Books for Stirring the Soul

February 21, 2022
Written By
Darrell Johnson

This article was originally published by the Regent College Bookstore.

Just before “the time of my departure,” as he put it, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to his young colleague Timothy, addressing the root issues to which any servant needs to attention to function well in this world. I am regularly moved by one line: “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books …” (2 Timothy 4:13). As Charles Spurgeon, the church’s “Prince of Preachers’ once said commenting on this verse, “Even an apostle must read!”

I have been asked over the past months, “what are the ten most important books you have read – beyond the Bible – that have kept your soul going over the past fifty years of discipleship and ministry?” My response? “Ten? Just ten?” So, over the past months, I have tried to pare down all the books I would commend to ten. Here they are. Books that ignite fresh passion for Jesus, and through Him the Trinity, and that fuel the fire for preaching Him and His Gospel. I am listing them by author in alphabetical order. And I am resisting the desire to expound the virtue of the authors and their books.

Announcing the Reign of God: Evangelization and the Subversive Memory of Jesus

Mortimer Arias | Wipf and Stock | 1984

This is, in my mind, the best book on Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom. Both in terms of understanding and living what Jesus is announcing when He comes on the scene. Born in Uruguay, served in Bolivia, Arias writes from a perspective desperately needed in our time. A “revolutionary” work, as is Jesus’. I first read it in Manila when beginning ministry in that context in 1985, and have read it many times since.

New Testament Theology

G.B. Caird | Clarendon Press (Oxford) | 1995

In the book, Caird (under whom N.T. Wright studied) proposed what he called “An Apostolic Conference,” to which he invites all the writers of the New Testament, and to whom he then poses seven key questions, gathering each of the author’s responses together in seven chapters, adding a powerful chapter entitled, “The Theology of Jesus.” I cannot tell you how many times I have taken this book off the shelf, opened to just about any page, and found myself coming alive in wonder of Who Jesus is and what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do. Expensive, but worth every dollar.

In Christ

E. Stanley Jones | Abingdon Press | 1961

I wished I had gotten to know this great missionary-evangelist. I have, however, read nearly everything he wrote. And thus count him as one of the most significant mentors God has graced me. I advocate this small 364-day devotional book because in it Jones reflects on every “in Christ” (or “through Christ”) affirmation in the New Testament, drawing us into ever tighter intimacy with the Savior.

Knowing God

J.I. Packer | IVP | 1973

It became a ‘classic’ soon after being written. Twenty-two chapters of, for me, unparalleled theological reflection on the nature and character of God as revealed in Jesus. The chapters on “The Love of God,” “The Wrath of God,” “Sons of God,” are worth reading again and again and again.

The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ

Andrew Purves | IVP | 2007

As I wrote in my endorsement of this book, “As I read these pages, everything in me cries, ‘Yes! This is the way I want to live and serve’.” Purves helps us understand and experience what it means to be united in Christ in His death, and therefore being set free to participate with Christ is His ministry. Be ready to be challenged!

The Resurrection of Ministry: Serving in the Hope of the Risen Lord

Andrew Purves | IVP | 2010

In this follow up from The Crucifixion of Ministry, Purves sets out to free us from what he calls “the deepest of all clergy malpractices,” namely, the failure to be fully engaged in the resurrected ministry of Jesus, trying to do it all in our own strength and wisdom. Be ready to be infused with new life!

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith

Michael Reeves | IVP | 2012

I wish I could write like Reeves does – crisp, clear, compelling, humorous, with contagious joy. The questions with which he begins get at the heart of the great mystery of our salvation: “Why is God love? Because God is Trinity. Why can we be saved? Because God is Trinity. How are we able to live the Christian life? Because God is Trinity.” We can hand this book to believer and skeptic, and both will be drawn into the inner life of God. So good!

Heralds of God: A Practical Book on Preaching

James S. Stewart | Regent College Publishing | 1946

Many scholars of preaching consider James S. Stewart one of, if not the greatest, preachers of the 20th century. In this book he takes us into what I would call “the drumbeat of apostolic preaching.” And he shows us why the preaching of the early church turned the Roman Empire up-side down! The is, for me, the best book on preaching ever written. His chapter on “The Preacher’s Inner Life” simultaneously convicts and empowers me to get on with the glorious work of preaching Jesus and His Gospel.

A Faith to Proclaim

James Stewart | Regent College Publishing | 1953

Oh, my! You want to know what the world needs right now? This kind of preaching! Five powerful chapters: “Proclaiming the Incarnation,” “Proclaiming Forgiveness,” “Proclaiming the Cross,” “Proclaiming the Resurrection,” and most compelling, “Proclaiming Christ.”

Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23

Dallas Willard | Thomas Nelson | 2019

This is a book Willard had wanted to write. It is based on teaching he did for his home church before he became famous. Through tapes and notes from the series he did, his friend Larry Burtoft and his daughter Rebecca Willard Heatley, finished the work. I have read just about everything Willard has written, and this, in my mind, is the most accessible. I have now read it twice, and will read it again and again.