October 19, 2006

OK, by popular demand

Cindy and others have opined that I have derelicted my duty by ignoring an influential booklist. And they'd be right. So here is my take on "The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals" as judged by Christianity Today. I'll follow Cindy's lead and comment only on the ones I have read.

49. Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer: I read this book a few years ago for the first time. It's superb. Someone I know once described Tozer as the most Calvinist Arminian he had ever read.

47. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, F. F. Bruce: I'm going to include this one pre-emptively because I have read a few chapters while preparing an upcoming Sunday school lesson on the subject, and plan on finishing the job soon. (The book is available online here.) Bruce was a Church historian par excellence, and anything he wrote on the history of the Bible is profitable.

45. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark A. Noll: This is one of those books that transformed my thinking during my school years, because I saw myself in his indictment of the intellectual life of evangelicalism. I'm still working on thinking comprehensively "Christianly" about everything in the world around me, but Noll got the ball rolling. Pity about ECT though.

42. The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren: Meh.

41. Born Again, Charles W. Colson: I think I probably read this book late in high school, along with the sequel, Life Sentence. Being of an age, I missed all the original controversy over his conversion in the 70s; by my time he was firmly entrenched in the Evangelical mainstream.

40. Darwin on Trial, Phillip E. Johnson: A fun read. Johnson being a law professor by profession, instead of a scientific approach to Darwinism, he performs a rhetorical analysis of Darwinist literature. The armchair rhetorician in me enjoyed the read. Coincidentally, I found out some years later that the one issue of Scientific American I own is the one containing Stephen Jay Gould's sophistic review of Darwin on Trial.

39. Desiring God, John Piper: Another one of those life-changing books. Piper's thesis, for those who can "get past" the "Christian Hedonist" label, is that the Christians' highest delight and desire resides in God himself. Desiring God is one of my top three must-read Christian books, apart from the Bible.

36. Left Behind, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins: Meh2. Bloated, poorly written fiction espousing questionable eschatology. This marketing empire is proof positive that most Evangelicals are anything but discerning readers.

34. This Present Darkness, Frank E. Peretti: Fork in the eye, please. I place the blame for Left Behind squarely at Peretti's feet, as this runaway bestseller was proof-positive that there was a time when anyone could presume to write a "Christian" novel and get it published. I've actually seen This Present Darkness favourably compared to C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters as a work on spiritual warfare. This ignores two important facts: one, Screwtape isn't about spiritual warfare but practical Christian living, and two, Peretti's amateurish prose, creepy "New Age" themes and Manichaean comic-book angels and demons make his novel read more like a low-budget rip-off of Lewis' That Hideous Strength. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

33. The Late Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey: This dispen-sensationalist blockbuster made Rapture speculation mainstream. Where Frank Peretti made it possible to publish cruddy novels, Lindsey made it possible to write them about cruddy theology.

32. The Cross and the Switchblade, David Wilkerson: Another book that I read in my teens, and rather enjoyed (along with former gang member Nicky Cruz's own version of Wilkerson's story, Run Baby Run.

30. Roaring Lambs, Robert Briner: A good book exhorting Christians to transform the culture by actually being salt and light in the world. Naturally, Briner has been all but ignored.

26. Know Why You Believe, Paul E. Little: I actually preferred his earlier book, Know What You Believe, outlining basic Christian doctrine (as well as the differences between various traditions). It didn't help that I read Know Why a semester after studying Western philosophy and caught Little using Anselm's ontological proof for the existence of God.

20. A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L'Engle: Good children's literature ought to be enjoyable by all ages, and happily, this novel qualifies. The creepy image of identically dressed children standing in their driveways and bouncing balls in unison still comes to mind whenever I encounter certain conservative Christians on the Net.

13. Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell: Well, it's a good starting point for original research of primary sources, but too "popular" for my tastes. I'll grant that McDowell was very helpful in the early days when I was maturing my faith.

6. The Living Bible, Kenneth N. Taylor: The first complete Bible I ever owned, at the age of 6. Not the greatest English version, but not as bad as many Christians (especially the KJVers) like to portray it as.

5. Knowing God, J. I. Packer: This is another of my three "must-read" books. (The third, incidentally, is Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen, which doesn't appear on this list.) Packer's thesis is simply that we cannot claim to know God unless we know how God has revealed himself in Scripture. This modern classic is an antidote to generic, wishy-washy "spirituality" that invents a "God" it can be comfortable with.

4. The God Who Is There, Francis A. Schaeffer: This is the book that got the ball rolling - albeit slowly - and got Evangelicals starting to think about how to engage their culture.

3. Mere Christianity, C. .S. Lewis: There's really not much to add to what has already been said about one of the most widely read defenses of Christianity in modern history.

So out of the 50 most influential books, I've read 19. If nothing else, I've done better with this one than previous lists of "x greatest _____" - not that I put that much stock in them.

I was going to note a few of the "surprises" on the list, but in the meantime I found out that Tim Challies had already covered the two most obvious: where are The Prayer of Jabez or The Purpose Driven Church? The former revolutionized the marketing of Christian books, and without the latter there would be no Purpose Driven brand.

I also find it interesting that there seem to be very few books on the list that I have not read that I either want to, or feel I should, read. Exceptions: The Hiding Place, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and The Cost of Discipleship.

So there. Hi Cindy!