To begin the fifth year of “The Benediction Project” I’d like to write about the fifteen books that have been most used by God to shape me into the person I am today. Perhaps one or more of these works will be helpful to you at some time or another. These are not necessarily the books that I turn to frequently in my life now. Most of them sit on my bookshelves as quiet knowing friends—powerful reminders of their service to me in years past.
Nor are these the books that I would put on this list if I wanted to impress you. In that case I would designate books that are classics, such as Augustine’s “Confessions,” Calvin’s “Institutes” and Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship.” But the books I include in my list have actually changed or reinforced something major in me, sometimes because they were the first books to introduce me to an important truth or way of thinking. They are thus “life-changing” in this sense, not because they are necessarily the “best books” or are famous works that have greatly influenced large numbers of men and women.
I will cover the first four books in this posting and the others in subsequent postings. In these pieces I will omit works on the Hebrew and Greek languages. While my study of these languages has shaped my life and thought in major ways, I am omitting these biblical language materials because of the non-specialized nature of this blog.
1. “30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary,” by Wilfred Funk and Norman Lewis (Pocket Books). When I was a junior or senior in high school I bought this paperback for 25 cents. It introduced me to the romance of words and confirmed my love of the English language, and all languages. Through the daily exercises I learned such terms as parvenu, megalomaniac, and esprit de corps that have stayed with me all my life, and enriched my reading, writing and imagination immensely.
2. “Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary.” When I began my freshman year of college, this was one of the required textbooks I had to buy. I have learned that a good dictionary is one of the most valuable tools one will ever have. I especially appreciate the attention to pronunciations, derivations and categories and subcategories based on the use of words. A dictionary that includes synonyms and expressions containing the given word are especially helpful. Though I now use dictionaries different from the one named above, it strengthened my life and ministry immeasurably. I still love to read a good dictionary, and I have never (well, almost never) considered it a waste of time to check on the spelling or usage of a word when I am not sure. I used to tell my theology students that theology is all about words (sometimes “just” about prepositions), so understand clearly what you mean by the word, and what the other person means by the word, before you get into a discussion in which the term plays a major role. There might be more light and less heat in the discussion.
3. “The Holy Bible.” The Christian Bible, especially in the language one is most familiar with, is without the slightest doubt in my mind the most important and therefore most valuable book one can ever own. But, as one of my teachers often said, “The Bible is burglar–proof against unsanctified learning.” The Bible will make little or no spiritual sense to those who attempt to understand it without a desire to know the truth (I Corinthians 2:14).
In high school I heard that everyone who wishes to be well-read and successful in life should read the Bible. I started at Genesis 1:1 and found myself bored almost to tears. It was only by sheer determination that I read to the end of Genesis. But, years later, after God had awakened my heart to seek him, I devoured the Bible over and over. I love every book of the Bible, but the book of Acts and the New Testament epistles (Romans to Jude), being totally new to me, were especially a fountain of truth and light about how to know God and live a meaningful life. I suggest the NIV (New International Version) and the NIV Study Bible. Try to get a Bible with cross-references in the margins, possible alternative translations and study materials in the footnotes.
4. “When the Spirit Came,” by James Alexander Stewart (Revival Literature). This little book (87 pp.) was given to me as a new Christian, at the age of nineteen, by the church I started attending after my conversion and in which I was later ordained. The wording on the front cover summarizes the book well: “The Story of Evan Roberts and The Welsh Revival.” Perhaps it should say, “and the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905,” since there was also a great revival in Wales in 1859.
God used this book to create in me a lifelong interest in revival and revivals. I simply cannot express here how the book stirred me and gave me a deep thirst, to this day, to see the power and glory of God revealed in diverse meetings and whole communities as these were in 1904-1905. The author frequently distinguishes between a spontaneous work of God in revival and a planned and prepared evangelistic campaign or series of “deeper-life” meetings. This book has to do with spontaneous revival. Evan Roberts was only one—though the most prominent—of the young men and women God used in this unplanned, unpredictable and unadvertised series of gatherings. According to the author, this was a revival for young people (Roberts was only 26), a revival of singing, a revival of prayer (mingled largely with praise), a revival of soul-winning, and a revival of personal experience. Tens of thousands came to know Christ as Savior, and great numbers of believers were drawn closer to him. Communities were transformed. The prison population decreased remarkably. Even in the universities revival scenes were commonplace day after day for months. “Longstanding debts were paid, stolen goods returned, drinking taverns forsaken, oaths ceased to be heard so that it was said in the mines the horses could not understand the language of their drivers.” O Lord, let the fire fall! Come, Holy Spirit, come!