Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Life changing books

A friend asked me in an email conversation yesterday to list some books I've read that had a life-changing affect on me. I thought my response might make a good blog post.

The Case for Christ was a turning point for me because it was my first introduction to the subject of the historical Jesus, and it lead to me reading a lot more academic books on the subject and getting really interested in it as well as the history of Judaism from the exile to the bar Kochba rebellion. Also, it was the first time I had heard an historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus, and I remember putting the book down and thinking, "Holy cow! It actually happened!" I mean, I believed it before that, but believing it for a good reason was something completely different. It's like the difference between being told something is true by somebody you trust and seeing it for yourself. It became very real to me, so it had a big impact on my whole Christian life--how I lived, how I prayed, how I thought, etc. It also introduced me to a lot of good Christian thinkers like J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. I read a lot of their stuff, and it opened my mind. The Case for Christ was the book that introduced me to the whole field of apologetics. I bought several copies of it to give away because at the time, I thought it was the best book I had ever read.

Another book that had a big impact on me was Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-air by Greg Koukl and Frank Beckwith. It was a critique of moral relativism and a defense of moral objectivism. I found the subject to be especially useful because it's directly related to the gospel. There can't be an atonement if there is no sin, and there can't be sin if there is no right or wrong in any objective sense. One of the chapters in there was on tactics in communicating with people, and that had a big impact on how I interact with non-believers and people in general who disagree with me. It introduced me to the whole concept of "self-refutation," and how a lot of the typical slogans people use to disparage Christianity are self-refuting and incoherent. This book got me interested in logic and critical thinking, which I went on to study from other sources. It also introduced me to Stand to Reason, and I read nearly every article on their web page and started listening to the radio show. I learned a ton from Greg Koukl. He was unique among apologists for a few reasons. First, because he didn't just focus on conveying information. He focused on the practical aspects of apologetics and evangelism, i.e. how to have productive conversations with people. Second, because he is extremely articulate and is able to convey very complicated ideas in a way that is easy for the average person to understand. I found his ability to do that very helpful because it does no good to have highly sophisticated arguments if nobody can understand them. Third, because his ministry focuses on all aspects of being a Christian ambassador--knowledge, wisdom, and character. I found this refreshing. A lot of my thinking was influenced by Greg Koukl.

Another book was The Potter's Freedom, by James White. This is the book that was most instrumental in my conversion to Calvinism. He gave an argument in there from John 6 that I found to be just about as air tight as it's possible for a theological argument to be. I didn't convert right away because I wanted to read around to see how non-Calvinists got around the arguments he made, and I soon came to realize there was no way to get around them. I was kind of forced to convert, even though I was very uncomfortable with it.

Another book was The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards. This book has become one of my favorite of all time. It completely changed my view about the nature of the will, and it solved every philosophical problem I had with Calvinism since converting. It allowed me to be an intellectually and emotionally satisfied Calvinist.

So those are the books that have had the biggest influence on me. Here are a couple of honorable mentions:

The Forgotten Trinity by James White (the same guy who wrote The Potter's Freedom. There was a time when I denied the Trinity. Before reading The Forgotten Trinity, I read a book responding to Jehovah's Witnesses and was taken aback by some of the arguments for the deity of Christ. But reading The Forgotten Trinity sealed the deal for me, and it has also influenced the way I defend the Trinity when talking with Jehovah's Witnesses or other people who reject the Trinity. I even taught a three or four week Sunday school class on the Trinity, using the information in this book for the most part.

Scaling the Secular City by J.P. Moreland. The chapter that influenced me the most was chapter 3--"The Argument from Mind." I used to be a materialist. That is, I believed that we were purely physical beings, and that when we died, we stayed dead until the resurrection. There was no immaterial aspect to us that survived and went to be with God to await the resurrection. Moreland's chapter changed my mind and made me a substance dualist. It also had a big impact on my thinking in a way that's hard to explain. I guess it felt like the cobwebs in my head suddenly got swept away, and I could see clearly. That's the best way I know how to explain it. There are a couple of things Moreland has said in his talks and writings that struck me as being contradictory, and I had the chance in 2008 to finally ask him about them. He was a great guy to talk to. He has also had a big influence on my epistemology, which affects pretty much every other area of thinking. Scaling the Secular City is still the book I recommend to people who want a one-book comprehensive defense of Christianity.

I could probably talk all day about good books I've read and how they influenced me, but those are the biggies. And it's not necessarily because these books were the best of their kind. It has more to do with the fact that they each introduced me to something new and changed the direction of my life in some way.

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