From time to time over the years I would finish a book and think, “That’s got to be one of the top ten books I’ve ever read!” And then I’d think, “Someday I’m going to make a list of the top ten books, besides the Bible, that I’ve ever read.” Well, today’s the day. I’m going to make an attempt to compile a list of books and tell you why they have meant so much to me.
But I have to tell you, this article is a fraud. There’s more than ten books on this list. As I started thinking back over the wonderful books I’ve read over the past forty-plus years, I thought, “How am I ever going to whittle the list down to just ten?” There are many other wonderful books in my library that are not on this list. But these are the books that came first to my mind as having impacted my life and ministry in meaningful ways. I ended up with thirteen books. That’s one for each of the twelve apostles, plus the Apostle Paul. (At least, that’s my feeble justification for going over ten.)
So here they are, in as close to the order I encountered them as I can remember.
1. Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volume 1 – Josh McDowell
I bought my first copy of this book in the bookstore of my alma mater, Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. In my teen years I had a lot of questions about the Christian faith. Instead of looking for the answers to my questions, I just ignored them. That led me to not take my faith very seriously. After God dealt with me in my late teens and brought me back to Himself, I began to look seriously at the questions I’d had. To my great delight, I found that you don’t have to check your brain at the door in order to be a Christian, and there are solid, satisfying answers to real questions about the Christian faith. This book, written by a former atheist, is a fantastic resource that gathers a lot of information into a very concise, organized format. The book has been updated, and I have a digital copy of the updated version. But the original edition of Volume 1 will always hold a special place in my heart. I still consult it to this day.
2. How to Speak So People Will Listen – Ronald L. Willingham
This book was the textbook for our Practice Preaching class in college. The class and this book emphasized the practical things about standing up in front of others to speak. There were other classes and books about how to study the Bible and structure a sermon, but this book focused on practical matters. I learned a lot from the course and this book, and I still use the things I learned from this book every week when I speak.
3. Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be – LeRoy Eims
LeRoy Eims served with The Navigators organization for over 50 years, and anything he wrote is worth reading. This book was my introduction to him, and it’s a wonderful explanation of the spiritual qualifications for leadership. But the last chapter on “Communication” contains some of the best advice I’ve ever read about how to structure a sermon or a talk. I had more-or-less arrived at the same conclusions on my own, but Eims stated things more clearly and concisely than I had. And the book answered my questions about “How many illustrations do I use, and when do I use them?” Every week I still use the wonderful, practical advice contained in this book when I prepare my messages.
4. Talk Thru the Bible – Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa
This book is actually the printed form of the Walk Thru the Bible seminars that are still being put on by the Walk Thru the Bible organization. My wife and I attended both the Old Testament and New Testament seminars in the late 1970s, and they were so informative and so much fun! It was eye-opening to me to have someone give me a grand overview of the complete story of the Bible. I got a taste of this in Bible college, but this material made it clearer than I had ever seen it before. I have many other books that give an overview of the Bible, but the material in these seminars and in this book really made an impact on me.
5. How to Win Over Worry – John Edmund Haggai
Come on, you’ve got to love a book by a guy with the name “Haggai”! This little paperback is an application of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4:4-7. It really made that passage come alive for me, and it tackled the topic of worry in such a helpful way. And when you’re a pastor in your mid-twenties, with a young wife and two small children, you need help in dealing with worry!
6. The Great Doctrines of the Bible – William Evans
Dr. Evans was the head of the Bible department at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and then was the dean of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (later called Biola University). He also directed and spoke at Bible conferences all over North America. Dr. Evans summarized the major teachings of the Bible into ten divisions. Though I don’t use exactly the headings he did, this is still how I present what the Bible teaches. You can think of it as five person-centered teachings (the doctrines of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels and Man) and five idea-centered teachings (the doctrines of the Scriptures, sin, salvation, the church and last things or prophecy). A doctrine is simply what the Bible teaches on a given topic. These major doctrines are like the great joists that support a roof. They are the rock-ribs of our faith, and Dr. Evans gave us such a wonderful reference work summing them all up.
7. Spurgeon, Heir of the Puritans – Ernest W. Bacon
This little book (177 pages) was the first biography of 19th century pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon that I ever read. It wasn’t the last. I now have eight biographies of this great preacher (not counting shorter articles), and I’m currently reading the biography of his wife, Susannah. Spurgeon’s ministry was phenomenally blessed by God, and there will never be another like him. Not even his own sons, Thomas and Charles Jr., had a ministry approaching that of their father’s. But Spurgeon’s commitments to the Bible, to clearly proclaiming the Gospel and to exalting the Lord Jesus Christ have challenged my heart and put fire in my soul. Even if my ministry’s impact is only a tiny fraction of his, I still want to have the same faithful commitments to the Scriptures, the Gospel and to the Lord Jesus Christ that he had. Someday I hope I get to visit his grave. If I do, I think I’ll just stand there and cry.
8. Walking With the Giants – Warren Wiersbe
This is a collection of short biographies of famous preachers (including Charles Spurgeon) that were originally printed as articles in the old Moody Monthly magazine. Dr. Wiersbe was a Baptist preacher who eventually pastored the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. He wrote many books, including commentaries on every book of the Bible. He also wrote several books for pastors, and encouraging preachers was close to his heart. He sure encouraged me.
By the early 1990s I had become very disillusioned with the ministry. The difficulties, the disappointments, and the never-ending stream of criticisms and people-problems made me wish I had a way out. I decided (without praying about it) that I would leave the full-time ministry. I applied for and was offered a job selling guitars at a music store in Terre Haute. I thought I could get God to leave me alone if I filled pulpits in churches on weekends. After accepting the job, I spent a sleepless night in deep unrest about what I was going to do, , and in the morning I called my friend Pastor Glen Lockwood. He asked me, “David, if God has called you to preach, why would you want to go sell guitars?” I called the music store back and told them I couldn’t take the job.
I’d had Wiersbe’s book Walking With the Giants for some time, but I got it down off the shelf and began reading it again, a little every day. And God used that book to rekindle a love for the ministry in my heart. After I heard Dr. Wiersbe speak one year at Moody Bible Institute’s Pastors Conference, I got to tell him all this personally and had him sign my copy of his book. Walking With the Giants is no longer in print, but much of the material it contains has been combined with some his other books and is now published as 50 People Every Christian Should Know. It contains the biographies of prominent Christian men and women. I owe Warren Wiersbe a great debt of gratitude for this book, and I am so thankful to God for it.
9. The Grace Awakening – Charles Swindoll
I came from a fairly strict independent Baptist background. I owe the independent Baptists a great deal of gratitude for telling me about Jesus and educating me in the faith. But there was also a fair amount of harshness, legalistic attitudes, and a lack of love that was exhibited, sometimes.
Baptists aren’t the only ones who are plagued with these things. I’d heard Chuck Swindoll preach many times on the radio over the years. He could really “eat my lunch” with his sermons, but his laughter was so infectious and such a breath of fresh air! He published this book in 1990, and when I read it, it seemed put down in print all the things I’d experienced in moving away from legalism over the previous few years. The cover of the book said “Believing in grace is one thing. Living it is another.” Swindoll said he thought it may have been the most important book he ever wrote. I think he was right. It is a clarion call to shed legalism and judgmentalism, and live joyfully in the grace of God, just as God intended.
10. If God Is in Charge… – Steve Brown
When my kids were teenagers, having their dad be their pastor was kind of a drag for them sometimes, I think. I’d drive them to school in the morning and turn on the local Christian radio station. There was a 15-minute program that was on during our short ride to school, and it had a guy with the deepest bass voice I’ve ever heard. But he was no gas-bag, and he made hamburger out of more sacred cows than anybody since Swindoll’s book on grace. I could tell my kids were listening, and I wrote him to say that I thought if it weren’t for him my kids might have chucked this whole Christianity thing. To my surprise, he wrote me back. So I wrote him again, and he wrote me back again. That started a correspondence that has now gone on for about thirty years, and transferred over to email along the way.
Steve told me once that he wrote the same book over and over. He says that he is called to tell God’s people that God isn’t mad at them, even when they mess up, and if we’ll just come to him, He will hug us and clean us up again. Steve teaches the grace of God in such a wonderful, freeing way. And I’ve quoted him so much, I sometimes wonder if I have any original thoughts. He asked me once if he could quote something I said in one of his books. I said, “Are you kidding? I’ve quoted you so many times, I’m sure I owe you royalties!” So he did quote me in one of his books. If you want, I’ll show it to you sometime. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to being published.
11. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith – Iain H. Murray
I know this is cheating because this is two volumes. But I heard Alistair Begg say once that no preacher’s education is complete until he has read this two-volume biography. So I bought it (at $40 per volume! Ouch!), and I read it. And the life and ministry of this “little Welsh preacher” (as he referred to himself) made such a deep impression on me. It helped to keep me out of some of the traps of ministry in these modern times, and encouraged me to keep going. My wife says that someday in heaven she’s going to thank Lloyd-Jones for all the encouragement his life has given me. I also got to meet this author, Iain Murray, at a conference at Alistair Begg’s church one year near Cleveland, and he graciously signed the first volume of my copy of his book.
preacher’s education is complete until he has read this two-volume biography. So I bought it (at $40 per volume! Ouch!), and I read it. And the life and ministry of this “little Welsh preacher” (as he referred to himself) made such a deep impression on me. It helped to keep me out of some of the traps of ministry in these modern times, and encouraged me to keep going. My wife says that someday in heaven she’s going to thank Lloyd-Jones for all the encouragement his life has given me. I also got to meet this author, Iain Murray, at a conference at Alistair Begg’s church one year near Cleveland, and he graciously signed the first volume of my copy of his book.
12. The Unseen Realm – Michael S. Heiser
This is one of several fine books recommended to me by my friend, Dr. Keith Gaddis. I had been praying that God would restore to me the joy of His salvation (to quote Psalm 51:12). Dr. Heiser’s book is subtitled Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, and it absolutely knocked my socks off! It shows the Bible to be what it really is: the grandest epic story that there ever was, and grander than them all because it is true! It ties the Bible together in such a beautiful, breathtaking way. It makes sense of some of the Bible’s stranger passages, and opens your eyes to such a broader, grander view of what God is doing. It doesn’t change the Gospel or anything we believe, but it’s like going from watching a small black-and-white television from the 1960s to a modern high-definition large screen TV. It’s all still there, but in such stunning detail like you’ve probably not seen before. It makes me see like never before something Steve Brown said: “This thing is a whole lot bigger than they’ve been telling us!” It really is. I wrote to Dr. Heiser to express my gratitude to him for his book. He wrote me back and invited me to come shake his hand at a conference he was to speak at in Illinois. Then along came the COVID shutdown…Ah, well. I still hope to meet him someday.
There it is: my list of the ten…er, twelve…okay, thirteen most important books I’ve ever read outside of the Bible. The list looks a little different now than it would have in the Eighties or Nineties. And no doubt it’ll look a little different in the future. Steve Brown keeps writing new books, and Keith Gaddis keeps recommending great books for me to read. I’ll never be able to settle into a jaded and complacent old age if they keep this up!
I hope they do.
Soli Deo Gloria!