Recently I had the occasion to evaluate every book I own. Because our church moved offices, I packed up my entire library and relocated it to our new place. The process of efficiently packing books is a challenge for me. I find it impossible to simply shove them in boxes without flipping through the pages, glancing at my marginalia and underlines.
When I glance across the titles on my shelves I see a timeline of my theological journey. Several volumes stand out to me as having been particularly influential at key points in my life. When I think back to times of awakening and growth in my Christian life, usually there is at least one book tied to those events—a book that now sits on my shelf as a dog-eared, marked-up memorial to a period of significant change that forever altered my life.
At the age of seventeen as a fundamentalist Baptist “preacher boy” I delivered short sermons at youth rallies and did occasional pulpit supply. Around that time a friend of the family gave me a copy of Preaching and Preachers by Martin Lloyd-Jones. That book struck me with a sense of the gravity of the call that I was pursuing as a minister of the gospel. Lloyd-Jones opened my eyes to a solemn, sober, and mature approach to preaching, attributes which I seldom saw exemplified by the pastors in the circles I grew up in. This book changed my approach to preaching forever.
A few years later I was enrolled in a Baptist seminary, featuring a faculty stacked with semi-Pelagian instructors. My closest friend and I were growing increasingly dissatisfied with the constant side-stepping and avoidance of Biblical terms like “election” and “predestination”. Their answers to our questions did not add up. So my friend read Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul and then passed it to me. I was floored not only by the boldness and consistency of the Reformed faith, but how God was suddenly bigger and more glorious to me than ever before. I wept and worshipped for days. As a couple of “cage-stage” Calvinists, my friend and I were nearly expelled from the seminary, but that book changed my view of God’s sovereignty forever.
After that, my days as a comfortable Baptist were numbered and finally came to an end when my wife and I were expecting our first child. I had put off the “covenant question” long enough when someone recommended Randy Booth’s Children of the Promise. As a former Baptist himself, Booth had all my arguments covered and clearly articulated the case for the baptism of covenant children. By the time my daughter was born, we were fully convinced of our duty to have her baptized. That book changed my understanding of the covenant forever.
During that same period, my wife and I were playing and singing in a praise band in a semi-Calvinist independent Bible church and growing increasingly uncomfortable with the casual silliness that accompanied that scene. A friend loaned me a thick spiral-bound book by Jeffrey Meyers titled The Lord’s Service. It had not even been formally published yet, but it spoke directly to my discomfort with what I was participating in every Sunday. That book transformed my understanding of worship forever.
Each book was a turning point in my growth as both a believer and minister, and I am exceedingly grateful for the role that each author has played in my life. In every case, the awakening to God’s will and Word was sparked not from something clever or brilliant inside me, but from someone else, somewhere else, directed by God. The kind of help that we need comes not from within, but from outside of us, and in order to continue maturing I will have to leave room on my shelf for that next book that will change my mind forever.