Twelve years ago this month I was converted to Christ. God used a book to lead me to the everlasting Gospel and the Book of all books. In the early weeks of 2007, I began reading a book given to me by my sister, The Spiritual Man by Watchman Nee. While reading this book, I was drawn to the pages of sacred Scripture. God graciously opened my eyes to see my sin and my need for Christ Jesus. The rest, at least for me, is history.
This list of books is a bit like a stack of Ebenezer stones. Near the end of the time of the judges, when Samuel was leading the people, the Lord gave the Israelites a decisive victory over the Philistines. After the victory, “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Till now the Lord has helped us'” (1 Samuel 7:12). The “Ebenezer stone” represented how God had faithfully guided and helped his people. This post is a stack of twelve “Ebenezer” books that the Lord used to guide and help me. They stand as a testimony to how God used people (both the authors of the books and those who introduced me to these works) to help me grow in the faith. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but since becoming a Christian I have especially found books to be a great source of edification, instruction, and growth.
Here are the twelve most influential books in my personal Christian walk that I have read over the past twelve years. They are listed in the order I read them (least recent first). I do not include fiction here (save for Bunyan’s timeless allegory) and I do not necessarily list what I think are the best books I’ve read (although many would make that list as well), but rather those books that made the biggest impact on me at different points in my life.
1. Hell’s Best Kept Secret by Ray Comfort (read in 2007)
This book is classic Comfort. I include Hell’s Best Kept Secret in this list because it contains the core of Comfort’s teaching: in evangelism, law before grace! If a sinner does not see his transgression against God’s Law, then he will not see his need for grace. No doubt, this biblical truth was vital in shaping my view of evangelism. I was introduced to these concepts very early on. After being converted to Christ in March 2007, I immediately had a desire to share Christ with others. One day in early June 2007, I had the idea of doing an outreach to a local high school. My friends and I gathered up booklets of the Gospel of John, got a cooler, and bought some soda from a grocery store. I then parked my truck outside Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and started handing out soda and gospel booklets. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I wanted to share Christ.
During our outreach, we met Rich the evangelist. He gave me a CD of Ray Comfort’s sermon, “Hell’s Best Kept Secret.” He then took me and my friend (my future wife) through the Way of the Master evangelism course over the next several weeks in his home. I remember the first lesson contained a quote from Charles Spurgeon. It was love at first sight. (I don’t include a book by Spurgeon on this list, but that summer I voraciously read any booklet by the Prince of Preachers I could find.) After completing the evangelism training, I was able to do numerous outreaches with my new friend. I am so thankful to the Lord that he brought Rich into my life at just the right time. He formally introduced me to biblical evangelism and the doctrines of grace.
2. Decisional Regeneration by James E. Adams (read in 2007)
Though this is actually a booklet (only 15 pages in length―you can read it here), it played a huge part in the very early days of my Christian walk. Furthermore, it stands as a token and signpost in this list to the plethora of reformed booklets and tracts provided freely by Chapel Library. While I read numerous booklets―by authors such as Edwards, Whitefield, Spurgeon, and Pink―from Chapel Library during my year as a Christian (and still do today), this one sticks out to me more than the others.
This booklet succinctly demolishes the error of decisional regeneration by looking at the deleterious results of this false doctrine, which is manifest in counseling, altar calls, and preaching. Adams’ godly lamentation ought to be heard today: “The high calling of preaching has degenerated into a series of gimmicks and tricks. These false practices have resulted from the perversion of biblical doctrine. Therefore, in the midst of this darkness, let us pray that God may be pleased to revive His Church again. This revival can only come through Christ. Men must turn afresh to Christ’s directions for counseling, for the preaching of His gospel, and for calling sinners to repentance and faith. Only then will our labors bring glory to God; and, if God grants, many sinners will be converted for His glory.”
I will also forever remember this booklet as the one that two pastors were very displeased with. During that summer of 2007, I was attending two churches (one in the morning, one in the afternoon). One pastor refused to even take it when I offered it to him. The other considered its doctrine to be from hell. Needless to say, I didn’t stay in either of those “churches” for long.
3. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (read in 2007, reread in 2013)
Of this book, Charles Spurgeon said, “Next to the Bible, the book I value most is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I believe I have read it through at least a hundred times. It is a volume of which I never seem to tire; and the secret of its freshness is that it is so largely compiled from the Scriptures.” I was blessed with the opportunity to read this book very early in my Christian walk. Bunyan’s classic allegory brought to life so many of the doctrines that were becoming evermore precious to me. To see a man from nearly 400 years ago hold dear to the same gospel of grace that I had come to adore was a great encouragement to me as a young Christian. It gave weight and substance and richness to the faith I had come to profess. For as long as I live, this book will be used liberally and joyfully in our home.
4. Today’s Evangelism by Ernest Reisinger (read in 2007)
“The church that does not evangelize will fossilize” (Resinger). I ordered a copy of this book because Paul Washer recommended it. Published in 1982, this short book concisely exposes the errors of man-centered evangelism, and presents the biblical approach instead. This book helped solidify much of what I had learned in doing evangelistic outreaches during my first year as a Christian. It further developed my view of the importance of passionate and biblical-based evangelism in the life of the church.
5. Holy Bible (read in 2008, reread in 2010, 2014)
Obviously. The Book of books stands in a category of its own as the inerrant, infallible Word of God. Nevertheless, it is still a book and thus must be on this list. George Müller said that “the vigor of our spiritual life will be in exact proportion to the place held by the Bible in our life and thoughts.” The practice of slowly, steadily reading through the Bible over and over and over again is one I cannot commend enough to you. I first began to follow a Bible reading plan in earnest during my first year as a Christian (2007) and finished in 2008. The Bible that I used for some of that time was The Reformation Study Bible edited by R.C. Sproul. I still remember the first time I heard about R.C. Sproul. My friend Rich called me one day at the end of 2007 or the beginning of 2008. He told me about a study Bible available for purchase put out by some guy named R.C. Sproul. Who is that? “He’s solid,” my friend said. That was an understatement. That study Bible not only helped me dig into God’s Word during my first year as a Christian, it introduced me to true reformation theology and one of the great Christian scholars of our day. (None of the late, great theologian’s books are on this list―because I mainly listened to his lectures―but he played a big part in my growth in knowledge of sound doctrine.)
6. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever (read in 2008)
In less than a year after being converted, I searched for and found a church which held to the doctrines of grace. At this church I would meet many people who impacted me greatly. Among them were two pastors who were the first to shepherd my soul as a Christian. One was Pastor Carl, a man who would officiate my wedding and become a lifelong friend. The other was Pastor Mark. Whether he knows it or not, Mark played a big part in my life. Even though I often disagreed with him, he challenged me in many ways.
Many of the things I heard Mark say or teach have stuck with me to this day, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes more poignantly. He was the one who challenged me to take seriously my relationship with a lady friend. Within days, I was pursuing marriage with my future wife. Needless to say, that has shaped me to this day. He also gave me a copy of Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. His note to me inside the book contains the following words: “I read this book as a young Christian and it changed my life in many ways…To live and act in a biblical way may seem like a struggle, especially when you’re discouraged by those who are Christian or call themselves Christians; but realize it is a tremendous joy to walk in freedom with Christ.” I, too, then read this book as a young Christian. It had a big impact on me as well.
This book helped me piece together all the various components of Christianity that I was learning. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church contains the basic, bedrock necessities for a biblical church. The “marks” that particularly resonated with me were: (mark one) expositional preaching, (mark four) a biblical understanding of conversion, (mark five) a biblical understanding of evangelism, and (mark six) a biblical understanding of church membership.
7. Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers by John Owen (read in 2009)
“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” That just about sums up the theme of this book by the weightiest of Puritan theologians. No other book written by a mere man required (and deserved) so much attention from me as I read it. I filled pages of a notebook with thoughts and quotes from this book. Owen refuses to pamper his readers with pats on the back and don’t-be-so-hard-on-yourself cliches. He pulls no punches: “Use and exercise yourself to such meditations as may serve to fill you at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of your own vileness.” His approach to dealing with sin is so contrary to much of modern-day pastors, that this book ought to be required reading in every seminary. Owen encouraged me to continue to let the Word of God dictate my view on sin, rather than a watered-down version of “Christianity” that I was already beginning to see all around me.
8. Postmillennialism by Keith Mathison (read in 2014)
If Doug Wilson was the hook, and Jonathan Edwards was the line, then Keith Mathison was the sinker. But it was no parlor trick that Mathison’s book got me to fall for―it was the glorious reality of the victory of Jesus Christ in history. No other book was so paradigm-shifting as this one. And no other book was so fun to read as this one. Mathison, professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College, gives an incredibly logical and systematic defense of postmillennialism in this book. If you are prone to disagree with the view of Christ’s victory that the Puritans held, that Jonathan Edwards held, that B.B. Warfield held, that Greg Bahnsen held, then I challenge you to honestly read this book.
9. How Sermons Work by David Murray (read in 2014)
I have yet to read a better book on preaching than David Murray’s How Sermons Work. It doesn’t appear to be much, but looks can be deceiving. Murray’s little manual is worth its weight in gold. Intrigued by Joel Beeke’s passion for experiential preaching, I began to dig deeper into how the Puritans developed and delivered their sermons. At some point in that journey, I came across this book. Murray is in close association with Beeke at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary―and they both have a knack for the lost art of application in the sermon. The Puritans excelled at application-laden preaching. In two specific chapters on application in this book, Murray gives us practical ways to emulate their work. This book has shaped my preaching and teaching more than any other. I cannot commend it enough to anyone interested in learning more about preaching.
10. Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford (read in 2015)
This book opened my eyes to the ardent, deep-seated, and world-transforming faith in the victory of Christ’s kingdom that led men and women to face death, disease, and hardship in coming to America. The Separatists (aka Pilgrims) came to America because, in the words of William Bradford, they had a “great hope of propagating and advancing the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in those remote parts of the world.” This book is William Bradford’s journal of the affairs of those first reformed Christians to come to America for the purpose of advancing the gospel. Bradford wrote that they came in order that “they should be but even stepping stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.” Their story is remarkable and it is one that every American Christian ought to know and teach their children. They were stepping stones in getting the gospel to us. We owe much to these men and women.
11. For the Glory by Duncan Hamilton (read in 2018)
This book is the story of Eric Liddell, Olympic gold medalist who chose a life of service in China rather than a life of stardom in Scotland and England. I lie not when I say that, save for God’s Word, no other book has moved me more than For the Glory. I listened to the audio book, narrated by Nicholas Guy Smith, and I was intrigued from the opening chapter by Eric Liddell’s story. But it was more than a bare interest in the historical reality of what happened. I was moved by his life. The only lives I’ve ever read about that moved me more were the lives of Jesus and the Apostle Paul. It can be hard to believe that such high-praise should be bestowed upon Liddell. Of course, the glory goes to God alone, but Liddell’s life is worthy of honor. One excerpt from Hamilton will have to suffice:
Skeptical questions are always going to be asked when someone is portrayed without apparent faults and also as the possessor of standards that appear so idealized and far-fetched to the rest of us. Liddell can sound too virtuous and too honorable to be true, as if those who knew him were either misremembering or consciously mythologizing. Not so. The evidence is too overwhelming to be dismissed as easily as that. Amid the myriad moral dilemmas in [the internment camp at] Weihsien, Liddell’s forbearance was remarkable. No one could ever recall a single act of envy, pettiness, hubris, or self-aggrandizement from him. He bad-mouthed nobody. He didn’t bicker. He lived daily by the most unselfish credo, which was to help others practically and emotionally.
12. Holiness by J.C. Ryle (read in 2019)
When it comes to poignant and powerful application of timeless truths, J.C. Ryle’s Holiness is peerless. I dare say that no other book comes close to applying the concept of holiness in a more practical and efficient way than this book. Ryle is a surgeon with the scalpel of God’s Word. His knowledge of the human condition is unequaled among authors today. With uncanny skill and precision he speaks to the condition of his readers’ hearts―whether in the 19th century or today. Every single chapter in this unequaled work is well worth the cost of the whole book, but the chapters on Moses, Lot, Lot’s wife, and love for Christ are in a league of their own. Holiness combines incredibly rich gospel truths with extremely relevant examples. It is at once profound and simple, sweeping in scope and searching in application.
- Introductory Essay to the Death of Death by J.I. Packer (read in 2007)
- The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur (read in 2008)
- Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer (read in 2008)
- Future Grace by John Piper (read in 2008)
- The Exemplary Husband by Stuart Scott (read in 2009)
- Love Your God with All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland (read in 2012)
- The Case for Classical Christian Education by Douglas Wilson (read in 2012)
- The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 (read in 2013)
- Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith by Greg Bahnsen (read in 2014)