How many books you read is not the important thing. How deeply you read them will determine the lasting effect they will have on you.
1. The Bible
There has been no period in my life as early as I can remember when I have not loved and longed to understand the Bible. And there is no way to estimate the enormity of its impact on the shape of my life and thought.
2. How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren
While E.D. Hirsh’s book Validity in Interpretation gave me the philosophical foundation in seminary for the task and hope of reading for understanding, Adler provided for me the methodological superstructure for carrying out the task. It is a beautifully written book and is eminently reasonable and full of common sense wisdom. Perhaps the most stimulating thing about it was the challenge it gave to stretch my mind by reading books which are harder than I can presently handle.
3. Books by C.S. Lewis
I discovered C.S. Lewis through Mere Christianity my freshman year in college. Since then I have read over twenty books by Lewis. He has had a tremendous influence on me by (1) making me wary of “chronological snobbery,” (2) demonstrating for me that that rigorous, precise, penetrating logic is not inimical to deep, soul-stirring feeling and vivid, lively, even playful imagination; and 3) giving me an intense sense of the “realness” of things.
4. Books by Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards ranks as one of the most dominant influence upon my thought and devotion. I think I was attracted to him for the same reason I was attracted to C.S. Lewis. As my seminary professor Dan Fuller once said, “Jonathan Edwards could move easily from lucid, complex logical argument into a devotional style that would warm your grandmother’s heart.” That was all I needed; I was off to the library to find the hidden treasure.
5. Books by Others
Many others have influenced me greatly. Professor George Ladd (along with Oscar Cullmann, Geerdhardus Vos and others) shaped how I understand the New Testament, and there have no doubt been many other books that have influenced me, some of which I can’t even remember. Authors like G.K. Chesterton, William Wordsworth, Paul Tournier, John Calvin, Leonhard Goppelt, Stuart Hackett and Clyde Kilby still come to my mind. But such a list begins to be too inclusive to be useful.
I do not want to leave the impression that reading many books is important. Reading great books and reading them well is what is important. Meditative reading—reading which stops and ponders, reading which sees deep into reality—that is the kind of reading which profits. That kind of reading should never end for you. Growth and stimulation and transformation will never end for you. You will be in the company of the greatest minds and hearts for the rest of your life, and you will become their peers if you read for understanding and for life.
For more information on the authors and books that have influenced John Piper most, see DesiringGod.org/Articles/Books-That-Have-Influenced-Me-Most.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books. This story was originally published on desiringGod.org.