of the tools in awakening her to faith in Jesus Christ.

The Great Divorce (C.S. Lewis, 1946)

I didn’t read The Great Divorce until my early 20s. Another work of fiction, it tells the story of a group of people who board a bus in hell and take a tour of heaven. While there, each of the tourists meets a believing person whom they had known in life who offers them a final chance to repent of what damned them. Though some accept, most get back aboard the bus.

Theologically, the premise is flawed. However, the book does a wonderful job of illustrating the theological truth that those who spend eternity in hell do so because they prefer hell to God’s heaven. Moreover, Lewis’s description of heaven is deeply moving. The Great Divorce is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.

The Reason for God (Tim Keller, 2008) and
Encounters with Jesus (Tim Keller, 2013)

In a sense, The Reason for God was Tim Keller’s ‘breakthrough’ book. Prior to its publication, his was not a “household name” among Reformed Christians. I can’t remember why I first picked up this book, but I am certain that it changed my life.

The Reason for God is divided into two major sections. In the first, Tim tackles the seven most significant contemporary objections to the Christian faith – what he calls ‘defeaters’. These include, “There Can’t Be Just One True Religion” and “How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?” What impressed me most about the book was not Keller’s answers – though these were excellent – but the way in which he practiced “preemptive skepticism,” raising objections to his answers precisely at those points where the reader would do so. In my ministry, I have attempted to model this approach.If Reason has a weakness, it is its philosophical tone – which may be off-putting to some audiences.

Happily, in 2013 Keller published Encounters with Jesus. Encounters is a series of short meditations on the Gospel of John that contains most of the best insights of Reason in a much shorter and accessible format. In my opinion, Encounters with Jesus is the best book Keller has written.

Knowing God (J.I. Packer, 1973)

Knowing God was recommended to me in high school by my church youth leader. Sadly, I did not read the book until my mid-20s. The book is not only very accessible, it is richly biblical and highly devotional in its tone. It is a prime example of the truth that a right grasp of doctrine should lead us to greater adoration of God.

There are points where Dr. Packer very pointedly challenges some cherished evangelical shibboleths – but he does so with such grace, and with so much Scripture, that one cannot help but agree with his conclusions. And this brings us to the greatest strength of Knowing God: across all aspects of the Christian life, it teaches us that God is known according to his Word. There are no shortcuts – and once we taste the riches, we won’t want them.

Confessions (Augustine of Hippo, AD 397-400; trans. Henry Chadwick)

An autobiographical account from one of the most influential post-biblical figures in all of Christian history, the Confessions transports us into the ancient world – and into the head of the Augustine both before and after he was converted to the Christian faith. Written in the first person, it is a stunning narrative. But it also shows us the “man behind the curtain” – at points reading like the blog of a person suffering from OCD.

I read the Confessions during my first year in seminary. In Augustine’s ancient prose, I found many echoes of my own experience: He writes of “being tired of living and scared of dying.” He also reflects that God “made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” The Confessions is painfully honest. But such is true Christian experience.

John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides

I received my copy of Paton’s autobiography from the late Don Shumaker, a ruling elder at Westminster OPC. John Paton was a in the mid-1800s to the New Hebrides (modern-day Vanuatu) in the South Pacific. When he landed, the New Hebrides were populated by cannibal tribes. Paton’s tremendous suffering, his myriad trials, and his eventual success, make this one of the best missionary biographies ever written.

I read John G. Paton during our first year planting Resurrection OPC. Anytime I was tempted to feel sorry for myself, I reminded myself: while State College might have its ‘cannibals’, none of them were trying to eat me.

Delighting in the Trinity (Michael Reeves, 2012)

In Michael Reeves, something survives of the spirit of C.S. Lewis – an ability to communicate important truths with clarity, joy, and even gentle irony. Written as an introduction the Christian faith, Reeves deals with questions such as: “Why did God create the world?” and “What will heaven be like?” His goal is to show that all of these questions – indeed, all the great matters of the Christian faith – flow out of Godâ’s triune nature.

Though he treats God reverently, Reeves never takes himself too seriously. In fact, at one point – immediately after a long, dense quotation from Karl Barth – he comments, “Yes, theologians often write like that.”

I read Delighting in the Trinity just a few years ago, and remember clearly the keen sense of joy I felt in both reading and contemplating Reeves’ prose. Those who read this book will find it lives up to its title.

The Word Became Fresh (Dale Ralph Davis, 2006)

Don’t be put off by this book’s subtitle, “How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts.” Though originally written as a short help for aspiring preachers (I read it as an assigned text during seminary), The Word Became Fresh is an excellent book for any Christian. Davis possesses a rare combination: a garrulous humor and a penetrating mind. This book will make you laugh out loud. More importantly, it will help you read your Bible better.