My “Journal Books”: A Reading List

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Some books on my shelf function like journals.  I can remember who recommended it, where I read certain sections of it, and how it changed specific aspects of my life.  The best books I have read are books that read me.  They inform my thoughts, change my feelings, and adjust my actions.  God has used many authors and many books in my life, but these are the ones that have had the “journal-effect” from middle-school onward.  

Middle School

Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis.  I believe I was in 8th grade when I read this book for the first time, and reread every year I was in high school.  This was the book God used to help me begin to “own” my faith, and grow in my confidence that the Christian faith isn’t just good, but also true – which is what makes it the most beautiful news any person can hear.  This book also is what inspired me to begin writing.  Lewis’ clarity, beauty, and depth are remarkable and inspired me to want to give my life to sharing this faith that Lewis communicated so beautifully.  

High School

Don’t Waste Your Life – John Piper.  This book had an explosive impact on my life my freshman year of high school.  Piper gave me an all-encompassing vision of the Christian life and an all-satisfying vision of Jesus Christ that changed me forever.  Like many, his chapter “Boasting Only In the Cross” wrecked me in the best way – I can still quote sentences from it.

Jesus Among Other Gods – Ravi Zacharias.  I was first introduced to Ravi Zacharias through his preaching ministry, and was deeply struck by his ability to communicate the truth of Christ with conviction and compassion.  He knew when to be sharp, and knew when to be gentle.  This book contained that same flavor that first attracted me to him, and informed the way I did evangelism in my relationships.

The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis.  This is a strange book, which is what made it so memorable and compelling for me.  It opened my eyes to the reality that spiritual warfare is not primarily a reality of hobgoblins and goosebumps, but rather a war for our thoughts, desires, and loyalties that happen when we gossip with friends, indulge in anger, and immerse ourselves in worldliness.  This book will make you vigilant over your soul and sensitive to the serpents schemes.  

College

Future Grace – John Piper.  When I was in college, I almost walked away from the Christian faith as a result of severe depression and doubt.  God used this book to anchor me to his Word, refine me, and give me a deeper trust in his promises.  This book changed and shaped the way I view the process of sanctification in the Christian life, and daily influences the way I fight sin and strive for holiness.  

Total Truth – Nancy Pearcey.  If I am asked what is the best book on apologetics, I say this book instantly.  Pearcey argues for the Christian worldview as a comprehensive one that gives reasonable and compelling answers to all the objections the world brings its way.  She demonstrates a confidence in God’s Word that I want to mark my ministry and life.  

The Things of Earth – Joe Rigney.  Ever since I read Don’t Waste Your Life, I struggled to find the balance of living a radical life for Christ and resisting worldliness, while still enjoying things like ice cream, laughing with friends, and going on vacation.  Joe Rigney calls them “the things of earth”  This book expanded my view of what it means to live faithfully toward God while also enjoying his gifts.  If you read Don’t Waste Your Life, read this book right after it.  

Do More Better – Tim Challies.  I love thinking about and practicing the best productivity methods.  I read Matt Perman’s “What’s Best Next?” and loved it, but found it difficult to recommend to busy Mom’s, men with full-time jobs, and even college students.  Challies’ “Do More Better” explains basic productivity methods from a God-centered lens – and he does it in under 100 pages!  I’d recommend this to any student beginning college or to a man at the beginning of marriage.  

This Summer

The Reason for God – Tim Keller.  I have been hearing about this book for years, and finally picked up an old copy and am reading a few pages before bed every night.  I’m about halfway through and have found this book compelling, creative, and winsome.  Keller is clear and profound and, in my opinion, very convincing.  I would give this book to any skeptic I know to begin conversations about spiritual things.  Keller speaks the language of our culture.

A Pastor’s Sketches – Icabod Spencer.  I’m finding that this book has not been widely read by many pastor’s today, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  Icabod Spencer was a pastor in Brooklyn in the 1800s and has recorded two volumes of his conversations with people inquiring about the Christian faith.  Spencer’s sensitivity to people, commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture, and pastoral concern for others is imitable.  

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874-1965.  I’m almost finished listening to the second volume of William Manchester’s magisterial portrait of Churchill.  All the leaders I respect have been influenced in some way by Churchill.  Obviously, Churchill is a very flawed man, but his influence in WWII and his vision, foresight, and courage in the face of evil is remarkable and inspiring.


Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017).

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