1. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, John Piper
When I read the introduction to this book in 2007, I was overtaken by an emotion that I could only describe as being liberating and burden-lifting and eye-opening. The whole concept that God does not only want our duty but our delight in Him rocked my Christian moralism to its core. God didn’t ask for decisions, he commanded desire. And as the truth that God demands that we have joy in God freed me from legalistic attempts to live the Christian life, it also devastated me. I immediately began to see the implications of this doctrine John Piper calls Christian Hedonism. The implication is that I am helpless to change my affections apart from the work of God in my heart– I must consistently go to him and I must completely rely on Him for all things. This thinking changed my life and ministry.
2. The Autobiography of George Muller, George Muller
This book changed my life. I wrote about it on one of my earlier blogs because I couldn’t keep it in. It showed me a life that humbly trusted in God for everything, and did so through constant, persistent, relentless, desperate prayer– without ever being disappointed. The words of Jospeh Scriven’s hymn became real:
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
George Muller had such a profound impact on my life that I’ve decided that my first son (Lord willing) will be named Jack Muller Durso. George Muller taught me to pray.
He also showed my what it’s like to trust God for everything, and how we can wean ourselves from trusting the usual things that aren’t sinful, but are potentially robbing us of the joy of being sustained only by God. He modeled generous giving, honesty and precision, and humility.
3. Finally Alive, John Piper
The main reason this book has been influential in my life is that it biblically expounds how people get saved. Piper has been singularly the most influential theologian in my life– and his explanation of how the new birth happens gripped me and shaped the way I teach, pray, and present the gospel.
4. How People Change, Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp
This book opened my eyes to the centrality of the gospel in daily life. There are probably many other books that do this better than How People Change– it’s not a theology book– but it connected the theology of the cross the the reality of daily life for me. Chapter one titled “The Gospel Gap” showed me that most people see that the gospel saves (past), the gospel guarantees (future), and never connect the gospel to its present work. I had never understood how the gospel- the body of information about Jesus living, dying, rising, reigning- changed my lifestyle now. During my read of this book, I wrote a few blog posts on it (How the Gospel is Essential for All of Life and How the Gospel Changes Us), trying to articulate my thoughts on how it all goes together. Since this book, I’ve seen the Christian life in the constant light of the gospel, and it clarifies everything.
5. The Trellis & the Vine, Colin Marshal and Tony Payne
This book is shaping how I do ministry. The metaphor in the title is for the church– the trellis is the building, the structures, the systems, the programs, the events, etc; and the vine is the people. One of the main questions the book addresses is who in the church is called to be a vine-worker? (answer: everyone) and how does real gospel growth happen? along with practical ways to structure your church to make it happen best. I recommended it in January as a “must-read” for people in ministry.
6. The Deliberate Church, Mark Dever
I know Mark Dever has written a lot on the church and how to do church, but this was my first of his. It was extremely helpful. He introduced me to the regulative principle, which states that “everything we do in a corporate worship gathering must be clearly warranted by Scripture” (pg. 77). So simple I never thought of it– I was under the impression that God hadn’t given much clear direction for the way a church should function and therefore if it wasn’t explicitly spurned in the Bible it was fair game. But Dever has shown me the value in the the regulative principle–it keeps the church simple, safe, and pure. This book was an eye-opener for me, and challenged many of my perspectives and practices.