I love to read, and much of my reading falls into the areas of history, political science, theology, apologetics, philosophy, and the like. From time to time, either as I remember or as I happen upon something relevant, I’ll add books here with a brief note on why I like this book and how it has influenced my thinking. I’ll limit the books to those which bear on the topic of the blog. The top four are those which have been most influential in shaping my worldview.
Also, I make no apologies for linking to Amazon.com for book purchase. I do support local bookstores and used book vendors, but I also am addicted to my Kindle, and I want to support Amazon against the onslaught of that refuge of the mouthbreathers, the iPad.
CS Lewis | God in the Dock – This is the book that a friend lent me that kicked off the intellectual journey that ended in my becoming a Christian. A bit meatier than some of his more popular works, Lewis has essays in here on miracles, the theology of pain, the relation of Christianity to other world faiths, the interplay between faith and science, and the relevance of an ancient faith to the modern world.
CS Lewis | Surprised by Joy – This is an autobiographical account of how Lewis came to faith, essentially his testimony. It alternates back and forth between a biographical account of the first 20-30 years of his life and a description of the various intellectual phases and hobbies and interests developed as his worldview progressed into the (small ‘o’) orthodox faith which he defends and expounds in his other works. I read this book about yearly, and I still somehow manage to flatter myself that I can identify with his intellectual journey.
GK Chesterton | Orthodoxy – Lewis lists Chesterton as a primary influence of his, which is how I discovered him myself. This book, perhaps his most famous, is similar in purpose (if not style) to Surprised by Joy. Chesterton outlines the series of questions and discoveries that comprise both his youthful revolt against the modern culture of the West and his embrace of Christianity as both prompting and satisfying that drive to revolt.
GK Chesterton | Everlasting Man – This is his survey of world/Western history that demonstrates the worldview upon which all of his other writing spans. As usual with Chesterton, the book is full of surprising examinations of familiar events and people in a way that questions the common cultural wisdom on human history and human nature. You’ll be disappointed if you expect it to be an academically rigorous history text, but it’s unparalleled as a description of human nature.
Diarmaid MacCulloch | Christianity: The First 3000 Years – This is a great history of the Bible stories and the church institutions built around them. As a secular scholar, he proceeds from the assumption (it seems to me) that the truth claims of the faith are false, but this serves as a challenge to better understand those problematic discrepancies or oddities.
Francis Schaeffer | Escape from Reason – Schaeffer gives a 30,000-foot survey of Western intellectual history from the Middle Ages on, identifying ideas and trends that have shaped the modern cultural landscape. Specifically, he shows how the humanists detached man from God, how the Enlightenment replaced God with reason, and how the post-modernists have correctly pointed out that reason isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I think he over-simplifies and/or cherry-picks some of the thinkers, particularly Thomas Aquinas and Hegel, but his broader theme is similar to my ‘Law of Moral-dynamics.’
Augustine | City of God – I read this book in a political theory class in college, and it has influenced me more politically than spiritually, but it’s relevant enough that I thought I’d include it here. The point I got from it is that Augustine says that man’s inherent sinful nature means that there’s no way of creating the perfect society this side of Heaven.
James George Frazer | The Golden Bough – This work was recommended to me by Lewis (not personally, but a kid can dream, can’t he?) as an influence on his coming to faith. Frazer is a secular scholar chronicling the strikingly similar features in all religions throughout the world and throughout history. Frazer observed a general pattern of pagan belief in a dying god celebrated for bringing life, which Lewis contends is a humanity-wide sign pointing to Christ.
CS Lewis | Weight of Glory – This is a posthumous collection of some of Lewis’ sermons during WWII. The only reason it’s not in the ‘Core Four’ of influences for me is that I came to it so late.
CS Lewis | The Great Divorce – A fictional account of the narrator’s journey from Purgatory to Heaven, this book illustrates a key thesis of Lewis’ writing: Hell is nothing other being without God, and those that are there consciously choose to be there rather than with God because they value some idol (self, fame, duty, art, flesh, etc.) over God. It’s the grown-up version of my Box o’ Sin illustration.
Timothy Keller | The Prodigal God – I hesitate to put this book on the list primarily because I didn’t really like it. I read the beginning, which lays out the older brother/younger brother dichotomy and was so convicted by it that I put it aside so my wife and I could read it together. When we picked it back up again, I discovered that there’s not much there beyond the initial idea, profound as it is. Too much of the book is repetitious and without visible Biblical support. However, the central idea has strongly shaped how I view the world and myself: We are all idolaters, either of rebellion or of obedience, but neither is genuine worship.