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Recently someone asked me what ten book have been most helpful in my growth as a Christian. A good question, I thought, and a fun question to answer. I love to talk about books, especially those that have been instrumental in my walk with Christ.

Two quick caveats:

1. In order to be most useful, I tried to think of books that have been helpful to me as a Christian not just as a pastor. The two callings, however, are not easily extricated, so my list may strike a chord more readily with those in full time church ministry.

2. This is not a list of my ten favorite books of all time (though that list would have significant overlap with this one), nor is this a list of the ten books every Christian should read. For that list I’d pick a few more popular-level books and try to cover a number of other topics. What we have below are ten books that profoundly shaped my head and my heart at key moments in my Christian life. Not surprisingly, given the way God often works, I read all of these books for the first time (except for the last one) between the ages of 18 and 22. Pastors, campus ministers, professors, publishers, parents, take note: get good books in the hands of college students.

I don’t usually read too many of my blog comments (sorry), but on this post I’d love to hear from you. What books have been most helpful in your growth as a Christian? Here’s my list, in no particular order:

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
No book besides the Bible has shaped me more than this one. It’s more readable than you might think. Give it a try. I stole my dad’s copy when I was a college freshman and never gave it back.

 

 

Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers
I first came across this book during seminary (thank you First Pres book table), and as I went through the prayers I wasn’t sure I had ever really prayed before! Ok, I had prayed before, but after using this book I knew my prayers would not be the same.

 

Iain Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (two volume biography)
I got these two volumes as a Christmas present during college (thank you mom and dad). I found the Doctor’s life and ministry so thrilling I couldn’t put them down for the next semester.

 

 

B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible
Warfield helped me come out of a confusing intellectual season where I wondered if the Bible really could be trusted.

 

 

 

J.C. Ryle, Holiness
Stirring, convicting, illuminating. I didn’t know about the Keswick controversy when I first read the book. I was just powerfully encouraged to grow in holiness.

 

 

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism
Never seems to not be relevant. Machen crystallized for me what I had seen in parts of my mainline college experience.

 

 

 

David F. Wells, No Place for Truth
He opened my eyes to the ways in which the church had become compromised and introduced categories for faithfulness I had never considered before.

 

 

John Piper, Future Grace
His analysis of anxiety, bitterness, and lust are still with me. For my money this is Piper at his practical, personal, penetrating best.

 

 

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology
After Calvin I cut my theological teeth on Berkhof. So clear, so concise, so logical. My copy has been falling apart for some time.

 

 

 

Heidelberg Catechism
I had to study the Catechism with my pastor before I joined the church in fourth grade–a gift that keeps on giving.


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44 thoughts on “Ten Books that Have Shaped Me as a Christian”

  1. Lee DeYoung says:

    So that’s where my copy of Calvin’s Institutes went… No problem, I now refer to it on my iPhone and/or iPad. (-:
    Dad

  2. Terri Bates says:

    Definitely Desiring God by John Piper for me. A game-changer. Another one that has guided my thoughts about ministry is Sensing Jesus by Zach Eswine.

  3. Cindy Ragonese says:

    ‘Systematic Theology’ by Wayne Grudem and ‘Hole in our Holiness’ by Kevin DeYoung. And no, I’m not just sucking up! I LOVE that book. It was life changing in how I look at my sin and my growth towards being more like Christ!! So…Thanks!!

  4. Kyle says:

    The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, Redemption Accomplished and Applied by J Murray, and Memoirs and Remains of RM M’Cheyne by Andrew Bonar.

  5. Terri says:

    Knowing God – J.I. Packer.

  6. Carol says:

    i’ve been using The Valley of Vision since 2005 in my devotions…..have underlined, starred, highlighted, etc. ……and each time it’s like I am reading it and being convicted/praising for the first time!

  7. Philip Marinello says:

    Thanks for the list! I’ve had the Lloyd-Jones bio on my to-read list for a while and that Warfield book sounds like something I need to read as well.

    I haven’t been reading as long as you have but off the top of my head my general list would probably be:

    Valley Of Vision
    Pilgrim’s Progress
    Desiring God
    The Gospel According to Jesus
    The Bruised Reed
    Disciplines of a Godly Man
    The Holiness of God
    The Mortification of Sin/On Temptation
    Knowing God
    The Meaning of Marriage/This Momentary Marriage

  8. Kevin DeYoung says:

    I have more than one copy now, Dad. I could get you a new one.

  9. Great list. Love the Dutch Reformed influence, which mirrors my own. But my list would have to include Walter Marshall’s The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.

    Another thought: Although I read a lot, I think preaching has been far more influential in my life than any book.

  10. Chadley says:

    “Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, & Fairytale” by Frederick Buechner, and “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton.

  11. Andrew says:

    I love a good book list, thank you Kevin. Now, how about that list of books every Christian should read?
    Also, not related, how about a series someday from various pastors on what confirmed their calling to preach, including any who were already years into another vocation prior. Then, after that, give us an article about fathering six kids and balancing life as a husband. I have many questions. You know, in your copious amounts of free time. :-)

  12. Wesley says:

    Great list KD. I’m with you on Machen, Calvin, and VoV. Others would include “Dangerous Calling” – Tripp, “7 Days that Divide the World” – Lennox, “Telling Secrets” – Beuchner, “The Mighty Weakness of John Knox” – Bond, and “Pilgrim’s Progress” – Bunyan.

  13. Ron says:

    How about that for a list of “light reading!” No pictures though : ‘- ( Seriously though. David Wells– can’t go wrong. Pretty sure our pastor picked the Valley of Vision as his “stranded-on-a-desert-island” book. Great list .@RevKevDeYoung. Thanks.

  14. Ethan says:

    I just turned 23 and have been reading through Calvin’s Institutes for the last two years. My parents bought them for me for Christmas and I still can’t get over how much I enjoy reading them.

  15. Jeremy B. says:

    I can’t think of 10, but here’s mine In no particular order:
    – Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm (I kid you not…it was my introduction to Biblical Theology and the first time I had a concrete and delightful picture of the astounding faithfulness of God to save sinners )
    – The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges (I was a perfectionist…this helped me to see, for the first time, how grace covered and undergirded and formed and sustained and motivated living a holy life without the baggage of perfectionism)
    – Desiring God by John Piper (He gave me new categories to not only think but also feel)
    – Heaven by Randy Alcorn (This book, along with Sam Storms’ message on Jonathan Edwards’ understanding of heaven at the 2003 Desiring God National Conference, helped birth in me a longing for heaven and a great hope in the Lord of heaven…something that had eluded me for all my Christian life up to that point)
    – Gospel by Ray Ortlund (This is within the last year, but Ray’s book was instrumental in me coming to really love the church in all her messiness while giving me a new desire to see Her become all that the Lord intends for her to be)
    – The Heart of a Servant Leader by C. John Miller (His emphasis on prayer, humility and love in these letters was infectious…and I’ve seen my life differently ever since).

  16. David says:

    No C S Lewis or John Stott?

  17. Joaquín Vieira says:

    Thanks for the list, one book really have change many of my thoughts: “Charismatic chaos” by John F. Macarthur and The Bible of course….

  18. Curt Day says:

    One of the books listed above also influenced me very much as a Christian. That book is Calvin’s Institutes. But so did Martin Luther’s Bondage Of The Will. Other books shaped my faith as well and not all of them were Christian books.

    A Theology Of The Holy Spirit by Fredrick Dale Bruner
    Some of the writings of Noam Chomsky.
    Chomsky is forever demonstrating a passion for fairness
    Some of the speeches and writings of Martin Luther King Jr.
    King often demonstrates a passion for winning over opponents.

  19. Todd Hickling says:

    To add to your perfect list:
    D. Martin LLoyd-jones – Spiritual Depression
    Paul Tripp – War of Words

  20. Christy Keyton says:

    Shadow of the Almighty by Elizabeth Elliot, The Fight by John White (I still quote from this book when teaching) , Knowing God by Packer, the Shaping of a Christian Family by Elliot (I often give this as a wedding gift). Most of these I read in college or in the early years of marriage.

  21. Dalton V says:

    I would have to say that the preaching of men like my pastor John MacArthur, John Piper, David Platt, and you, Kevin have had a larger impact on me than the books I’ve read but a short list would have to be

    The Gospel According to Jesus by MacArthur
    Desiring God by Piper
    The Hole in our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung
    Calvin’s Institutes
    Spurgeon’s Sermons
    MacArthur’s Study Bible has really shaped my understanding of the Bible and theology
    Prodigal God by Keller
    And I’m also currently reading the Mortification of Sin by John Owen and that’s been great as well!

    I praise God for your ministry and the ministry of these men as well! Thank you for staying true to God’s Word!

  22. Jack B says:

    The Pleasures of God – John Piper
    Future Grace – John Piper
    The End For Which God Created the World – Jonathan Edwards
    Charity and Its Fruits – Jonathan Edwards
    Chosen by God – R.C. Sproul
    Prayer – Tim Keller
    The Weight of Glory – C.S. Lewis
    Just Do Something – Kevin DeYoung
    What is the Mission of the Church – Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert
    Christianity and Liberalism – J. Gresham Machen

  23. anaquaduck says:

    The back of an old psalter hymnal with the all the confessions & prayers

    Pocket sized devotionals- TODAY (CRCNA)

    Spiritual Depression. ML.Jones

    10 sermons by C.Spurgeon

    How then sall we live. F. Scheaffer.
    Gaining a better understanding of history & the devolopment/decline of modern thought.

    & although technically not books (talking books maybe) some ordinary people daily living their lives to the glory of God & all those providential moments (not that the other moments werent providential – is there a theological name for that? ) when what came was what was needed. CS Lewis, Tozer, Sermons. Bible Studies. Desiring God Blog.

    At present enjoying Dr Krugers writings on the development of the canon & CMI’s writings on the battles within society & science plus visiting regular blogs.

    I was given a Calvin commentary on Genesis which is pretty good, I like the way he writes & explains things but I dont always go along with some of his arguments just because he knows more than me, at times I hold off going down the same path.

    Academia is a good but tricky to understand at first.

  24. Dan says:

    Prodigal God – Tim Keller
    Desiring God – John Piper
    Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
    The Story of Christianity – Justo Gonzalez
    Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure – D. Martin LLoyd-Jones

  25. philio kern says:

    When I was in college, Spurgeon’s autobiography had a huge impact on me. I also think that Miraslov Volf’s Free of Charge is an important and often profoundly moving book. When I need a laugh, I’ll sometimes turn to David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions.

  26. bill says:

    i have been awakened by many of the books written by Thomas Merton…

  27. Mark S. says:

    Great list, thanks.
    -MacArthur Study Bible
    -Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis
    -Leadership, John MacArhur
    -Matthew Henry’s Commentary
    -kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin
    -Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches, Edward Hiscox

  28. Hands down, “Birthright”, by David Needham. Saved my life and my marriage.

  29. Peter Lewis says:

    Desiring God (helped put a name, “Christian Hedonist” to what I had been living for decades), Everyone’s a Theologian by R.C. Sproul (help me keep my doctrine straight), Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever (helped me as an elder), Unfashionable by Tullian Tchividjian (got me all sorts of fired up), and The House at Pooh Corner (for obvious reasons), among many others. Great post. Lots of things to add to the list!

  30. David Betz says:

    Might seem like an odd list, but here’s mine:

    * Calvin’s Institutes, 1559
    * Vos’ Biblical Theology
    * Van TIl’s Intro to Systematic Theology
    * Van TIl’s Defense of the Faith
    * Lane Tipton’s Dissertation on the Trinity
    * Bernard’s Twelve Degrees of Humility
    * Wenham’s Leviticus
    * Poythress’ The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses
    * Muller’s The Unaccommodated Calvin
    * Oliphint’s God with Us
    * Sproul’s Grace Unknown (as a young lad in the 90s)

  31. Jason Morrissey says:

    Michael Reeves – Delighting in the Trinity
    Gary Friesen – Decision Making and the Will of God
    John Piper – When I Don’t Desire God
    John MacArthur – The Truth War
    Jerry Bridges – Trusting God

  32. Christine Miller says:

    Romans 6, all the Ephesians series (especially The Christian Soldier), and Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The biggest life-changer of the past couple years is Lloyd-Jones’ Sermon on the Mount. Humility by Andrew Murray as well as Waiting on God, Abide in Christ and With Christ in the School of Prayer.

  33. Tom Taylor says:

    Man’s Origin, Man’s Destiny, by A.E. Wilder-Smith. TWilder-Smith was the father of intelligent design.

    Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. Kept it by my bed for years – when I had insomnia it would put me to sleep, while at the same time teaching me great truths.

    Truths That Transform, by D. James Kennedy. My first exposure to the doctrines of grace.

    Loving God, by Charles Colson.

    Decision Making and the Will of God.

    Chronicles of Narnia. My all time favorite books. My thanks to Debbie Kidd, a clerk at a bookstore in Lexington, KY, who sold me these books in 1976.

    Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, by John Bunyan. This one brought me face to face with my sin – terrifying.

    Two books on prayer: Valley of Vision, and Face To Face: Praying the Scriptures for Intimate Worship, by Ken Boa.

  34. AJ says:

    Thanks for sharing! In no particular order (and not quite 10):

    Holiness of God – Sproul
    Let the Nations Be Glad – Piper
    King’s Cross (Jesus the King) – Keller
    Valley of Vision
    Reformation Study Bible
    Ragamuffin Gospel – Manning
    Calvin’s Institutes
    Operation World

  35. Doug Tegner says:

    Keeping the Heart – John Flavel
    Beatitudes – Thomas Watson
    Reformed Pastor – Richard Baxter
    Pursuit of God – AW Tozer
    A Resilient Life – Gordon MacDonald

  36. Josh Rieger says:

    Lloyd-Jones, the Institutes, and Future Grace would all be on my list, too.

    In addition, the Letters of Samuel Rutherford would be at the top of my list, without a doubt. Ashamed of the Gospel, by MacArthur. The Christian Life and Growing in Grace by Sinclair Ferguson would be on there. Christ of the Covenants, by Robertson would also be. I think I’d have to put Puritan Hope on there, too, helping with some of my dispensational upbringing.

  37. Andy says:

    I’m sure most of the books listed here are above my self admitted feeble intellectual skills but the books that have helped me most as a christian were written by someone I suspect many have never heard of: Dr. John Stevenson. His collection of 15 books and his website, which, is essentially, most of his books written in series form are some of the most down to earth, easy to read, yet richest, things on christianity I’ve stumbled across on the internet.

    http://johnstevenson.net/

  38. Char says:

    My list also includes The Bruised Reed (which goes by the alternate title of “best book ever written by a human author”) and Redemption Accomplished and Applied.

    Additionally:
    On the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria–Bold and elegant; I read this when I found out my dad was dying. Athanasius alone provided comfort with the powerful words “Christ is the archvictor over death and has robbed it of its power”. I’ve always wanted to print an edition of this book.

    On Loving God by Bernard of Clairvaux–meditation on what it means to love God that surprised me with its insights and lack of the usual horridness from mediaeval mystics.

    Pneumatologia by John Owen–Depth of understanding of the workings of the trinity and the Holy Spirit. Plus Spirit Christology. Mind=blown.

    The Heidelberg Disputation of Martin Luther–the theologian of the cross calls the thing what it really is.

    Perhaps not the obvious choices from some of them, but each of these works had the kind of effect on me that made me love their authors as people.

    For modern works, I would add Grace in Practice by Paul Zahl and Volf’s Free of Charge. I was writing some similar things when I read it and discovered Volf had done it already–but better and more profound than I’d ever be capable of.

  39. Great lists! I would add a few others that I don’t think have yet been mentioned: The Trinity Hymnal or any other good hymnal!; and Humility by Andrew Murray (though be aware of his quietism); and for pastoral ministry, The Work of the Pastor by Wm. Still, and The Cross and Christian Ministry by DA Carson.

    I am a little bit surprised by the inclusion of Future Grace, as I am a fan of Piper, but I think that was his low-point, theologically, for several reasons: 1) he takes one “revolutionary” idea that “no one else sees” and then goes too far with it (that we should live primarily for future grace); 2) he contradicts classical Protestant theology on the so-called “Debtor’s Ethic,” including Heidelberg!; and 3) he gets rather mushy on the relationship between justification and sanctification, conflating them too much, and allowing room for a future justification based on works; here he shows too much influence from his mentor, Dan Fuller. I am no expert on Piper, but I believe his later interactions with NT Wright brought him back to the classic Protestant center on justification, or at least helped him clarify what he had muddied some in Future Grace. FWIW. BTW, welcome to the PCA! Thrilled to have you.

  40. Orkney Tony says:

    Other influences no one else has mentioned

    EM Bounds on prayer
    Everyday Church (UK name) by Tim Chester
    Preaching for God’s Glory by Alistair Begg is not a comprehensive book but came at the right time for me.
    Tactics by Greg Koukl introduced me to ideas I had not encountered before
    The Intolerance of Tolerance by DA Carson really hit the nail on the head of what is happening in Europe and coming to America!
    What is a Healthy Church – Mark Dever
    Taking God at His Word – Kevin de Young
    Jesus and the Eyewitnesses – Bauckham. When you live amongst rampant liberalism and denial of the authority of Scripture these last 2 have been very affirming.

  41. Andrew Hall says:

    1, 2. Desiring God & The Pleasures of God, John Piper – These opened me to how radically God-centered God is, and why this is good news. Piper also handled Scripture with more detail and honesty than I’d read before, and that began to change the way I read the Bible.

    3. Chosen in Christ, Richard Phillips – This exposition of Ephesians 1 solidified the truth of the Doctrines of Grace and showed me how wonderful is God’s love.

    4. The Heidelberg Catechism (URC membership class!) – Like the Cogans, Steve Herwaldt, and many others at URC, the catechism showed me that the gospel is like warm embers glowing in our hearts. The catechism (unlike Wesminster) is so personal, pastoral, and encouraging.

    5. Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer – What he wrote about our alien righteousness and seeking righteousness not in ourselves, but in Christ through the testimony of Scripture (in its narratives and history!) reoriented the way I viewed assurance of salvation.

    6. Knowing God, J.I. Packer – I’m re-reading this right now. What is eternal life, but to know God (Jn 17:3)?

    7. The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer – I think I’ve read this five times. Tozer’s life and his reverence for the Holy One stuns me, and to sit and learn what a vital relationship with my Creator is like is what this book offers.

    8. The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning – Showed me the riches of the extent of God’s grace-and-love.

    9. Operation World, Jason Mandryk – This got me praying daily for the world beyond myself and really expanded what I was asking God to do in the world for his glory. I grew to believe I was part of a bigger church than I knew.

  42. Asher Donohue says:

    One book that has definitely shaped me as a Christian is The Joy of Calvinism by Greg Forester because it showed me how to turn reformed theology into doxology.

  43. James Spence says:

    One not mentioned that is in my top 5 is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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