One book that shaped my imagination as a kid was __________.
The books that shaped my imagination as a kid were, first of all, comic books, especially the DC universe. It would probably be difficult to overstate how much the mythos of Superman and Batman and beyond shaped my sense of narrative and of mystery. One step behind that were the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I could probably sum up all of my theology in the journey from wardrobe to Stone Table to Cair Paravel.
One book that helped sustain me as a reader was_________.
One book that helped sustain me as a reader was Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, which I read multiple times as a child and as a teenager. For whatever reason, I identified with Copperfield at certain points, and Dickens’ sense of narration—with pivotal characters arriving at just the right time—rang true to me.
One book that was pivotal in my faith journey was __________.
There were several books that were pivotal to my faith journey. The first, of course, was the King James Bible (I had a Scofield Reference edition all through my childhood and adolescence), which is from what I memorized large chunks of Scripture and lost myself in the stories therein (even that sentence is, I’m quite sure, influenced by the cadence of the KJV).
In terms of books authored solely by human writers, probably the most important was C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I first read this book in the throes of a major spiritual crisis as a fifteen-year-old after seeing some dark sides of Bible Belt Christianity and starting to wonder if Christianity itself were just a hood ornament for southern honor culture or American politics. I had read the Chronicles of Narnia so I recognized the name on the spine when I saw this book in the bookstore. The book, by God’s grace, saved my faith. This is not so much because of the arguments of the book as because of its tone. Lewis was clearly not trying to sell me anything, and he wasn’t spouting slogans and clichés.
Through him I found a kind of conduit to the vast, rich tradition of historic Christianity. Even before I read Irenaeus and Augustine and Calvin, I found needed Christian voices in such places as Christianity Today, where columns by J.I. Packer and Phillip Yancey and others sustained me through high school and college. In many ways, Christianity Today was a kind of Radio Free Bible Belt for me, and I entered that world through the literary wardrobe Lewis provided.
Another pivotal book for me was A Room Called Remember, which I came across in a library, used-book sale. That led to my reading everything he ever wrote, over and over again, right down to this day. If you looked on my bedside nightstand, you would find a Buechner book that I’ve read and marked up until it is falling apart. As I said in a tribute to Buechner last year in Christianity Today, “The writings of J. Gresham Machen and Carl F.H. Henry had taught me that I needn’t put my mind in a blind trust in order to follow Jesus. Buechner taught me the same about my imagination.”
More recently, the re-reading of a familiar book became a powerful moment for me. In a moment of deep distress, probably the darkest night of my life, I set out to slowly re-read Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov in various translations. I would not recommend someone grappling with depression to read Russian novels, but this turned out to be providential for me. The book was able to pierce through my heart in a way that I needed, especially in the account of Father Zosima. The words of the old monk seemed to be speaking directly to me, “Water the earth with the tears of your joy, and love those tears.” Zosima said: “Believe to the end, even if all men went astray and you were left the only one faithful; bring your offering even then and praise God in your loneliness. And if two of you are gathered together—then there is a whole world of living love.” I was reminded through this book that though God seemed distant at the moment, he was with me, even in times of tears, maybe especially in times of tears. Most important of all might have been the Scripture Dostoevsky chose as epigraph, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” I suppose there’s that King James Bible again.
One book I’ve read that introduced a powerful new idea was __________.
One book that introduced a powerful new idea to me was Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Henry recognized the problems both of gospel-minimizing social gospel liberalism and gospel-minimizing fundamentalist legalism. He introduced me to the already-not-yet tension of the kingdom of God in Christ, which has been the central theme of my life and ministry ever since.
If I could make any book magically become a bestseller it would be __________.
If I could make any book magically become a bestseller, I would ask someone to remove that power from me. I am afraid that I would be tempted, as a hobbit with a Ring, to serve my fleshly ego and have one of my own books on that list. If my better angels were in charge, though, I would say that I would not so much want to make a book a bestseller as much as to make an already bestselling book to be actually read—the Bible. Behind that, I would say anything by Walker Percy who, it seems to me, has read the spirit of our age quite accurately.