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 â€“ 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 â€“ if one professes to have, in himself, the capacity to respond savingly to the gospel call apart from Godâ€™s elective, regenerative grace â€“ 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 Christâ€™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 â€“ 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 Christâ€™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
Calvinâ€™s influence on theology extends so much further than the five â€œpointsâ€ 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 â€“ 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 â€œThat from the Fall of man until the incarnation of Christ, God was doing those things that were preparatory to Christâ€™s coming and working out redemption, and were forerunners and earnests of it.â€ In the second, â€œThat the time from Christâ€™s incarnation until his resurrection was spent in procuring and purchasing redemption.â€ And in the third, â€œThat 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.â€ 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
Christâ€™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 Murrayâ€™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.