The Best Books and Articles I Read While in School

Now that I’ve been out of school for nine months, I’ve had time to reflect on what books and articles I read that have profoundly influenced my life and thought.  Although pursuing theological education for seven years straight without much of a break has its difficulties, I am very thankful to God for allowing me that time to think deeply about his Word without interruption.  Of course, being married and having children require one to exercise discipline and prioritize one’s time, but I’m grateful that God has given me such a supportive wife.  That being said, on with the list!

In no particular order, here are the books that have influenced me greatly:

1.  A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God

I remember reading this book shortly after I moved back to Florida from Hawaii.  In each chapter Pink covers a different attribute of God, anchoring what he says with Scripture, and displaying its significance in the life of the believer.  The chapter on the sovereignty of God was particularly insightful, calling forth praise and thanks to God for his power and majesty.  Here are some of my favorite words in the book:

Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. None can thwart Him, none can hinder Him. . . .  Unrivalled in majesty, unlimited in power, unaffected by anything outside Himself. But we live in a day when even the most “orthodox” seem afraid to admit the proper Godhood of God.  They say that to press the sovereignty of God excludes human responsibility; whereas human responsibility is based on Divine sovereignty, and is the product of it.[1]

I’m thankful for this book because it showed me that there should be no difficulty for the believer to think deeply and praise God wholeheartedly.

  1. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

I read this while in seminary after both John Frame and Wayne Grudem said it should be required reading for every theological student.  I was not disappointed.  Machen shows that Christianity by its very nature is first of all doctrinal.  Thus, those who insist that Christianity is first of all a lifestyle are wrong.  The main contribution of the book is in Machen’s demonstration that liberalism is not just another version of Christianity; rather, it is a completely different religion.  There are a number of memorable lines in the book, but my favorite is this one: “[L]iberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.”[2]

3.  John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

I’m not really sure what I can say about John Calvin that hasn’t already been said.  During the time of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther referred to him as “The Theologian.”  Even though he didn’t use Calvin’s name, when he referred to “The Theologian” everyone knew who he was talking about.  Calvin’s theological acumen and exegetical ability are well known.  Sinclair Ferguson says that Calvin is essentially an exegetical theologian.  From what I’ve read of his Institutes I would say I have to agree.

4.  D. H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants.  Also see his “The Patristic Tradition as Canon,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 32 (2005): 357-379.

In the wake of many Protestants (and even Reformed Christians) becoming Roman Catholic, not a few evangelicals began to wonder why people were converting to Roman Catholicism.  While those who converted gave a number of reasons as to why they began to be attracted to Catholicism, a common theme was a longing for tradition and liturgy.  In Retrieving the Tradition Williams outlines how tradition has always been a part of Protestantism as well.  Luther and Calvin specifically believed Reformation-minded Christians should regularly recite the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds in their worship services.[3]  Sadly, this often doesn’t take place.  The reason why these creeds are important to Christians is because, as Williams intimates in his essay, “The Patristic Tradition as Canon,” they have universal agreement among all believers.  Since all Christians everywhere agree that the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed are biblical, they function as a sort of canon.  In sum, I appreciate all of Williams’ work because he shows the catholicity of Protestantism.

5.  Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine

Words cannot express how much this book means to me.  This was required reading in my last year of college in a class entitled “Classics in Christian Literature.”  Of all the books we had to read, this was by far my favorite.  The entire book was written in the form of a prayer.  Some of the most beautiful words come right at the beginning:

You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and to your wisdom there is no limit. And man, who is part of your creation, wishes to praise you, man who bears about within himself his mortality, who bears about within himself testimony to his sin and testimony that you resist the proud. Yet man, this part of your creation, wishes to praise you. You arouse him to take joy in praising you, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until is rests in you.[4]

This book is rightly considered a classic.

6.  John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist

This book has also greatly influenced my thinking.  Above all, after reading this work I became convinced that God was serious about me finding all my joy and satisfaction in him.  God cares about me delighting in him.  After all, Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD . . .”  The Psalmist declares, “Your testimonies are my heritage, for they are the joy of my heart.”  In the same Psalm, he says, “I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments” (Ps. 119:131).  The clear implication of these verses is that God not only wants us to believe in him but also find our delight and joy in him.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that one has not been truly born again unless one finds all of his or her joy and satisfaction in God.  Desiring God convinced me of this.

7.  John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!  The Supremacy of God in Missions

Following Christ means cherishing what Christ cherishes.  Since Christ is in the business of changing people and rescuing them from this perishing world, we must have a heart to see peoples’ lives changed by the gospel (Col. 1:21-22).  For some, that means going to foreign lands where there is no gospel witness; for others, that means supporting those who go.  But the bottom line is this: We all must be involved.  As Piper says, “Go, send, or disobey.”  No other option exists.  What is refreshing about Piper’s book is how God-centered it is.  He gives ample biblical support for the belief that the ultimate aim behind missions is the God-centeredness of God:

The ultimate foundation for our passion to see God glorified is his own passion to be glorified.  God is central and supreme in his own affections.  There are no rivals for the supremacy of God’s glory in his own heart.  God is not an idolater.  He does not disobey the first and great commandment.  With all his heart and soul and strength and mind he delights in the glory of his manifold perfections.  The most passionate heart for God in all the universe is God’s heart.[5]

8. D. A. Carson, “The Trials of Biblical Studies,” in The Trials of Theology: Becoming a      ‘Proven Worker’ in a Dangerous Business, ed. Andrew J. B. Cameron and Brian S. Rosner (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2010), 109-129.

“What shall it profit biblical scholars to become experts on Greek aspect theory and on the relationship between Jude and 2 Peter, and lose their own souls?” (p. 112).  That’s an important sentence in Carson’s essay.  We can learn a lot about the Bible and still lose our own souls.  Knowledge of the Bible (even Greek and Hebrew) does not necessarily mean spiritual growth.  To be sure, if we are followers of Christ our knowledge of the Bible should increase because we should be spending time with the Lord in prayer and study; but in this fallen world we cannot draw a one-to-one correspondence between someone’s knowledge of the Bible and personal, spiritual growth.  We simply cannot do that.  Sadly, there are many liberal theologians who know a lot more about the Bible and the fine points of theology than the average American Christian.  But despite the liberal theologian’s knowledge of the Bible, if he or she doesn’t repent, the only thing they can expect is “the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9).  Thus, pastors and students of theology must maintain a robust devotional life, be members of churches, and constantly feed themselves on the benefits of the promises, provisions, and perfections of Christ.  Worship must fill our hearts as we study the Scriptures, lest we fall prey to finding the Bible “familiar,” and “normal,” rather than being amazed by the surprising, rescuing, and transforming grace of God.

9.  Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First

In addition to being one of the most respected Christian historians in the world, McGrath is also an engaging writer.  I absolutely loved this book; I couldn’t put it down.  I read over fifty pages a day, and the book comes in at 478 pages of text.  Suffice to say, this is one of my favorite books on that covers the Reformation period to the present day.  I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

[1] A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 32-33.

[2] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 47.

[3] Brian Chappell, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 45, 52.

[4] Augustine, Confessions (trans. John K. Ryan; NY: Doubleday, 1960), 1.1.

[5] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), 39.


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