I was was recently interviewed by Matt Smethurst for The Gospel Coalition about my reading habits and about the books that have most influenced me. Here's the interview:
What's on your nightstand right now?
My nightstand is a mess—the biggest eyesore in our bedroom (according to my wife). I have about 30 books piled up on top of each other. I'm constantly reading, and I'm always reading more than one book at a time. I have everything from books I've been asked to endorse to books I'm consulting for my current sermon series to books I'm reading for fun.
I'm also a curious reader, which means I'm always reading books by people just to find out how they write and what they say about certain things—which means I'm not simply reading books by people within my theological tradition. One of my concerns about some who would consider themselves "reformed" is that they only read books by other "reformed" people. This, in my opinion, is a big mistake. And when some do read books outside their own theological tradition, they only do so with an eye to critique instead of an eye to learn. At least this was my mistake for far too many years. I graduated from a well-known reformed seminary (and am unbelievably grateful for the education I received there), and I never heard of any of the books, theologians, or scholars I list below (except one). I have, therefore, greatly varied my reading over the past five years or so and am reading many more books by writers, thinkers, and scholars outside of my theological tradition. Seven years ago I heard Tim Keller say, "When you read one thinker, you become a clone. Two thinkers, you become confused. Ten thinkers, you begin developing your own voice. Two or three hundred thinkers, you become wise."
So a few books on my nightstand right now include: Humble Orthodoxy by Joshua Harris, Luther: An Introduction to His Thought by Gerhard Ebeling, The Foolishness of Preaching by Robert Capon, On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde, The Mockingbird Devotional by Ethan Richardson and Sean Norris (eds.), The Genius of Luther's Theology by Robert Kolb and Charles Arand, This American Gospel by Ethan Richardson, Between Noon and Three by Robert Capon, The Reconstruction of Morality by Karl Holl, Living by Faith by Oswald Bayer, Handling the Word of Truth by John Pless, and How to Talk So People Will Listen by Steve Brown.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
I'm learning, in the words of Eugene Peterson, that "discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God's righteousness and less and less attention to our own." The way many of us think about sanctification is, well, not very sanctified. In fact, it's terribly narcissistic. We spend too much time thinking about how we're doing, if we're growing, whether we're doing it right or not. We spend too much time pondering our spiritual failures and brooding over our spiritual successes. Somewhere along the way we've come to believe that the focus of the Christian faith is the life of the Christian.
Ironically, I've discovered that the more I focus on my need to get better, the worse I actually get—I become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our performance over Christ's performance for us actually hinders spiritual growth because it makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective—the exact opposite of how the Bible describes what it means to be sanctified. Sanctification is forgetting about yourself. "He must increase but I must decrease" (John 3:30) properly describes the painful sanctification process. "Decreasing" is impossible for the one who keeps thinking about himself. As J. C. Kromsigt said, "The good seed cannot flourish when it is repeatedly dug up for the purpose of examining its growth." Thankfully, the focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. The gospel frees us from ourselves. It announces that this whole thing is about Jesus and dependent on Jesus. The good news is the declaration of his victory for us, not our "victorious Christian life." The gospel asserts that God's final word over a Christian has already been spoken: "Paid in full."
What are some books you regularly re-read and why?
There are four books I've re-read a few times in the last two years: Living by Grace by William Hordern, The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz, Who Will Deliver Us? by Paul Zahl, and Sanctification by Harold Senkbeil. All four of those books have been extremely helpful to me personally and theologically. They've helped me better understand my sin, God's grace, and the distinction between the law and the gospel. They've guided me through deep and wide pastoral challenges and, I think, made me a better preacher, pastor, and counselor.
What are your favorite fiction books?
I'm not a huge reader of fiction. I consider that to be a weakness in my reading habits, not a strength. I would strongly encourage readers of theology to increase their reading of fiction. When our reading habits become one-dimensional, our thinking becomes one-dimensional. But three fiction books that have profoundly influenced me are Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz, and The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.