A Testimony to the Value of Reading: Five Books That Have Shaped My Life

Outside of the Bible, five books have shaped my life in an un-ordinary way. These are books that so impacted me that my life trajectory was literally and significantly re-directed. I would like to present them to you as a testimony to the value of reading and engaging our mind in the teachings and stories of those who have come before us in the faith.

Justification and Regeneration (Charles Leiter)

Length: 176 pgs.
Leiter, Charles. Justification and Regeneration. Hannibal: Granted Ministries Press, 2009.

I discovered this gem by accident. I ordered it practically on a whim after it was recommended by a pastor I enjoy listening to. Before I had time to regret my decision, I rejoiced in it. This book, as the title suggests, outlines the two primary works of God in the conversion of a Christian. It centers primarily on regeneration, but the few chapters dealing with justification are worth every page. I walked into this short volume having practically no understanding of what it means to be re-born – I walked out able to teach it. Leiter’s discourse on imputation is invaluable – I refer to it before Horton or Grudem’s systematic theologies. He is also helpful clarifying the problem of man, Biblical assurance, and the Biblical illustrations of regeneration. From this book I realized the sufficiency of Christ and God’s powerful work in my salvation. I have not been the same since.

Justification is a declaration by a Judge; regeneration is an act of creation by an omnipotent Creator. (pg. 47)

Everything about you cries out instead for your damnation. Apart from the blood and righteousness of Christ, you have no hope… A criminal’s remorse for his crimes does not satisfy the just demands of the law. neither does faith pay for sin! Only the blood of Jesus can pay for sin! Justification is based on the blood of Christ. (pg. 34)

No man can ‘start a church’; God must do the impossible and make something out of nothing for a church to exist. (pg. 53)

The Pursuit of Holiness (Jerry Bridges)

Length: 153 pgs.
Bridges, Jerry. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006.

The number of pages betrays the amount of Biblical exposition and theological implication packed into this book. After Leiter clarified conversion, Bridges did the same for me with sanctification. I never understood my responsibility to pursue holiness until reading Bridges. This book makes plain the holiness of God and every believer’s commission to “be holy as God is holy.” The Pursuit of Holiness beautifully displays and illustrates mortification (putting sin to death) and vivification (delighting in Christ). Bridges is clear and straightforward, and he draws all of his points from Scripture. From this book I realized the capabilities for holiness within my new self (united to Christ) and my helplessness apart from His Word. I have not been the same since.

Our attitude toward Christ was expressed by the words of His enemies: “We don’t want this man to be our king” (Luke 19:14). But if we have been delivered from this realm, why do we still sin? Though God has delivered us from the reign of sin, our sinful natures still reside within us. Even though sin’s dominion and rule are broken, the remaining sin that dwells in believers exerts a tremendous power, constantly working toward evil….Our sinful natures resort to a sort of guerrilla warfare to lead us into sin. (pg. 55)

It is the Holy Spirit’s ministry to make us see that we are poverty-stricken because of our sins. He comes to us and says, “You are the man!”….When the Holy Spirit shows us our sinfulness, He does not do this to lead us to despair but to lead us to holiness. He does this by creating within us a hatred of our sins and a desire for holiness. (pg. 73)

The Christian should never complain of want of ability and power. If we sin, it is because we choose to sin, not because we lack the ability to say no to temptation. (pg. 80)

Whosoever Will (ed. Allen & Lemke)

Length: 298 pgs.
Allen, David L., Steve W. Lemke, et al. Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010.

This impacted me in a different way than the others. I read this at a time when I was just beginning to clarify where on the “reformed spectrum” of theology I would land. As the various SBC theologians in this book critiqued Calvinism, I saw – one after another – their dependence on traditional beliefs and ideas. Throughout the book, I was astonished to find such simple passages of Scripture misinterpreted, even in an honest attempt to know the truth. I walked into this book a shaky 3-point Calvinist. I put it down firmly convicted of all 5 tenants. From this book I realized the vast amount of assumed truths that we as evangelicals – and sadly, Southern Baptists – are convicted of. I have not been the same since.

(of particular interest, I point the reader to chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, and 11, to illustrate my comments)

Shadow of the Almighty (Elisabeth Elliot)

Length: 347 pgs.
Elliot, Elisabeth. Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989.

No single book outside of the Bible has influenced me to the extent that this one has. In Jim Elliot I quickly found a kindred spirit. Specifically, I related well to the manner of his comprehension of God, delight in God, devotion to God’s Word, abandon to God’s mission, and struggle with not wasting time on earth. One great impact that quickly took effect was seeing Elliot’s struggle to pass the “test of free time.” What do I do when I don’t have anything to do? Elisabeth’s commentary is wonderful as well. From this book I realized the fragility of life, the glory of life lived for God, and the joy in giving all to Him. I have not been the same since.

Yea, Lord, if it cost me my bride in this life, let me have Thy grace and power to bring to the Lamb the reward of His sufferings. (pg. 113)

Let nothing turn us from the truth that God has determined that we become strong under fire, after the pattern of the Son. Nothing else will do. Our silken selves must know denial. (pg. 125)

Christ needs some young fellows to sell out to Him and recklessly toss their lives into His work. (pg. 165)

Ah, for a place where Scriptures have not yet been twisted! Lord, send me to Ecuador! (pg. 193)

The Gospel’s Power and Message (Paul Washer)

Length: 274 pgs.
Washer, Paul. The Gospel’s Power and Message. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012.

Paul Washer has given in this book an wonderful response to the cheap-gospel of today’s North American evangelicalism. Through Washer’s teaching on the gospel I was called into the gospel ministry. It would be near impossible to over-emphasize the brevity of value within his chapters on the divine dilemma of Exodus 34:6-7, the cross of Christ and He as propitiation, the vindication of God in Christ’s suffering, Christ’s ascension as the High Priest of His people, and the necessity for preaching to make much of sin in the pulpit. I have yet to hear a more accurate, clear presentation of the gospel than Washer’s. From this book I realized the heart of our faith in the cross of Christ and my own call to preach the gospel in vocational ministry. I have not been the same since.

Do we recognize that the power to save is found uniquely in the gospel? The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation. It is not just the core, or part of what is needed, but the whole. For it to have great effect upon men, it only needs to be proclaimed. It does not require a revision to make it relevant, an adaptation to make it understood, or a defense to validate it. If we stand up and proclaim it, it will do the work itself. (pg. 58)

Man is unable to love God because he hates God. He is unable to obey God because He disdains his commands. He is unable to please God because he does not hold the glory and good pleasure of God to be a worthy goal. Man is not a victim but a culprit. He cannot because he will not. His corruption and enmity toward God are so great that he would rather suffer eternal punishment than acknowledge God to be God and submit to His sovereignty. (pg. 119)

Imagine two giant millstones, one turning on top of the other. Imagine that caught between the two is a single grain of wheat pulled under the massive weight. First, the stones crush its hull beyond recognition, and then its inward parts pour out and are ground into dust. There is no hope of retrieval or reconstruction. All is lost and beyond repair. Thus, in a similar fashion, it pleased the Lord to crush His only Son and put Him to grief unspeakable. Thus, it pleased the Son to submit to such suffering that God might be glorified and His people might be redeemed. (pg. 191)

I have, in this blog, bore witness to five books which have changed the trajectory of my life. I encourage you, the reader, to find a solid author and dive into one of their books. Go read!

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