"We still live in a free country, but it is mostly books that make it free." (W. Gairdner)
“We still live in a free country, but it is mostly books that make it free.”
I think there is a lot of truth to the above statement made by the Canadian author, William Gairdner, in the preface to his book, The Trouble with Canada. The biggest reason I think it's true is because of the profound impact of the greatest book, the Bible, upon humanity. It not only tells us plainly how the world got into the mess it's in but thankfully it tells us how to get out of it: “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV). In my view, the Bible is the only book that was directly inspired by God. The letter of II Timothy in the Bible actually states: “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (II Tim. 3:16). And the letter of II Peter describes the production of the Bible with these words: “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21). You might say: Well, that’s just its own self-attestation, so that doesn’t count. Okay, then read it for yourself and see what conclusion you arrive at. Is it inspired by God or not?
Other books have had great impact on the world as well. Below are my brief comments on some that have impacted me. Most of them have significantly influenced my understanding in a positive way.
I’ve heard it said that you can learn quite a bit about a person by the books he or she has read. That probably applies to me as well.
Finally, of the books on the craft of writing that I’ve read recently, they all underscore a consistent need: writers must read. That’s not only where you're going to learn from how others write, but reading replenishes the well of your own creativity. ~~~ I limit my selections to five books under most categories, with the clear exception being the “Theological” because that category has been the one that I’ve read the most in by far.
With these books, I note the title, the author, and year of publication or writing; then make a comment or two about it. Most are non-fiction. I added a few fiction ones at the end under that specific heading.
You can keep scrolling down or click on a category:
Theological Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray (1955).
Written by a great theologian of the 20th century, this book really helped me to grasp the process of spiritual salvation. There are so many Biblical terms used to describe the process. This book wonderfully puts all the pieces together, as best as a mere human can.
Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell (1979).
As a young Christian at the time, in my early twenties, this book helped to solidify my faith in Christ. I learned that my faith was not based on mythology or the opinions of men. Its foundation was much more certain than that. It was founded in the reality of God and His purposes worked out in actual historical events, like the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Charismatics by John F. MacArthur (1978).
An excellent book that helped me understand the work of the Holy Spirit in the world and church. It convincingly promotes the Cessationist position concerning spiritual gifts, which many Christians today don’t hold to.
The Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Roberston (1980).
Helps the reader understand the important topic of Biblical covenants. I’d say it has become a classic treatment of the subject.
The Practice of Godliness by Jerry Bridges (1983).
What is it to be godly and how do we get there? This excellent little book helps to answer these and similar questions. His earlier book is similar, The Pursuit of Holiness.
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney (1991).
Yes, salvation is by the grace of God, but our own spiritual growth is very much dependent on us working hand-in-hand with God. How do we grow spiritually? Like an athlete practices in a number of areas to reach his or her potential, so the Christian must practice a number of so-called spiritual disciplines, such as Bible reading and prayer.
Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (1994).
A 1290-page modern systematic theology given to me by a pastor friend. It covers the usual major topics for these types of books, like "The Doctrine of God" and "The Doctrine of Man," but does so with 20th century theological issues kept in mind. I have referred to it numerous times and found it helpful.
Desiring God by John Piper (1996).
Piper has become a well-respected Christian man and author of a multitude of books. This book was one of his first and lays the ground work for his valuable contribution to Christian theological literature. I’d put the basic premise like this: Although God has laws we must follow, our pursuit must not be so much what He wants us to do but we must first seek God Himself, the beauty and grandeur of His person; and do so with passion.
Abraham’s Four Seeds by John G. Reisinger (1998).
An insightful book which examines the important Biblical concept of the seed of Abraham. In the process, it provides insight into some of the presuppositions underlying two common theological systems, namely Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism.
New Covenant Theology by Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel (2002).
This is a ground-breaking book which also deals with the two common theological systems, Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. It seeks to find a new way to think about how our Bibles are put together and how the old and new testaments relate to each other. And a new way isn’t bad if it strives to better unfold what the Bible says.
The End Times Made Simple by Samuel E. Waldron (2003).
The topic of eschatology (the study of last things) has been a hot and divisive topic in Christian circles for a long time. This book, though its title sounds presumptuous, is very helpful. His follow up book on the same topic is very good too.
The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson (2000).
The title is catchy and meaningful. A lot of people like to talk about the love of God: either what it is or where did it go. But our understanding of it can easily be shallow. This excellent short book by a respected theologian helps us to understand it from a Biblical viewpoint. The love of God has several facets to it.
Manly Dominion by Mark Chanski (2007).
This is not a book about male dominance over others or physical aggression. Rather, it's meant to counter the all-too-common problem of male passivity. It certainly encouraged me to strive to take my responsibilities in life seriously and believe, by the grace of God, I can handle whatever He brings my way. The author wrote a wonderful counterpart volume a year later called, Womanly Dominion.
Heaven: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything the Bible says about Our Eternal Home by Randy Alcorn (2011).
Truth from Scripture has an amazing way of lifting people up to live in the hope of a better world, and that world will be a very real heaven; or shall I say, a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Pet. 3:13). Alcorn does an excellent job of helping us to think more precisely and Biblically of what the Christian's eternal home will be like. He speculates on some things but he is honest about it. If you don't enjoy thinking about heaven then maybe you've been influenced too much by that way of thinking demonstrated so well in the opening line of the famous John Lennon song, "imagine there's no heaven."
Kingdom through Covenant by Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum (2012).
This is a long, rather academic, book. It thoroughly delves into the nature of the major Biblical covenants. In my view, it convincingly demonstrates how they all beautifully fit into the historical unfolding of God’s plan of salvation and are all tied to the strong theme in the Bible known as the kingdom of God. And all these covenants find their ultimate realization in the Bible’s New Covenant and God’s ultimate king over humanity, Jesus Christ, the Anointed (see Psalm 2).
Biographical Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010).
Simply an amazing story. Louis Zamperini lived to be ninety-seven years old. But it seems he fit enough experiences into that one long life to take up three long lives. The movie about his life entitled, Unbroken, is good but it cuts things short. It seems that Hollywood didn’t like the Christian redemption elements so they cut them out. It took a sequel, Unbroken: The Path to Redemption, to complete the task of telling the whole story.
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Quershi (2014).
This is a moving, autobiographical story of how a devout young Muslim encounters Christianity and is brought slowly, but seemingly logically, to faith in Christ. Quershi did not want to believe in Christ, which was understandable. But his desire to pursue the truth, and be honest with himself, brought him where he thought he’d never go. An interesting twist to his story is that Quershi died of cancer at the relatively young age of thirty-four. How can this be if he had become a faithful Christian? Well, God does promise believers long life but not necessarily what we perceive of as long life in this world.
Walking from East to West by Ravi Zacharias (2006)
A great autobiographical story about the humble beginnings of the great Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias. He was born in India and was led to leave his religious roots to embrace the Savior. There's also a beautiful link between the life and ministry of this man and that of Nabeel Quershi (noted above).
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (2013).
The now-famous story of one young girl’s fight for her life after being shot by the Taliban in Pakistan and her ongoing struggle for the basic human right to pursue an education.
Hiding in the Light by Rifqa Bary (2015).
The moving true story of how a young Muslim girl came to faith in Christ and then escaped the persecution she experienced from her family for converting to Christianity.
Political The Trouble with Canada by William D. Gairdner (1990).
I’ve never been a great student of politics or economics. But I am interested in trying to grasp these things a little better. This book certainly helped me to do that.
The Substance of Things Hoped For by Rod Taylor (2018).
An excellent compilation of short articles written by the leader of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada. The author is a very good writer. He clearly and colorfully reveals things about Canadian politics and decisions made that would not be picked up by mainstream media.
Indigenous Issues Stolen Continents by Ronald Wright (1992).
It was maybe ten years ago that I first read this book. I don’t recall details and I can’t say now whether I agreed or disagreed with all of how the author presented history. Nonetheless, it was the first book I read that opened up my thinking to the idea that the way the dominant cultures in the Americas depict their own history may not be entirely accurate. It is skewed in their favor and does a disservice to the Indigenous Peoples who lived here long before Europeans arrived. This book seeks to remedy the misrepresentation of history.
21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph (2018).
Speaks to the oppressive nature of Canada’s Indian Act.
Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call by Arthur Manual & Grand Chief Ronald M. Derrickson (2015).
Outlines some of the recent struggles of First Nations in Canada to gain back what they believe is rightfully theirs, i.e., land and sovereignty.
Our Story: Aboriginal Voices on Canada’s Past (2010).
This book is touted as “a collection of original stories written by some of the country’s most celebrated Aboriginal writers, and inspired by pivotal events in the country’s history.” Again, it seeks to give the Indigenous perspective on history and does so mainly through fictional story.
Sports Out of the Blue by Orel Hershiser with Jerry B. Jenkins (1989).
An autobiography of a great major league baseball pitcher. I am always moved how in sports and life there are so many struggles, less-than-optimal performances, and disappointments. But every once in a while all the stars seem to align and things unfold in almost magical ways. This book is an example of that.
The Worth of a Man by Dave Dravecky with C.W. Neal (1996).
A person's life does not consist in the abundance of sports awards one attains. This is an autobiography of a man who came to learn through cancer and the grace of God where his worth came from.
Payne Stewart by Tracey Stewart with Ken Abraham (2000).
The biography of the late great professional golfer, Payne Stewart, written by his wife after he died in the crash of his private Learjet in 1999. The mysterious, long flight of the presumably-uncontrolled aircraft after losing cabin pressure, came to a shocking end when it crashed into a field in South Dakota, killing all six people on board. But the story is about this man’s colorful life and faith.
Quiet Strength by Tony Dungy with Nathan Whitaker (2007).
This is the memoir of the first African-American coach to lead his team, the Indianapolis Colts, to a Super Bowl Championship. The book traces out his life and what principles shaped him.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (2013).
A beautiful true story that is very well written. Battles are depicted on the personal level, sporting level, and international level (in the era of Nazi Germany). And it's great too if you want to learn something about the sport of rowing, the men’s eights.
Getting a Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self by Monica Seles (2009).
The touching autobiography by one of the greatest female tennis players of all time. Her honesty with her struggles with depression and food and body image makes for a refreshing read. Well written.
On the Craft of Writing The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. (2018).
“This Classic Edition is a centennial tribute to Strunk’s book.”
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown & Dave King (2004).
The title kind of says it all. I have found it useful as I have ventured into writing fiction.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (2000).
Though I do not gravitate to reading the fiction genre that Mr. King is known for, this book was enjoyable to read. King is funny, and colorful in his use of language (metaphors and similes). And with his wealth of writing experience, he was certainly a voice worth listening to as I ventured into writing fiction. The first half of the book is his personal brief memoir. The second half is about the craft.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (20o7).
This book reveals not only many of the components of good writing, but the author does it in an intimate way by sharing many of her own personal experiences. A bit depressing in spots, I must say; and occasionally a little vulgar. But nonetheless interesting to read and quite humorous.
Fiction Animal Farm by George Orwell (written in 1945).
I read this book back in high school but reread it recently. It is a beautifully-crafted story that brilliantly reveals the nature of the human heart --- it is greedy and wants things its own way. A revolution, be it a communist one or not, is only as good as the people who bring it to pass. No matter what the form of government, there are always those who will work hard to manipulate it to their own advantage --- even a pig named Napoleon.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (written in 1951).
A classic American novella which describes an old fisherman’s struggle to bring his big catch back to port. In the process, it seems to symbolize the struggle of all humans in this life to accomplish something, to get ahead, only to be beaten down again and again. The book is also noteworthy because some have said it presents a terse style of writing in which Hemingway broke new ground for writers.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1962).
The story describes the experience of one day in the life of a man in a Stalin labor camp.
The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown (2003).
As a fiction writer, Brown’s writing style is excellent. This book was a page-turner. Brown’s command of the English language is tremendous. But as for his theological acuity, I would give him very low marks. He greatly misrepresented the person of Jesus Christ in this book, which to me is a very sad thing to do, as well as a serious shortcoming. Maybe that’s part of why so many people bought and read this book --- they get a kick out of slamming the glorious person of Christ. Yes, He is a polarizing figure. You either love Him or hate Him. “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Mat. 12:30). I would love to be able to write as well as Brown but embrace an opposite theological goal while doing so.
The Testament by John Grisham (2010).
I have not read much fiction but John Grisham was a good place to venture into. He is considered “America’s favorite storyteller.” As with all good storytellers, he has a way of creating a dilemma early on and then keeping the reader engaged until it is finally solved. I like the fact too that he, at least in this book, represents the Christian perspective with respect and considerable awareness.