Friday, February 10, 2017

Disciplines of a Godly Man: How one book made me read more better books

Further up and further in - a Narnian like experience

In college I read the book Disciplines of a Godly Man with two friends. One of the other guys happened upon it and thought we should check it out. Yet since I hadn't heard of it, I was skeptical (how arrogant... which was pretty par for the course at the time). The book had a tremendous influence on my life and cemented a life-long friendship with both of those guys.

There were two parts of the book that have stuck with me the longest: the Bible reading plan and the reading survey.

The Bible reading plan was the first chronological version I had seen. It's not really all that special, but for some reason it stuck with me and lead to many years of reading through the entire Bible over the course of the year.

But the reading survey was what really blew my mind. Here's a brief explanation: The author (R. Kent Hughes) surveyed a number of influential Christian teachers, pastors, and authors, and asked the following questions:
  1. What are five books, secular or sacred, which have influenced you the most?
  2. Of those books, which is your favorite?
  3. What is your favorite novel?
  4. What is your favorite biography?
Some of whom he interviewed were James M. Boice,  Bryan Chappell, Chuck Colson, Jim Dobson, Elisabeth Elliot, Howard Hendricks, Carl F. Henry, Jerry Jenkins, Harold Lindsell, Robertson McQuilkin, J.I. Packer, Pagie Patterson, Eugene Peterson, Haddon Robinson, R.C. Sproul, Chuck Swindoll, and Warren Wiersbe.

Some heavy hitters!

Other than the Bible, here's a list of the books that were mentioned more than once:
Mere Christianity (10)
Calvin's Institutes (8)
The Pursuit of God by Tozer (6)
My Utmost for His Highest (5)
Brothers Karamazov (5)
Anna Karenina (5)
Pilgrim's Progress (5)
Shadow of the Almighty (4)
Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret (3)
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis (3)
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (2)
American Caesar by William Manchester (bio) (2)
The Last Lion by Manchester (Churchill bio) (2)
Moby Dick (2)
War and Peace (2)
Confessions by Augustine (2)
Loving God by Colson (2)
Knowing God by Packer (2)
Through the Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot (2)
NOTE: I think the list in the updated version of the book is different from the original. So I kept some on this list that do not appear in the most recent version.

The list was a revelation to me - like a wardrobe door into a strange and wonderful world I never knew existed. What were these books that so many adored? I must get to know them!

I have since read most all the books on this list (minus an unabridged version of Moby Dick, American Caesar, and I'm currently working on Through the Gates of Splendor). And I've been amazed by how much these works have shaped my life. In a future post I'll write my own answers to these questions. And I'd love to hear your answers as well.

But for now I'll offer some thought on a few of the books from the above list.

Mere Christianity
Other than the Bible, there's been no book that's had as much influence on shaping my life as this one. Reading it in college started a life long love of Lewis' works. Every Christian should read this multiple times. When I read Tim Keller I often think he seems like a modern C.S. Lewis, tackling the questions to Christianity the culture raises.

Calvin's Institutes
Didn't read this till after seminary, but I was utterly shocked by how accessible and relevant to everyday life Calvin's writing was. I've heard amazing things about this volume in particular. It's shorter than many of the versions offered today, but not because it's a modern abridgment. It is one of the earlier versions Calvin published, before some of the expanded material was added (I think something like 5 different editions were published in Calvin's lifetime). I'd encourage every Christian to eventually read through it. Maybe break it up into segments and tackle it over a few years.

My Utmost for His Highest
Growing up it seemed that many people in my church kept this volume next to their Bible and their copy of Experiencing God. It was a standard daily devotional, a notch above My Daily Bread. I first started working through it as a Sophomore in college, but found it over my head. I took a step back, worked through a Swindoll devo, and when I returned to it, my heart was ready to absorb the depths it offered. Definitely worth picking up, and its beauty is in its brevity, at one small page and one verse per day.

Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
Teddy Roosevelt read this while floating down a half-frozen river in South Dakota, in hot pursuit of a boat thief. I read it sitting in a comfortable chair at home. But the story was riveting. Especially the character development contrasts between the Anna and Levin. Some say Tolstoy infused himself in the character of Levin. Definitely worth reading, especially as a warning against the deception of following your heart.

Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot
Incredible story of how God worked through Jim Elliot and other young missionaries to reach a remote people group in Ecuador. Their martyrdom by those very people they tried to reach was a great tragedy, yet also launched a powerful missions movement. It definitely stirred me to consider what God had in store for my future.

Hudson Taylor's Spiritual SecretAmazing story, but what stood out was how Taylor, as a young man in America, totally focused his life, every aspect of it, around preparing for the hardships of the mission field in remote China. He created difficult living conditions for himself (like sleeping on the floor) and began learning Chinese by comparing an English Bible to a Chinese Bible. It's rare to run across someone that has such focus and clarity of purpose at such a young age.

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis 
Still working through this but find it a rich well of spiritual encouragement. I nibble on a short section at a time. Works great as a follow up to My Utmost for His Highest. It's amazing how often this work is mentioned by other spiritual giants, like C.S. Lewis. No coincidence since it is the most widely read Christian work ever written, besides the Bible.

The Great Divorce by C.S. LewisThis book blew my mind. Especially his depiction of those that are in hell and why they are there. The imagery of the lizard locked onto the shoulder of one of the characters reminded me of Eustace (i.e. Narnia) and his own lizard skin predicament. I left the book praying that I would be able to get my eyes off myself and avoid endless empty-prattle and self-delusionment modeled by many on the bus.

The Last Lion by Manchester
Those who have read much on Churchill often label the Manchester volumes as masterful. Yet they are not easy reads and can be intimidating to some. Friends who know I'm a Churchill fan often ask about a starter book on Churchill. There really is no starter book on Churchill, but two that will do are his own biography about his early life, called (wait for it...), My Early Life. And I just finished an audio book that was an outstanding overview of his life, called Churchill the Prophetic Statesman. Both are good starters. I've also heard great things about the bio by the former Mayor of London. Also have on my reading list for this year a new book by Candice Millard. She wrote one of my favorite books on Teddy Roosevelt, about his journeys up the Amazon, and now she's turned out a volume chronicling Churchill's POW escape in South Africa. I've read Churchill's version of the story in his own bio, but I'm suspecting Millard can bring the tale to life in a new way. So I'll be moving these two works up my list for this year.

War and Peace
Probably my favorite novel of all time. When I closed the cover, it felt like I lost friends. Need to re-read. It's worth carving out the time.

Confessions by AugustineI couldn't believe that such an iconic figure of church history could be so candid about his own struggles. So many will relate to his battle with sin, and it's especially encouraging for those that come to know Christ later in life. It's also noteworthy that he had a mistress and a child out of wedlock before Christ, and yet still was used nightly by God to shape the church.

1 comment:

Dan J said...

Thanks for posting the list. Several here I haven't yet read, but Moby Dick is excellent, if you get the chance. And Lewis' Great Divorce blew my mind as well. The damned theologian shocked me out of a cold period of godless biblical studies during my early college years.