I was asked: Name five books that have influenced the way you read scripture. Of course the Bible itself is the most influential book on how I read scripture (scripture interprets scripture), but the question was about non-Biblical books. Still, the scriptural books that most impact how I read the Bible are roughly as follows:
Hebrews, Revelation, John, Genesis, Hosea, Malachi and Galatians.
When we speak of top-five or top-ten, we are free to understand that idiomatically as the-best-of-the-best. To that end, I give a list of five (in order), then five more, then more on top of that:
This book must be read by every pastor and every seminarian and every professor. If a minister has not read Kline, they are depriving themselves and their congregation. I can’t say it strongly enough — This book must be read by those who expound upon God’s Word.
I encountered Kline by reading his Kingdom Prologue. At the end of his life, he published a summary of his Biblical Theology in God, Heaven and Har Magdeon.
When I asked for a list of top five books, the first, best, and most obvious for me was Kingdom Prologue. I may wish that other books could be in the first place (On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde could be that book), but Kingdom Prologue is monumental. This may be one of the most under-rated books in Old Testament studies.
Before I endorse anything written by N. T. Wright, let me first be clear that I disagree with Wright at critical points. The big points of disagreement are these: 1. I do not agree with his view of the cultural ramifications of Resurrection theology (it is its own kind of over-realized eschatology which is also attractive to those who hold to Post-millennialism). 2. I do not agree with his inability to clearly affirm the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to sinners for their justification. 3. I do not agree with Wright’s view of origins (at least in a video he has published with Biologos). These are major disagreements, but I read Wright with great benefit despite these three points.
In many ways, Wright does for the New Testament what Kline does for the Old. In a very limited sense, I believe Wright is the Luther or Calvin of our day calling the Christian world to scholarly sobriety centered about Jesus. His methods are sure, his writings are clear, and his love for Jesus is empowering. In this way, if you pick anything by Wright you will likely be well fed (but be careful, as you will also find one or all of the above three errors I listed). C. S. Lewis would be on my top five (probably The Screwtape Letters), but Wright takes the place of Lewis.
This book may be near to #1. However, one should go to Kline or Wright and get hermeneutics and the text, and afterward go to Israel and Turkey (fly there and tour). If you can’t go, you will want this book. If you can go to Israel, you will need this book. I suggest that we study the original world of the Bible via archaeology, maps, languages and pictures, and then read the Bible with the context firmly in place. This book goes a long way to that end.
This is like #3 above, it is not an atlas of maps, but it maps out ancient non-Biblical texts. Pritchard’s compilation is surpassed by newer material (the three volume Context of Scripture), but this book was the starting point for me. This volume, or any like it, connects the Old Testament to the other related ancient cultures. Reading the Bible often involves reading, as it were, the world in which it was written.
If you read the first two chapters of this book, you will email me with a letter of thanks. I could include John Piper in my top-5 list, and in a way, he surpasses John Owen. However, I read Owen before I read Piper so Owen makes it to this list. This book is like an olive-oil base that enhances the flavor and enjoyment of all the other books on this list.
Five More Books
I have piles of books on Jesus, religion, Hebrew, Greek, the ancient world, archaeology, theology, philosophy the Bible… and I have borrowed more books than I own. Therefore, picking the five most influential is not simple and I imagine the list will change in the next five years. Five is not enough, so I want to go beyond and give five more.
This book should be #1. It should also be #2, #3, #4 and #5. So I made it #6, as if it were all of those. This book is almost above this list. It is a little book (which is good, because “big books are a big pain”), but every page is a book. My Worldview came into sharp focus because of Luther’s 1518 Heidelberg Disputation and Forde’s exposition, especially pages 69-102.
Luther teaches us how to see God where he is found — not looking through or past suffering, but finding God in the Cross. The relevant section can be read in two hours, but the impact is forever. This is my most read book. I wouldn’t trade it for a pound of gold. All of my book are important to me, but the more I read this one the more important it is to me.
Taylor’s book helped me to break free from Platonic conceptions of God. Many articles that I have written on this blog are about “What is God Like?” — they flow from the aftermath of this book.
Taylor boldly states that “God is Christlike and in him is no unchrist-likeness at all.” I think a person has to stop when they encounter that idea. It is as when Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” that we are not only learning about Jesus — that he shares in God’s god-ness — but that we are simultaneously learning about God himself. God is Christ-like. To see a list of my articles that track back to this book, click here: The Christ-like God.
Jenson is one of the best on starting with Jesus to understand God. He undoes conventional ideas of systematic theology by starting with Jesus. He starts with revelation and does what N. T. Wright once suggested, “scrap all your thoughts on ‘g o d’, look at Jesus, and think the word ‘G o d.’” That is a paraphrase of Wright. Jenson did it. He starts with Jesus, not with abstract qualities of divinity. He breaks free from Platonic ideals and starts with Jesus.
This is one of those “pay your dues” kind of books. It is basic. Read it word for word, mark it up, pay attention to all the details, and you have a gem. It is not profound or earth-shattering, it is more along the line of foundation laying. All the books in this series are of the same quality.
Wenham has an understanding of the Kingdom of God that allows him to write about the already-and-not-yet nature of the New Testament. The Kingdom of God is the Church with Christ as King, and where Jesus is there the kingdom is. Reading the New Testament with Wenham will help a person to flesh out these ideas. He also outlines basic theories of New Testament studies — form criticism, redaction criticism, etc. I read this book over the span of a few weekends and a bunch of lunch periods (so it is not too thick or too time consuming).
10. Why Johnny Can’t Preach by T. David Gordon
This was published in 2009, and here it is, top 10 for me. It will only take you one night to read this concise book. This book has not impacted me, per se, because it just captures the ideas I have been wishing were disseminated in churches. Dr. Gordon wrote this when he was diagnosed with stage-3 cancer. He did not know how long he had to live, and this was the book he wanted to write with the time he had left. You will understand why when you read it. Read my longer review here.
Books and Articles
I have left out many good books, like The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters and all the books in that series. Besides books, there are articles that caused me to change direction. Greg Beale has written many shorter pieces and given lectures that have shaped my thinking. His book, The Temple and the Church’s Mission came to me first in the form of lectures. It could easily be up there in the top ten. His commentary on Revelation is OUTSTANDING.
Languages Studies and Technical Books
Within biblical studies, there are generally useful books, like the ones listed above, and then there are highly detailed specialized books. I am as impacted by my Hebrew Grammar books as I am by many other books — but the results are different. I owe thanks to Page Kelley for his Biblical Hebrew.
Fuller’s Invitation to Biblical Hebrew is wonderful. I have a special place for Weingreen’s Practical Hebrew Grammar. For Greek, Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek has given me morphology (along with other books by Mounce). Books that give us access to reproductions of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts are invaluable — what worth could we place on ancient manuscripts? For example, see my follow-up article where I give two books on the Greek New Testament that would benefit every pastor.
Archaeology is a field of study that any student of the Bible will want to remain near to — and field reports on Herod’s building projects, Jerusalem excavations, Gezer, Byblos, Egypt, etc., are like portals to the ancient world (or the closest thing we get without actually travelling in time). Books that provide primary source material (Josephus, for example) for Biblical studies are essential to any good library, but they don’t often make it to top ten lists. In fact, some of the most important Biblical studies books are often the least read by students and pastors.
The Most Influential Books I’ve Read Since First Compiling the Above Lists
Since I first wrote this article, I have read from many more books. I am not a fast reader, and I rarely finish a book, but I have a few more books behind me since first writing this. In this section, I want to give the names of books that have since made a big impact on me.
Christless Christianity by Michael Horton.
Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking by Dennis Q. McInerny
Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, editors, G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson