It is easy to only read books for entertainment, and books that reinforce our current views. It is more of a challenge to read books we don’t anticipate agreeing with, because once in a while, a well-presented case can change our minds. So I came up with a challenge for myself: Could I name ten books that changed my mind?
- The Bible. Most importantly, it regularly reminds me of the greatness of my sin, but the greater greatness of my Savior. Of course, reading the Bible through the years has also changed or modified how I understand the process of salvation, the end times, church order, and countless other doctrines, both great and small.
- God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark. This book turned my view of the Crusades upside down. It methodically destroyed the modern revisionist view of Christians as the aggressors, making a case that the Crusades were ultimately the response of Christendom to Islam’s efforts at conquering Europe. (I posted a review in 2011; its more in-depth treatment is here.)
- The Coming Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan. Until I read this book, my view of missions was more or less “an American spends three years going from church to church to raise $20 per church to go to a third world country.” This discussion of the effectiveness of indigenous missionaries who already know and live in their culture expanded my view of the scope of missionary activity.
- Andrew Johnson, Plebeian and Patriot by Robert Winston portrayed its subject as a man who deeply loved his country. I entered the book with an almost completely negative view of Johnson and his presidency, but by the end of the book, both had earned at least a level of grudging respect. Was the way in which our country was reunited ideal? Hardly. But it was far from a foregone conclusion that our country would be reunited at all.
- The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson & Abigail & John Adams, edited by Lester Cappon. I entered this book knowing that Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian by any orthodox standard, but holding onto some hope that John Adams was. Adams’ own words, sadly, convinced me otherwise. (You can’t deny that Jesus is divine and be a genuine Christian!)
- Herbert Hoover: A Biography by Eugene Lyons. I’d always thought that Herbert Hoover caused the Great Depression, and FDR saved the country. This biography makes a persuasive case that during the final year or so of Hoover’s term, banks were starting to re-open, and other economic indicators were starting to point towards a recovery. It makes the case that FDR’s big-government spending and programs actually prolonged the pain instead of rescuing the country.
- Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem has helped refine and deepen my understanding in numerous areas, including ecclesiology, eschatology, and pneumatology. But it has been particularly helpful in the area of understanding the role of the Holy Spirit today. While I certainly do not agree with every point Grudem makes, I invariably appreciate his exhaustive research and his irenic tone.
- The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture by Bart Ehrman. Unlike the other books listed here, this book changed my mind by influencing me farther away from the author’s position. Up until reading this book, I had been more inclined to give leading proponents of the Critical Text the benefit of the doubt, in that their errors were honest and not theologically motivated. This book’s explicit and shocking advocacy of using the principles of the critical textual theory of the history of the New Testament Text to advocate heretical views removed any question as to Ehrman’s motives. Incidentally, it has put those of Ehrman’s colleagues who aren’t as heretical on the defensive ever since; they have had to make the case that they aren’t as heretical as their colleague, Ehrman. The book drove me away from Ehrman’s position and toward a stronger embrace of the Traditional Text (also known as the Majority Text or the Byzantine Text). But, more than that, this book convinced me of the importance to orthodox Christianity that Ehrman’s position is defeated and the Traditional Text carries the day.
- Line by Line by Claire Cook transformed my writing by challenging me to go over every sentence I write and find ways to say it more clearly and concisely. (No, I don’t always follow its advice in informal writing, like social media or blog posts. But its advice certainly helps when it does!) Two other books, William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and Jefferson Bates’ Writing With Precision, both also played key roles in shaping my writing and re-writing process. Since I only have room for one, I would have to say that Line by Line was the most influential.
- Day of Deceit by Robert Stinnett argues that FDR knew of the Japanese plans to attack Pearl Harbor. That portion is interesting but not definitively conclusive. But its account of the Roosevelt Administration’s pre-war diplomatic relations with the Japanese government did transform my view of the steps that led us to war.
Honorable mention goes to several books that didn’t exactly change my mind, because I already agreed with their central premises, but have nevertheless helped clarify my thinking on key issues:
- The Universe Next Door by James Sire helped me understand the specific tenets of deism and several other worldviews.
- Refuting Compromise by Jonathan Sarfati helped me understand how the wording of Genesis 1-11 leaves no breathing room for interpolating evolution.
- Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek by Maurice Robinson and William Pierpont helped me understand how the foundation of New Testament textual studies ought to be the case for the underlying textual family (the Traditional/Majority/Byzantine Text).