Books That Have Influenced Me Most
By John Piper (November 1993)
These, except for the Bible, are not in any order of priority but only in the order that they came to mind. I may well have forgotten some significant ones.
1. The Bible
There has been no period in my life as early as I can remember when I have not loved and longed to understand the Bible. And there is no way to estimate the enormity of its impact on the shape of my life and thought.
2. a. Hermeneutics by Daniel Fuller (unpublished), b. The Unity of the Bible by Daniel Fuller (Zondervan, 1991)
The influence of these two books is indistinguishable from the influence of Dr.. Fuller as a living teacher. Through these two books and his teaching I found my way into a method of biblical theology which has been immeasurably fruitful both in the scholarly and spiritual dimensions of my life. He taught me the importance of seeing what is there, the importance of asking hard questions, the importance of seeking unity in theology and the importance of a Spirit-given, docile, humility before the text of Scripture.
3. Validity in Interpretation by E.D. Hirsch (Yale U. Press, 1967).
From this book I cam to believe very strongly in the real possibility of rethinking another person’s thoughts after him. This meant that “meaning”, defined as what an author willed to communicate, was a discoverable reality outside my own consciousness. This confidence provided for me a thrilling incentive to read what great thinkers have written, because it meant that I might be able to actually understand and appropriate what they thought. The possibilities for growth still seem unlimited on the basis of what I learned from Hirsch.
4. How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren (Simon and Schuster, 1972).
While Hirsch gave me the philosophical foundation for the task and hope of reading for understanding, Adler provided for me the methodological superstructure for carrying out the task. It is a beautifully written book and is eminently reasonable and full of common sense wisdom. Perhaps the most stimulating thing about it was the challenge it gave to stretch my mind by reading books which are harder than I can presently handle. Doesn’t it make sense that, if we are to grow in our understanding and in our ability to reason clearly and deeply, then we must try to read those “great books” which go beyond our present ability to fully comprehend? So Adler gave me great encouragement to get on with the business of enlarging my understanding and my appreciation of things that great men have thought and written.
5. Books by C.S. Lewis
I discovered C.S. Lewis through Mere Christianity my freshman year in college. Since then I have read over 20 books by Lewis. He has had a tremendous influence on me in several ways.
1) He has made me wary of chronological snobbery. That is, he has shown me that “newness” is no virtue and “oldness” is no fault. Truth and beauty and goodness are not determined by when they exist. Nothing is inferior for being old and nothing is valuable for being modern. This has freed me from the tyranny of novelty and opened for me the wisdom of the ages. He said one: every third book you read should be from outside your own (provincial) century.
2) He demonstrated for me and convinced me that rigorous, precise, penetrating logic is not inimical to deep, soul-stirring feeling and vivid, lively, even playful imagination. He was a “romantic rationalist.” He combined what almost everybody today assumes are mutually exclusive: rationalism and poetry, cool logic and warm feeling, disciplined prose and free imagination. In shattering these old stereotypes for me, he freed me to think hard and to write poetry, to argue for the resurrection and compose hymns to Christ, to smash an argument and hug a friend, to demand a definition and use a metaphor.
3) Finally, Lewis has given (and continues to give) me an intense sense of the “realness” of things. This is hard to communicate. To wake up in the morning and to be aware of the firmness of the mattress, the warmth of the sun rays, the sound of the clock ticking, the sheer being of things (quidity as he calls it). He helped me become alive to life. He helped me to see what is there in the world–things which if we didn’t have them, we would pay a million dollars to have, but having them, ignore. He convicts me of my insensitivity to beauty. He convicts me of my callous inability to enjoy God’s daily gifts. He helps me to awaken my dazing soul so that the realities of life and of God and heaven and hell are seen and felt.
Among the books I have read and enjoyed with much profit are: Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, Miracles, Pilgrim’s Regress, Poems, Letters to an American Lady, Letters of C.S. Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (cf. The other 6 Narnia books),Perelandra, Out of the Silent Planet, That Hideous Strength, Christian Reflections, Experiment in Criticism, God in the Dock, The Four Loves, The Weight of Glory, A Mind Awake(anthology ed. by C.. Kilby).
6. Books by Jonathan Edwards
Along with Daniel Fuller and C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards ranks as a dominant influence upon my thought and upon my devotion. I think I was attracted to him for the same reason I was attracted to C.S. Lewis. One day while I was in seminary, Dr. Fuller got upset in class because some student said we were being too rational and that this was damaging to faith and devotion to God. Fuller retorted that he saw no reason why the two should be inimical to each other, that is, rationality and warm devotion. In the process of defending this, and as my heart was beating fast with pleasure and expectation, Fuller said: “Jonathan Edwards could move easily from lucid, complex logical argument into a devotional style that would warm your grandmother’s heart.” That was all I needed; I was off to the library to find the hidden treasure.
Edwards is a giant intellectually and worked as hard as anyone has, probably, to solve some of the hardest theological problems. To make it your aim to understand Jonathan Edwards is to set one of the highest and most fruitful theological goals possible. I have plodded along in pursuit of this goal for years and the effort has been rewarded one hundred-fold in profundity of theological, ethical, psychological insight. But more than that, Edwards has ushered me closer into the presence of God than any other writer has. He has done this by depicting God in a way so authentic and so powerful that to read and understand is to experience the Reality beyond the description. Edwards has been there where few of us ever get to go in this life and he has sought and found words that, for me at leas, not only inform but transport. Penetrating logic and spiritual responses of the affections mingle in Edwards like branch and fruit, fire and heat, pain and weeping. They are inextricably wed. It is impossible to have understood Edwards and ever to be satisfied again with “rationalism” or with “enthusiasm.” Logic and affection are happily married in the healthy heart of Jonathan Edwards.
The most influential book was Freedom of the Will which, so far as I know, has not been shown wrong. It’s thesis is that “God’s moral government over mankind, his treating them as moral agents, making them the object of his commands, counsels, calls, warnings, expostulations, promises, threatenings, rewards and punishment is not inconsistent with a determining disposal of all events, of every kind, throughout the universe, in his providence; either by positive efficiency, or permission.”
Next to this in shaping my thought would be his Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World. Here both reason and an amazing plethora of Scriptures are amassed to demonstrate that God makes Himself the end of all his acts in creation and redemption. “All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works, is included in that one phrase, THE GLORY OF GOD.” Along with Dr. Fuller’s Unity of the Bible this book has caused many things to fall into place for me.
The other works I have read in the order of their impact are Religious Affections, The Nature of True Virtue, Unpublished Essay on the Trinity, The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended, Charity and its Fruits, and other sermons.
7. Books by George Ladd
In understanding the theology unique to the New Testament no one has influenced me more than George Ladd. This is true especially concerning the message of Jesus and the message of Paul and how they have a unified view of redemptive history. From Ladd’s books, A Theology of the New Testament and The Presence of the Future, I came to appreciate the centrality of the coming of God’s Kingdom into history in advance of its apocalyptic manifestation at the end of history. “Fulfillment without consummation”, as Ladd puts it is the “mystery of the Kingdom” which we as believers are given to know. The essence of Christianity is “the already”. The center of history is in the past. The decisive battle has been won against Satan. It was fought in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We now live in a tension as Christians for we are delivered from this present evil age and have our citizenship in heave, but we are not yet perfected and the flesh, the world and Satan are not yet wholly abolished. Therefore we are more than conquerors but we still must fight.
Many others might have taught me this (Oscar Cullmann, Geerdhardus Vos, etc.) but in the providence of God I learned it best from George Ladd and I am deeply grateful to him for his labor in study and writing.
8. Other authors
There have no doubt been many other books that have influenced me, some of which I can’t even remember. Authors like G.K. Chesterton, William Wordsworth, Paul Tournier, John Calvin, Leonhard Goppelt, Bill Piper (my father), Stuart Hackett and Clyde Kilby still come to my mind. But such a list begins to be too inclusive to be useful.
Nor, in conclusion, do I want to leave the impression that reading many books is important. Reading great books and reading them well is what is important. Meditative reading, reading which stops and ponders, reading which sees deep into reality – that is the kind of reading which profits. That kind of reading should never end for you. Growth and stimulation and transformation will never end for you. You will be in the company of the greatest minds and hearts for the rest of your life, and you will become their peers if you read for understanding and for life.
* By John Piper. ©Desiring God. Website: http://www.desiringGod.org. Email: mail@desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 888.346.4700.
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