The Most Influential Books of the Past 50 Years
Christianity Today magazine just released its 50-Year Anniversary Issue. CT was founded in 1956 and has served the evangelical world as something of a spiritual counterpart to Time and Newsweek. In this issue they listed the fifty books published within the last fifty years that have exerted the greatest influence on evangelicals and evangelicalism.
Justin Taylor asked me and others to compile our own list (which he will release on his blog today), but he asked that we restrict it to 10. He also suggested we make two lists: not only those books that were in fact most influential (whether or not they should have been) but also those books that should have been most influential (even if they didn’t have the impact we think they deserved).
I tried to keep it to ten each, but failed. The problem comes when books ought to appear on both lists, i.e., they were among the most influential and rightfully so. So, I chose to construct the two lists with no overlap. Surely Knowing God by Packer and Desiring God by Piper, just to cite two examples, were among the most influential and deserved to be. But I’ve included them both only on the second list.
One more note before I begin. CT selected a book on prayer by Rosalind Rinker as the most influential. Justin asked us if we had ever heard of her or read her book(s). My answer is Yes, I’ve heard of her, and No, I’ve never read any of her books (nor have I ever heard anyone tell me they had read her books). Strange choice indeed!
The Top Fifteen Most Influential Books of the Last 50 Years
(although most of them shouldn’t have been)
(1) The Late, Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. The influence of Lindsey’s book on mainstream evangelicals and charismatics is incalculable. Sadly, many who read it simply assumed there is no other credible way of understanding biblical eschatology.
(2) Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. This is a no-brainer. Lewis has been read widely both within and outside of evangelical circles.
(3) The Left Behind series, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. We must include all the books in this unfortunate series of novels. Would that people might read them as fiction rather than non-fiction!
(4) Dare to Discipline (perhaps all books) by James Dobson. The pervasive influence of Dobson on the family, parenting, and the engagement of Christians in the social and moral debates of the last thirty years would be hard to exaggerate.
(5) The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. I still haven’t read it (and don’t plan to; although I probably should). It has to be included, though, as it is the best-selling hardback of all time!
(6) Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Foster’s restoration of the disciplines to their rightful place as normal Christian living has shaped how many pursue their life in God.
(7) God of the Possible by Gregory Boyd. How tragic that a book that denigrates the greatness and sovereignty of our majestic God could exert such widespread influence on how countless laypeople now think of him.
(8) Inside Out by Larry Crabb. Like Dobson, Crabb’s many books should probably be included under this one heading. Larry brought biblical and theological integrity to the insights of psychology in a way that changed many (myself included). I could have easily listed Larry’s book(s) below in the list of those that should have been influential. It’s important to know, of course, that Larry’s thinking about the role of psychology has changed in the past decade as he now recognizes the primacy of the church (and less so the professional counselor) in the healing and restoration of the human heart.
(9) Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge. I’m thankful for what is good and profitable in this book and for the beneficial effects it has wrought in the lives of countless men. But I’m not convinced that Eldredge’s view of masculinity is sufficiently biblical or that it fairly encompasses those who differ with him on critical points (see my review of his book at http://www.samstorms.org/).
(10) This Present Darkness, by Frank Peretti. Although intentionally fictional in nature, this page-turner shaped how many evangelicals and even more charismatics think about spiritual warfare.
(11) A New Kind of Christian (Jossey-Bass) by Brian McLaren. It’s hard to deny the influence of this book (as regrettable as that influence may be). If I were to make a list ten years from now I wonder if McLaren would appear on it. It all depends on whether the “conversation” is a permanent star in the universe of faith or merely a passing meteorite.
(12) They Speak with Other Tongues by John Sherrill. This was perhaps the most widely read and influential book in the early years of the charismatic renewal.
(13) The Ryrie Study Bible by Charles Ryrie. This study bible probably did as much to promote dispensationalism as did its more famous predecessor (The Scofield Reference Bible).
(14) The Final Quest by Rick Joyner. Few non-charismatics will have read this book (and that’s o.k.), but its impact on the Pentecostal, charismatic, and third-wave world has been incalculable.
(15) The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson. I listed Wilkinson’s book last, given that its influence was due less to its content and more to the way that its commercial success revolutionized the Christian publishing industry.
[Close, but no cigar, would be Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey and Power Evangelism by John Wimber and Kevin Springer.]
The Top Fifteen Books of the Last 50 Years
(that should have been most influential but sadly, in many cases, were not)
(1) Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Multnomah Press), by John Piper. This is the most important and life-changing book I’ve read in the past thirty-five years. The gospel of Christian Hedonism warrants a global hearing.
(2) Knowing God (IVP) by J. I. Packer. I’ve heard Packer say no one is more surprised by the influence of this book than Packer himself. Virtually everyone I know has read it and testifies to its glorious portrait of the grandeur of God.
(3) Systematic Theology, by Wayne Grudem (Zondervan). Grudem’s theology is must reading. Not just for scholars, this wonderful book is being used in Sunday School classes, small groups, and bible studies of every sort.
(4) The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God's Delight in Being God (Multnomah Press), by John Piper. Runs a close second to Desiring God in the Piper corpus of writings.
(5) The Presence of the Future (Zondervan), by George Ladd. This excellent treatment of the kingdom of God marked the end of dispensationalism in my theology.
(6) Jesus and the Victory of God, by N. T. Wright (Fortress Press). I don’t agree with everything Wright writes, especially his doctrine of justification. But this is a marvelous and ground-breaking achievement in dealing with the ministry of Jesus, the kingdom of God, and the proper understanding of the relationship between Israel and the Church. Having said that, I should say again that you must read Wright with discerning eyes.
(7) The Holiness of God (Tyndale), by R. C. Sproul. This excellent book restored in many of us a reverence for the transcendent otherness of God and how it impacts our daily relationship with him.
(8) God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Crossway) by Bruce Ware. Would that all might read this superb refutation of Open Theism. Bruce has done a marvelous job of demonstrating both biblically and theologically the exhaustive divine foreknowledge of God.
(9) The Doctrine of God: A Theology of Lordship, by John Frame (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishers). Although this should exert mind-shaping influence on the Christian world, few are inclined to apply the necessary mental energy required to profit from this wonderful book.
(10) Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Zondervan), by Jack Deere. Although not all will agree with this selection, I remain convinced that Deere’s careful and biblical refutation of cessationism is the best available on the subject. Highly recommended.
(11) Let the Nations be Glad! by John Piper (Baker Books). The best book on missions I’ve ever read.
(12) Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Crossway). This was one of the first, and certainly the most influential, of books explaining and defending biblical complementarianism.
(13) The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan), by John MacArthur. A ground-breaking defense of the Lordship of Christ and a thorough-going refutation of antinomianism.
(14) Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy (Basic Books), and Integrity (Basic Books) by Stephen Carter. These are great books, especially Civility. In a day of selfish disregard for the rights and dignity of others, Carter brings both a rebuke and a refreshing word of instruction.
(15) Jonathan Edwards: A Life, by George Marsden (Yale University Press). I had to include something about Edwards!