Books That Have Shaped Our Lives
While imprisoned in a dank cell, the Apostle Paul made a request. He asked Timothy to bring him three things. “When you come,” he said, “bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.” (2 Tim 4:13)
It certainly stirs the imagination to think what those books and parchments must have been. As for the latter, they were almost certainly the Scriptures. Would not this faithful servant desire above all else the Word of God? One can easily picture him reading the scroll of Isaiah in the dim light. So they were most likely Holy Writ.
But what of the books? What might they have been?
Here we can only guess. Whatever they were, Paul desired to have them. He wanted to pore over them again in the remaining time allotted to him.
Books are undoubtedly important. By inscribing various shaped symbols onto a clean sheet of paper, the very ideas and imaginations of men are communicated. We can be lifted out of our world into another, where we encounter all manner of strange creatures and places. We can be shown more clearly man’s true nature through the art of story. And we can actually enter into the thoughts of another, hear their views, digest their arguments, and entertain their persuasions. All of this is done through the medium of writing.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that for many of us, books harbor a special place in our lives. Some have actually changed us. They’ve directed our steps. They’ve delighted us. That’s what great literature does.
As for the men at Gentle Reformation, they too have been deeply shaped by books. Foremost among those books would be the Bible, God’s Word. Each and every one would undoubtedly speak of the “parchments” in the highest regard. But what of the books? If they were left in a lonely place, what would they want to read? Or if they were asked to give an account of the works that have played a pivotal role in their development, what might they say?
The answer to those questions will be briefly explored here.
I posed six questions to each of the GenRef guys, questions designed to flesh out those books which have, perhaps, been most influential in their lives. The purpose is to not only shed some light on the personalities at this website, but more importantly, to hopefully provide you, the reader, with some literature that might prove beneficial. Christmas is coming after all. And a good book is often a welcome gift.
So without further ado, here’s the first batch of responses to the six questions posed. Others will hopefully be coming shortly.
First Question: If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only have two other books (besides the Bible), and one of them had to be a novel, what would they be?
“My favorite novelist is Dostoyevsky, and I’ve alread read his Crime and Punishment and Brothers Karamazov. For some time now, I’ve been wanting to read his book, The Idiot, so I guess that would be the novel I’d hope to have with me.
The other book I’d like to have would probably be a Hebrew grammar (presuming the Bible you said I’d have includes the Hebrew OT). I’d welcome the opportunity to dig deeper into the nuances of Hebrew … and the Hebrew Bible.”
“Novel: Since this would mean a shipwreck, I would want Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander (if I could have the whole series, that would be ideal).
Comfort: I would need the promises of God, so having a Psalter to sing from would be great. If that does not count as “besides the Bible” for obvious reasons, then John G. Paton’s Missionary to the New Hebrides would help me endure life on a small island and also fill me with zeal to get off it to another where there were people to preach to.
“On a high vantage point, while sitting under a coconut tree, I would almost certainly want The Works of Jonathan Edwards open on my lap. Few theologians think more deeply than that man, not to mention faithfully. His works, along with the works of God in creation (I am looking out over an ocean after all) would feed my lonely soul.
The choice of novel is a harder pick. There is something about the rich literary prose, the epic style, and symbolism of Moby Dick that delights me. That being said, the second book in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Perelandra, is so wonderfully crafted, so deliciously imaginative, so keenly insightful, I suspect I could not help but take it.”
Second Question: During your formative years in college or seminary, what work of theology proved most influential or helpful to you?
“Geerhardus Vos’s Biblical Theology. I was not born and raised in covenantally minded churches, and Vos’s masterpiece was a turning point for me.”
“College: The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges was the first Christian book I ever read and I regularly give it to other young believers.
Seminary: Being fairly new to the Reformed faith when I went, Calvin’s Institutes read at seminary would be it hands down.”
“I have felt the choking grip of agnosticism, and it is a terrible feeling. It infected my soul most pointedly during my early twenties. How can I really know anything for sure? Is the discipline of epistemology a futile venture? What are the odds that my beliefs- my mere thoughts- are true?
Amid this confusion, I was given a book by my pastor (who really didn’t know the depths of my struggles). The book was written by Cornelius Van Til and is entitled A Defense of Christianity and My Credo. That single work set me on a new course and saved me from the pit of agnosticism. Now I probably wouldn’t recommend this book as the best starting point for others, but the Lord used it mightily in my mind and heart. John Frame’s works would more than likely be a better launching point.”
Third Question: What has been one of the most convicting books you’ve ever read? Or, if that’s too personal, what one book has most challenged you spiritually (besides the Bible)?
“In my early 20s, I read a novel called The Goal, by Elyahu Goldratt. It is a novel designed to teach business executives to structure all business processes around the goal for having a business (which, allegedly, is making money). The book was convicting because the Apostle Paul tells me that “the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1Tim. 1:5; cf., Mk. 12:29-31). If business leaders fine-tune their operations around the goal of profit, ought not I be even more vigilant to keep love for God and his people in view in all my spiritual disciplines? That was a convicting book for me–not because of what the book said, but because of the thought process it stirred in my own self-examination.
“John Owen’s Of the Mortification of Sin in the Life of Believers. It makes me feel as if I have barely started in the battle against sin. I also love in a challenging way Samuel Rutherford’s letters, as their deeply Scriptural and pastoral nature reveal how shallow I can often be.”
“I’m not sure. The things that have most convicted me have come through preaching, counsel, or the reading of Scripture (or commentary on Scripture). That being said, whenever I read a book that challenges me to pray more faithfully, like D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation, or whenever I hear stories of men and women adopting children with special needs (as can be found at this conference), I am pierced to the heart.”
Fourth Question: What one or two books caused a theological or spiritual paradigm shift to take place in your life/mind?
“The aforementioned books (under questions 2 and 3) both fit here, as well. Additionally, I’ll mention Leland Ryken’s How to Read the Bible as Literature, which was a focal point for a paradigm shift toward which many books and conversations contributed on reading Scripture with sensitivity to its various genres.”
“William Symington’s Messiah the Prince captured my imagination and wonder at Christ’s kingdom like no other book. Too often it is seen only as a treatise on civil government rather than what it is, a full-orbed work on the nature and extent of Christ’s glorious kingdom that should inspire the church.”
“Without a doubt, Desiring God, by John Piper, revolutionized the way I think about pleasure and happiness. God is most glorified when I am most satisfied in Him. I heartily recommend this gem of a book.”
Fifth Question: What is the best book you’ve read in 2012?
“I’m sorry, this is going to seem bland to a lot of folk. I get excited about the strangest texts. But I just recently read Shunya Bendor’s The Social Structure of Ancient Israel, and I found it fascinating. I cannot remember all the books I read this year to pick a favorite, but that book would definitely be near the top.”
“The Holy Trinity by Robert Letham along with Gregory of Nazainzus’ Five Theological Orations. Nothing like spending week discussing the material with the author (Dr. Letham, not Gregory!) to deepen my love for our Triune God.”
“G.K. Beale is a profound thinker and a first rate scholar. Few are more adept at explaining how the OT is used in the NT. Therefore, any of his works would be worthy of a person’s time and energy. That being said, I’m presently wading my way through his monumental work A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. It is everything a theologian would hope to find in a faithful work of biblical theology.”
Sixth Question: What is one book (or book series) you wish all people would read (besides the Bible)?
“I don’t know. It seems hard to imagine a “one size fits all” recommendation, since the needs of people are so vastly varied. I’ll defer to some of my better read brothers for counsel on this one.”
“Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Roberston. Seeing the dovetailing of Scripture through the covenants, all revealing Christ to us, is beautiful to behold and I wish everyone could see it.”
“Calvin’s Institutes is still an amazing work. From beginning to end, the centrality and majesty of God is proclaimed and defended with brilliant conviction and clarity. The style is nearly poetic at times. It is rigorous and polemical, yet comforting and assessable; centuries old, but entirely relevant. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the man, he should not be ignored.”