Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Top-Ten Most Influential Books

John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture, has been encouraging readers to list the top-ten books that have influence their view of the world. It’s a fun but tough question, of course. This morning I grabbed a sheet of paper, glanced at my bookshelf, reflected on my life as a reader, and jotted down the books that came to mind. I wanted to do this quickly. I didn’t want to overanalyze my list or try to list the books I liked the most. What I was looking for were books that have really influenced the way I see, understand, and live in the world. Influence is not easy to define, but I do think that the following list reflects books that have influenced me deeply over the years. I return to them often to discover even more ways that these books have shaped me:

1. The Bible. If the Bible does anything, it certainly influences one’s view of the world! It’s the starting point. It’s where a view of the world comes from, for Christians. For me, the books of the Bible that have been most meaningful, at different times of my life, for different reasons: Genesis, John, and Ephesians. I’ve written an extensive study on Genesis that also tells more about my story and how it relates to the influence of the Bible: In the Beginning of the Beginning: A Study of Four Great Events in Genesis.

2. Hatchet, Gary Paulsen. Most of my reading as a child was to earn points to get free pizza at Pizza Hut. Paulsen’s classic put this thought in my head: maybe reading a book can be as good as watching a movie. Who knew? But seriously, because of Hatchet, I gave reading a chance!

3. A Time to Kill, John Grisham. I read this book in high school to impress a girl and now we are married. That’s influence. I’ve told this story elsewhere: Falling in Love, One Book at a Time.

4. A Walk Through the Bible, Lesslie Newbigin. I can still remember where I was sitting when I read it. It was a major ah-ha moment. In a brief 85 pages, Newbigin tells the biblical story from start to finish, showing readers how it holds together in Christ. Before I read this book I was reading the Bible mainly for nuggets of wisdom, or for proof-texts to make a point. Not any more! Newbigin taught me most fundamentally that the Bible is a story that shapes a community. The implications for this central idea greatly influenced chapter 4 of my coauthored book, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness.

5. Creation Regained, Albert Wolters. This book expands on the major themes of the grand-narrative of scripture: Creation, Fall and Redemption. Wolters’ distinction between structure (the goodness of creation) and direction (moving either toward or away from God) was life-changing. I explain this in greater detail in the Genesis study mentioned above.

6. The Fabric of Faithfulness, Steven Garber. How do you connect what you believe about the world with how you live in the world? Why are the years between 18-25 so crucial for wrestling with that question? Not only did this book help me in my own discipleship, but it also helped to shape my paradigm for college ministry. A must read for those concerned with reaching every generation with the Gospel!

7. The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis. For me, Lewis, the person, has probably been more influential than his books. As an undergraduate, I needed models to show me that it was possible to think and be a Christian at the same time. But The Screwtape Letters revealed something else to me as well: it is possible to be creative and a Christian at the same time.

8. The New Testament and the People of God, N.T. Wright. Currently, Wright is somewhat of a controversial figure in some Christian circles, but this book was written nearly 20 years ago, before his now public debates about Paul and the doctrine of justification. Here Wright focuses on three major questions: How do we do history? Who was Jesus in his historical context? What difference did and does Jesus make? In my humble opinion, this is Wright’s best and most important book.

9. To End All Wars, Ernest Gordon. I often say that this is my favorite book of all time. The first time I read it I was wrestling with this question: What difference does being a Christian make, really? Gordon’s story of being a P.O.W. in Southeast Asia in WWII illustrates the transformational power of the Gospel. Not only was Gordon’s life changed by following Jesus, but the entire P.O.W. camp was transformed. I dare you to read it!

10. Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry. Berry is my favorite writer. Part of me wants to qualify that. The other part, more influenced by Berry, perhaps, says I don’t have to! Let’s put it this way: my wife and I live in the same town where we grew up, on purpose. This is due, to a large extent, to the writings of this farmer from Kentucky. I wanted to name our first son Jayber, but my wife has not been as influenced by Berry as I have been! For what it’s worth, I love Berry’s novels, enjoy his poetry and tolerate his essays. For most Berry fans, I’m learning, that list is reversed.

As I look at my list, I notice something surprising: a few of my favorite writers are not listed! People who know me well, know that I am constantly reading or re-reading something by Eugene Peterson, Os Guinness, or Tim Keller. The person who I often say most embodies my theology is John Stott. But I don’t have a single book listed by any of those writers. Interesting.

The second thing I notice is that all of the books are written by white men. Ephesians being the exception. (That was a joke! Please, please, please, do not quote me on that. I was trying to be funny!) I’m not sure what to do about that, except to make sure that I continue to read more diverse writers.

And there you have it… my list of top ten most influential books. Anyone else want to join in on the fun?


Dana Ray said...

1) Narnia, The Princess and the Goblin, The Hobbit: In other words, some great fairy tales that taught me how wonderful and how true story telling can be.

2) Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

3) Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

4) Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray

5) The Deadliest Monster by Jeff Baldwin (I read it early in highschool. It was my first worldview thinking book ever!)

6) Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (Can't get away from him!)

7) AWANA Club hand books (otherwise known as: Scripture memory)

Walt Mueller said...

Great list, Derek. You've got me thinking. Since I'm twenty years older than you I'll really have to narrow it down. I'm going to go to work on this. I think the Bible should be an assumed book for all lists. . . or, you should allow 11 books.

JohnR said...

I like these lists though I never give the same answer twice...

After the Bible, and in roughly chronological order

1. Lancelot Hogben, "Mathematics for the Million".

2. Os Guinness, "The Dust of Death"

3. Walter M. Miller, Jr, "A Canticle for Leibowitz"

4. J. K. Galbraith, "The Affluent Society"

5. David Ehrenfeld, "The Arrogance of Humanism"

6. Karl Barth, "Dogmatics in Outline" and/or "Evangelical Theology"

7. John Irving, "A Prayer for Owen Meany"

8. Harvey Cox, "Fire from Heaven"

9. Walsh and Keesmaat, "Colossians Remixed"