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  • « The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Part 3 by Rev. C. R. Biggs | Main | Think you've got stress? »

    The Five Most Impacting Books I Have Read (Excluding the Bible)

    Whenever I am asked an account of my journey to a Reformed, Christ-centered theology and worldview, I am constrained to make mention, first and fundamentally, of the work of the Spirit in opening the eyes of my heart to understand the scriptures – but press me for an account of the secondary means he was pleased to employ to that end, and I must make immediate mention, first, of the Christian friends who exerted a tremendous teaching influence in my life; and second, of a handful of written works which have proven to be no less influential and impacting. I would be hard-pressed to give priority to either of these secondary means in my theological pilgrimage; but in any account, God has so mightily used a few rich, substantial volumes in my Christian growth and maturation, that, if I were to refrain from mentioning them to other believers, I would feel much like a beggar who, having found a rich treasure, selfishly horded it to himself when many others might equally have benefited from it. That I might not be that selfish beggar, I have compiled a list of the five most influential books I have ever read; and I cannot strongly enough exhort anyone who has not tasted these sumptuous banquets to drink deeply from the wells of our brothers before us who have learned much of our Savior, and who freely offer up their deep insights to us all. I list these books, for lack of any better plan, simply in the order in which I happened to come across them and read them. May many of you find them as profitable as I have.

    1. The Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther

    Martin Luther himself considered this his most valuable work; and its theme he considered to be at the very heart of the debate between the Papists and the Evangelical Protestants. It is shocking to consider just how Romanish the clear majority of professing Evangelicals have become on this point, which, to Luther, was so vital. It was his clear belief that, if someone once allows the will to be free with respect to his eternal salvation – if one professes to have, in himself, the capacity to respond savingly to the gospel call apart from God’s elective, regenerative grace – then there is nothing of the Christian religion left. Deny this one point, and you have, in essence, denied the truth of the gospel. A flawlessly argued masterpiece that argues biblically and passionately for a foundational principle of the Reformed, Evangelical faith.

    2. The Glory of Christ, by John Owen

    If I were constrained to choose the single most influential book I have ever read, it would probably be this one. Beginning with Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17, Owen draws his central premise that heaven will only be good and enjoyable by virtue of the fact that, in heaven, we will be enabled to behold the glory of Christ. This is the sum and substance of everything good and pleasurable – and in order to fit us for this great privilege of heaven, he begins, even on this earth, through a careful and passionate searching of the scriptures, to unfold the manifold richness of Christ’s glory for us to see and savor. I doubt if there is anyone I have ever read who combines masterly theological precision with heartfelt passion and devotion the way that Owen does.

    3. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin

    Calvin’s influence on theology extends so much further than the five “points” of Calvinism, as compiled by the Synod of Dort. This masterpiece unfolds a comprehensive, Christ-centered theology and worldview in a clear, logical, biblical progression. Although its sheer length may be daunting, it is not a phenomenally difficult read. Anyone willing to devote the time required for a reading will find himself richly rewarded. There is virtually no theological issue of any import that Calvin does not deal with at some point in his Institutes – and his treatments are always well-presented and eminently helpful.

    4. A History of the Work of Redemption, by Jonathan Edwards

    I have come across no other work that does so much towards enabling a believer to embrace a view of all of history and reality that is Christ-centered and redemption-centered to the smallest detail. Edwards divides his book (actually compiled from a series of sermons that he preached in Northampton) into three sections. In the first, he attempts to demonstrate “That from the Fall of man until the incarnation of Christ, God was doing those things that were preparatory to Christ’s coming and working out redemption, and were forerunners and earnests of it.” In the second, “That the time from Christ’s incarnation until his resurrection was spent in procuring and purchasing redemption.” And in the third, “That the space of time from the resurrection of Christ to the end of the world is all taken up in bringing about or accomplishing the great effect or success of that purchase.” He then proceeds, with his vast knowledge of scripture, impeccable reasoning, and unswerving attention to detail, to prove the truthfulness of these three assertions. Although his third section is very clearly post-millennial, which may be a point of disagreement for many readers, yet his amazing ability to show the centrality of Christ from every page of the Old Testament; to draw up the deep riches of the great and manifold accomplishment of Christ while he was on earth; and to place our own time and labor in an eternal, redemptive context, in which Christ, the great Hero, will finally prevail all hold forth such soul-deep benefits for the reader that any minor disagreement pales in significance.

    5. Redemption Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray

    Christ’s great work of redemption must ever remain the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. There is no other point of doctrine that contains such eternally inexhaustible depths of joy, peace, and assurance for the believer. John Murray’s classic exposition of the work of redemption is very clear, brief, and easy to read; and yet contains such a richness and depth of truth, that a lifetime of pondering will still yield new and refreshing treasures.

    Posted by Nathan on June 9, 2006 02:13 PM


    My favorite and most helpful of all time: The Mortification of Sin by John Owen.

    Wow Nathan, that is an impressive list. Further it is nothing short of amazing how much we agree. All five of those books you list are under my "some favorites" section on the left side of the home page of our bookstore. ALL FIVE!!!!

    By the way, for those of you who did not know it, Calvins' Institutes was originally penned for new believers. People often think "Calvin YIKES, hard reading" but as Nathan said, it is relatively easy to read. Don't let the size scare you..

    5 things that helped me to my reformed faith.

    1. A good Reformed Christian brother of mine who introduced me to the Reformed Faith. Without him, I would still be lost in the mainstream, Arminian, neo-orthodox and charasmatic church. Thx Robert!

    2., thx John!

    3., thx Jeff!

    4. The Spirit of Reformation Study Bible, thx Richard Pratt and company..... (although I wish you would reply to all of my emails asking for you to print it in the NASB)

    5. Finally, R.C. Sproul and Ligonier.

    It would be very hard for me to pick 5 books. I have so many and they're all good. I would have to say though as a layman, the books mentioned in this post are all pretty hard reading. (very edifying to be sure, but hard, also, could Calvin's institutes be considered one book? :) just kidding)

    For myself, even though I love to read from Edwards, Owen, Calvin, Watson, Vos and so on, I had to start out with books that were a little easier on the reading scale. I found that I enjoyed (in the begining) books by Sproul, Packer, Bridges, Boice and so on. After spending some time with these, slowly I worked my way up to the classic and very essential Reformed orthodox preachers and teachers.

    Now I'm able to dip into these harder books comfortably, but it took a couple of years. So, as a layman with a poor education, I just thought I would mention this for anyone who might be reading this post thinking, WOW, I'll never read these books! I'm here to tell you that eventually you will. Just give it time.




    Thanks for the addition. I have not yet read that one, but I love evrything I've ever read by Owen, so I know it would be good.


    That's really cool that you have all five of those listed as favorites -- I had no idea. I'm not suprised about four of them, but A History of the Work of Redemption seems to be a lot less well-known -- usually it's not even in the list of top 3 or 4 books by Edwards, when someone is recommending his works -- so I'm a little suprised, and certainly delighted, to know that it makes your favorites list as well. Maybe this is why we tend to think alike...

    Dave, thanks for the comments. What specifically would you recommend as easier for the layman but still substantive? Perhaps something like All of Grace, by Spurgeon?

    “By the way, for those of you who did not know it, Calvins' Institutes was originally penned for new believers. People often think "Calvin YIKES, hard reading" but as Nathan said, it is relatively easy to read. Don't let the size scare you..”

    You know, this is really cool. I admit to not having read all of the Institutes, but it seems that whenever I wade into those waters, I come out so refreshed. Calvin has to be one of, if not the, most misunderstood reformer. People tend to simply assume they know what Calvin is all about, i.e. predestination, election, that stuff... One work of Calvin’s that was published a few years ago was Heart Aflame, daily readings from Calvin on the Psalms. Talk about a pastoral tour de force! It was the first I had been exposed to Calvin, and I am thankful for it.

    Anyway, good list Nathan; my top five overlaps with yours quite a bit as well. Piper’s The Pleasures of God is solid as well.

    In Christ,

    I think some of the biggest impacts on me were:

    Institutes of the Christian Religion by Calvin,

    Gospel Fear by Jeremiah Burroughs (helped me understand how to better please God),


    Chosen By God by R.C. Sproul (really my first intro to Calvinism).

    Those would be amongst the top ten, along with Pilgrim's Progress, the Bible, etc.

    Good post!

    God be with you,

    A. Shepherd
    The Aspiring Theologian

    The Aspiring Theologian Blog - Reformed Theology & Apologetics

    After seeing several mentionings of Calvin's Institutes, I thought I'd mention that an excellent source is available at the website of Covenant Theological Seminary—they have the entire course on Calvin's Institutes online in mp3 format with pdf notes.

    In the first lecture, Dr. David Calhoun points out that Calvin considered his work easier for "simpler folks" to comprehend than the work of some other reformers.

    I think this course being available online provides an excellent opportunity and challenge to many Christians to read one of the greatest devotional-theological works ever written. Use it to break the Institutes down into manageable portions!

    At the time my eyes were being opened to the glory of Christ our SS class was going through Chosen By God by RC Sproul and dealing with at the time a difficult subject God was gracious to provide All of Grace by Spurgeon hence that has become one of my favorites and Spurgeon is a favorite author of mine. I am also interested in some of the books that Dave has read that are for a common layman because sometimes I need something a little easier to feed on then I can go on to more difficult.

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