Books that Changed My Life

22 04 2013

Below are a few books that had a serious effect on my life and ministry.  It might be useful for me to share the title as well as the reason why they changed my life.  These are listed in the order that I encountered them.  Each book listed below I have read through, at a minimum, of three times each.  Some (like the Bible, Luther and Owen) I have read many times more than that.  One, such as the Bible, I read through annually cover to cover (you may also include Owen’s Mediations).  As a result I’m familiar with these books.  I love them and can recite large portions of them off the top of my head by memory.  If you’re so inclined, I’d love to help introduce them to you.  If by chance you’d like to read them (or have read them) let me know.  I’d enjoy the chance to speak with you about them.

The Bible:  I became a Christian while reading John’s Gospel at the Citadel.  Whoever provides the funding for the distribution of such Bibles, you have my lasting thanks.  Without that Bible, I would not have become a Christian, nor the type of husband I am, nor the type of father I am.  I would have no ministry to speak of and the source of all my joy would be deprived me.  Again, my sincere thanks!

C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce:  I read this in college but to be honest didn’t get it until I had read my way through several of the books below.  The thing I gained from The Great Divorce was a deeper appreciation of how discipleship and desire go hand in hand. Our desires draw us closer to heaven or closer to hell, but either way we’ll be doing what we want for eternity.  This is why it is so important that the Gospel, the Good News of God in Jesus Christ is proclaimed.  It presents God as good, loving, kind, merciful and just, making him desirable to the human heart.  That is one of the Gospel’s most power effects.

John Donne’s Divine  Sonnets: Also read in college.  Also failed to appreciate what I had in my hands at the time.  I go back to these almost weekly.  Here is a sinner wrestling with his sin and taking refuge in divine grace.  No different than me on that front, although he is (obviously) far more eloquent.

Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians:  Sunk deep in a terrible hole of legalism in my third and final year at Wycliffe Hall, I picked this commentary off of the shelf at the Radcliffe Camera almost by mistake.  More than any work outside the Bible, this book has defined the trajectory of my life and ministry.

Augustine’s Confessions: Augustine helped me understand the pervasive and unreasonable aspects of sin in my life, particularly through the famous story of the pear tree.  Also, if you have heard me preach or teach enough you would have heard me quote the opening paragraph of Confessions more times than you could count.  “O God, you made us for yourself and we are restless until  we find our rest in thee.”  That thought, which runs throughout Augustine’s writings also runs through much of Western Christianity, and finds a happy home in all of the works cited here.  

Dante’s Divine Comedy:  Do you know what T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien all had in common?  They all held close to their hearts the Divine Comedy.  I’m currently on my third trip through.  Dante is Augustinian in his anthropology and soteriology.  He taught me that the effect of grace is not instantaneous, but rather a supernatural journey driven by the pursuit of the beauty of divine love.  Get an edition with with robust footnotes.  He is multi-layered and complex, impossible to get through without a learned guide (a Virgil of your own!).

John Piper’s Desiring God:  In a list such as this Piper looks out of place.  Snobs will scoff, although they will only make themselves look foolish in doing so.  This is a fine book.  When I first became a Christian I exulted over God, his salvation, and the change he had wrought in my life.  I quickly descended into a works based mindset and my joy evaporated.  Having been primed for grace through Luther and Augustine, I was ready to hear how serving God, in good times and bad, was the most pleasurable and joyful activity that I could ever engage in.  This book taught me that God is after my joy.  When I preach, teach, minister, or disciple it is joy that is in my crosshairs.  I thank this book for that.

J.C. Ryle’s Knots Untied:  If you’re Biblically serious and Gospel centered, even the most conservative parts of Anglicanism (often being just dressed up semi-pelagianism) can feel lonely.  For this reason I was seriously thinking of leaving Anglicanism altogether.  Then I read Ryle.  Ryle is not the most scholarly account of the history of the Anglican Church, but he opened a door for me to investigate the English Reformation.  It was through Ryle that I read Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Becon, Hooper, Jewel, Hooker (how abused and misunderstood this man is!) and many others.  It was Ryle who clued me in to the fact that the “puritans” were (mostly) Church of England clergyman contending for the vision of the Reformers against the rising tide of something that was antithetical to what the English Reformers stood for.  Knots Untied is the reason I’m still an Anglican.  It let me know I had a home and it gave me the courage to stay and contend for it.

John Owen’s Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ:  More than any other book, this one drew me completely outside of myself to think only on the glory of Christ.  I wept through most of it, but I can’t really tell you why. Owen put me on a journey of Christocentrism that is evident in my preaching, counseling, and hopefully my life.

John Owen’s Communion with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:  This book taught me that God actually desires fellowship with me and that I was made to be drawn into his intra-Trinitarian joy.  This book made Christianity feel so much larger and more magnificent to me than any book I have ever read.  Where you might see this book evident is a carefully cultivated Trinitarian praying and preaching.  I aim to think about and speak about the work of the whole of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian.  On a final note, Owen is easily the most influential theologian in my life.  I have been called a Calvinist or Reformed.  I consider myself a Christian first.  And Anglican second.  But if we must make labels, then I am an Owenite.  And before the scoffers scoff, let me just say that at the end of his life, Owen swore that he had done nothing except uphold the teaching of the Bible, the 39 Articles, and the theology of Richard Hooker.  So there…


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5 responses

22 04 2013
Marilyn

Rob, thanks for sharing your journey through these books. I agree not much is “life changing” in the scope of normal daily living but I must tell you I recently experienced a three day “silent retreat” at St. Bernard’s Abbey in Cullum, AL. My life has been changed and no longer do I carry a heavy burden. The silence was golden (as they say) but golden because of God’s light shining through the darkness. I would like to share the experience with you one day. Much love to you!!!

22 04 2013
Bill Goff

Thanks Rob for this wonderful list. I have many of them from years ago in theology school. You have inspired me to dust them off and read again. As you say – we bring more life experiences into them the second or third time. Blessings, Bill

22 04 2013
Bill Goff

By the way…most of these are available for free (or very little) on Kindle.

24 04 2013
Clyde Timmons

Thanks, Rob.

1 05 2013
Jerry Brown

Thanks,Rob. As a new Anglican (previously numbered among the heathen Methodists), this list is especially valuable.

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