Christian Books That Have Shaped My Theology

Anyone who has heard my testimony knows that as a child I was greatly interested in God and the whole concept of one person paying the penalty for another. I do not know if it is because I was teased when I was young or not but I have always loved the idea of someone stronger and greater coming to the rescue of one that could not stand up for himself. I have always been intrigued by stories where the underdog wins or the good guys win against disheartening odds. Needless to say, with these types of interests, I was ripe for the picking when it came to God calling me to salvation (yes, I know that is a very Calvinistic statement, but let’s leave that to another post).

To this end, Providence seems to have constantly brought me in contact with works of literature that have a spiritual nature to them. From the time I was in primary school until now I have loved (mostly nonfictional) books about the attributes or activities of God. So I thought I would lay out here the books that I feel most shaped my theology. Also I hope this list may be helpful for people who may be looking for materials to deepen their walk. And please, if any of you would like to contribute to the list, share the love by leaving a comment. I have attempted to put them in the order that I read them, if my memory does not fail me.

My Book of Bible Stories

This book was given to me early in elementary school. At this time I had not gone to church much. So I knew, basically, nothing. I could not even quote John 3:16, I don’t believe. But my a friend of mine gave me the book (and he wrote my name on the front page). This friend, I discovered years later, was a Jehovah’s Witness and the book was published by the Watchtower organization. However looking back my theology was not hurt any by this. The only thing that really stuck out was this: the book was illustrated and the drawing which depicted the crucifixion had Christ on a stake rather than a cross. But despite this I learned many, many Bible stories before I ever went to church regularly. From this book I first learned about Cain and Abel, Sodom and Gomorrah, the three Hebrew boys, the Flood, Jeremiah, and of course the horrors of the crucifixion of our Lord.

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

I read this book years later when I was in college. Lyndsay’s mother gave it to me. It is one that has ministered to her for years. Brother Lawrence was a 17th century monk who, before being transformed by the love of God, was a soldier and mystic named Nicholas Herman. His days in the monastery were spent in the kitchen doing menial tasks. Yet in these tasks he sought to live each day in the presence of God by having a constant open line of communication with the Father. This book is partly his memoirs and partly a biography about him done by a friend. This book was given to my at a critical time in my life and was pivotal in my grasping the concept that God…hears…me!

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

After I married Lyndsay in 2000, she began to harp on me about reading the Chronicles of Narnia. I was vaguely familiar with the books on account of a television production I had seen of some of the stories on video (the episodes were from a series made for public television). I finally gave in and I discovered the world of C.S. Lewis. I would never be the same. It was these simple, but powerful stories that opened me up to read Lewis’s nonfiction works. The most amazing episode in the entire series was Aslan’s death on the Stone Table. I knew the story of Christ’s atoning death for sinful man, but to see it in this new setting with a slightly different looking savior, made me look at the cross again in a sobering way. I learned a different lesson from each story. From Prince Caspian I learned that God’s plan for our lives can only be thwarted by our cowardice and lack of faith to let Him bring it to pass. From The Horse and His Boy I understood more of what the Apostle Paul meant when he penned 1 Corinthians 1:27. And The Silver Chair taught me a lesson in obedience.

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

This is another oldie written in the 17th century. It is an allegory who’s main character Christian is making his way to the Celestial City. Along the way he faces obstacles and temptations and relies on the power of Christ to overcome them. As I read Pilgrim’s Progress, simple as it is, I was able to meditate on the areas of my life that create obstacles to my reaching the Celestial City. The most powerful part of the story to me is a vision of a palace that Christian was shown at the House of the Interpreter:

Then the Interpreter took him, and led him up towards the door of the palace; and behold, at the door stood a great company of men, as desirous to go in; but durst not. There also sat a man at a little distance from the door, at a table-side, with a book and his inkhorn before him, to take the name of him that should enter therein; he saw also, that in the doorway stood many men in armour to keep it, being resolved to do the men that would enter what hurt and mischief they could. Now was Christian somewhat in amaze. At last, when every man started back for fear of the armed men, Christian saw a man of a very stout countenance come up to the man that sat there to write, saying, Set down my name, Sir: the which when he had done, he saw the man draw his sword, and put a helmet upon his head, and rush toward the door upon the armed men, who laid upon him with deadly force; but the man, not at all discouraged, fell to cutting and hacking most fiercely. So after he had received and given many wounds to those that attempted to keep him out, he cut his way through them all [Acts 14:22], and pressed forward into the palace, at which there was a pleasant voice heard from those that were within, even of those that walked upon the top of the palace, saying–

“Come in, come in;
Eternal glory thou shalt win.”

So he went in, and was clothed with such garments as they. Then Christian smiled and said; I think verily I know the meaning of this.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I am not sure if Lewis would call this his magnum opus , but in my book (forgive the pun) it must be. This is the first of ol’ Jack’s nonfiction that I was ever exposed to. I suppose that what took me so long to get around to this great book was the false impression that his theological works were “too deep” (if there is such a thing). But his writing, though not simple, is quite easy to follow and I have been greatly rewarded in my life by reading Mere Christianity. He covers so many topics the most important of which is absolute truth and right and wrong. But he also covers Christian marriage and the many facets of Christian behavior. This book made me think more about absolute truth and the fact that some things are just wrong. And that idea of “just wrong” comes from a great truth outside of ourselves or even outside of the cosmos. The result of reading this book has impacted everything from the type of advice I give people to how I vote.

Wild at Heart by John Eldredge

Though not a theology book per se, God used Wild at Heart to show me the reason for many of the barriers to a deeper relationship with Him that I had perceived in my life. Most notably father-son issues. Having not had a father at home, I grew up with a sense that God was far away. The wisdom of Eldredge greatly ministered to me in this area. Furthermore, Wild at Heart is about men rediscovering the purpose for which they were created. They are the protectors, the warriors, the rescuers. They bear the image of God as a father, a provider and a defender, but man have abandoned this role because the church has emasculated them. This book helped me to see and recapture this about myself.

End Times Fiction by Gary DeMar

This book by DeMar challenged me to re-evaluate how I viewed eschatology particularly in light of the Left Behind series. End Times Fiction taught me to study each book of the Bible (especially Revelation) in light of its intended audience, historical context, and spiritual significance to the ones to whom it was written. I emerged from reading this work with a very different view of the future, the present and prophecy. I encourage anyone to read this book and to be willing to reconsider what they believe and see if it truly lines up with the teaching of scripture.

Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace

I admit that I cheated with Ben-Hur. I watched the movie a couple of years before I read the book. This was a grave mistake on my part. I wished that I had read this classic so much sooner. To follow the life of Judah Ben-Hur is to understand that God never forgets His people and that His sheep hear His voice. Furthermore the amazing faith shown by the characters who love God is inspiring. Though Judah’s bitterness caused him to forget God, his Heavenly Father was always calling to Judah. There were many times that I just stopped during the reading of this book and thanked God for His providence and sovereignty and for working in my life.

Humility by C.J. Mahaney

I read Humility earlier this year. When I saw it in the store of the New Attitude conference, I knew it would be one that would greatly benefit me. Pride is my greatest vice. Mahaney encouraged me to consider how great is the God that I serve. When He saved me, I had nothing to offer to the Lord of the cosmos. Everything good that I had ever tried to accomplish was like filthy rags. Humility is the key to walking in the grace and favor of God: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit (Isa. 66:2, ESV).” It is hard not to humble myself when I consider the life from which God saved me:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!

Josh H.


2 Responses to “Christian Books That Have Shaped My Theology”

  1. 1 kev
    October 23, 2007 at 8:54 am

    As someone who is beginning to (finally) read books that do not pertain to finance or sports in any way, this list should come in very handy. Thanks!

    I have read only one book (“Wild at Heart”) on this list. Scratch that, I read “Pilgrim’s Progress” as a child in school. But that was so long ago I remember very little about it.

  2. 2 Clay
    October 23, 2007 at 8:57 am

    Great selection of books there, Josh. I’ve read several of those and second their impact on my worldview. I haven’t been a big book reader, but the ones I do read are typically theology monsters.

    Providence does have a way of bringing the right books along, huh? I wouldn’t say your comment was Calvinistic… rather, Biblical. And then Calvinistic ;). Nothing wrong with that…

    From my experience, I would add:

    Desiring God by John Piper — completely challenged everything I believed about God and the way I thought about my faith.

    Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul — the first book I read by choice once I entered College. Definitely shaped my theology.

    One thing that I love about both of these books is the quantity of scripture included for Biblical accuracy. And they aren’t snippets of verses from 16 different versions tailored to fit what they’re saying…

    If you haven’t read Desiring God, it is a must read. There’s no way around it.

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