21 Influential Books

by Steve Laube

There is a shelf in our living room where I have placed the books that had the most influence on my spiritual growth. I call them my “Punctuation Marks” because in a metaphoric way some books were a comma, some an exclamation point, and some a period or full stop.

The beauty of having them all in one place is the visual reminder of those moments where God reached out through the pages of creative people who listened to the call to write and thereby touched me. It is a large part of why I have been involved in the book business for over thirty years.

Here are the books in no particular order:

Knowing God – J.I. Packer
Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster
Green Letters – Miles Stanford
Lectures to My Students – Charles Spurgeon
Knowledge of the Holy – A. W. Tozer
Foundations for Reconstruction – Elton Trueblood
Much More – Jack R. Taylor
Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
Taste of New Wine
– Keith Miller
Barabbas: A Novel  – Pär Lagerkvist (Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1951)
No Longer Strangers – Bruce Larson
How Can it be All Right When Everything is All Wrong? – Lewis Smedes
Life Together – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I and Thou – Martin Buber
The Timeless Moment: Creativity and the Christian Faith – D. Bruce Lockerbie
Loving God – Charles Colson
The Denial of Death – Ernest Becker
Making All Things New – Henri Nouwen
Waiting on God – Andrew Murray
The Struggle of Prayer – Donald Bloesch
Making Sense of Suffering – Peter Kreeft

I hope you scour the list and find a title or two unfamiliar or currently unread. That is why I like to read similar lists. To peer into the mind of a fellow traveler and learn something new.

Your Turn

What books are on your “Punctuation Marks” shelf?

22 Responses to 21 Influential Books

  1. Avatar
    Sybil Bates McCormack April 9, 2012 at 5:11 am #

    Hi, Steve… Believe it or not, I would have to place “The Grapes of Wrath” on my “Punctuation Marks” shelf. I read the book during my junior year of high school. But, before we read it, our English teacher–who was a Jewish lady–decided to take us on a tour of pertinent portions of the Old and New Testaments so we would understand the allusions to Bible scripture mentioned throughout the novel. I hadn’t been raised in church and had seldom attended services, so my exposure to the teachings of the Bible up to that time had been limited. That said, Ellen G. was a brave, exceptional woman and never balked at the questions we inevitably posed as we worked our way through the scriptures and, ultimately, the book itself. Once I’d read the beautiful, lyrical language in the Songs of Solomon–and then Steinbeck’s masterful work–I think I was hooked. I became a Christian a couple of years later while in college.

  2. Avatar
    Nathan April 9, 2012 at 5:14 am #

    I’ve read half of these books and I quote a few of them often. I can add a punctuation to Mere Christianity and Life Together. Two of my favorite personalities / writers.

    I also loved the impact of Home Economics by Wendell Berry. He’s another great thinker.

    On to reading the second half of your list.

    • Avatar
      Paul W. Coleman April 10, 2012 at 7:36 am #

      Hi Steve, I really enjoyed surveying your list of most influential books, and discovered that selecting only 21 can be quite a challenge. My designated shelf would probably highlight:

      The Prophets (1 & 2) — Abraham Joshua Heschel
      God In Search Of Man — Abraham Joshua Heschel
      Mere Christianity — C.S. Lewis
      The Problem Of Pain — C.S. Lewis
      The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah — Alfred Edersheim
      The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership — John Maxwell
      Nine O’Clock In The Morning — Dennis Bennett
      The Bondage Breaker — Neil Anderson
      Telling The Truth To Troubled people — ?
      Unleashing The Church — Tillapaugh
      Prepare Your Church For The Future — Carl George
      I Married You — Walter Trobisch
      Divine Emblems — A. B. Simpson
      Evangelicals And Jews In Conversation — Ed.: Tannenbaum, Wilson, Rudin
      The Songs Of heaven — Robert Coleman
      The Pre-Wrath Rapture Of The Church — Marvin Rosenthal
      While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks — Timothy Laniak
      The Gospel In Leviticus — Joseph Seiss
      Paul, Apostle Of The Heart Set Free — F. F. Bruce
      The Christian Family — Larry Christenson
      The Normal Christian Life — Watchman Nee

  3. Avatar
    Zita Consani April 9, 2012 at 5:39 am #

    Mere Christianity – the inimitable Lewis

    Screwtape Letters – as above

    Song of Songs – Watchman Nee

    The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life – Hannah Withall Smith

    A Chain of Love – kathryn Spink (on Mother Theresa)

    The Imitation of Christ – Thomas a Kempis

    The Practice of the Presence of God – Brother Lawrence

    Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster

    Abide in Christ – Andrew Murray

    God’s Gift of Perfection – Andrew Murray

    With Christ in the School of Prayer – Andrew Murray

  4. Avatar
    Wade Webster April 9, 2012 at 6:09 am #

    Improving Your Serve by Chuck Swindoll came out a couple of years after I graduated from high school. It made such an impact on me that I decided to re-read it every ten years. It still impacts me when I read it, each time a little differently.

  5. Avatar
    Eugene Scott April 9, 2012 at 6:45 am #

    Thanks, Steve. I once had a young man come in my study at church and ask, “Have you read all those books?”

    I had a small study with one wall being book shelves full of books. Not a large library.

    I answered, “Yes. But some of them are reference works.”

    He looked, shaking his head and said, “At my church we would consider keeping all those books pretentious.”

    I was dumbfounded and not sure what he meant or how to answer. I wanted to say these books were like friends. But I don’t think he would have understood.

    Anyway I can now add a few more to my list of friends to meet.

    A quick look at my shelves show:

    The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
    Story by Robert McKee
    Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
    Light in the Forrest by Conrad Richter
    Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
    Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis
    The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
    The Effective Father by Gordon McDonald
    The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes
    To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father by Donald Miller and John Macmurray
    Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas
    Involvement by John Stott

    These are a few of the books I’ve read over and over. Eugene

  6. Avatar
    TC Avey April 9, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    Thanks, you’ve given me a few new books to add to my reading list!

  7. Avatar
    Ruth Douthitt April 9, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    Great selections!

    “The Holiness of God” by RC Sproul was a life changer for me.

    “Altogether Lovely” by Jonathan Edwards is a must read!

    “Love God with All Your Mind” by JP Moreland is another must read!

    Thanks for your list!

  8. Avatar
    Gina Welborn April 9, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    Since most of my go-to non-fiction are boxed up, I’m going from memory . . .

    The Great Work of the Gospel by John Ensor

    Desire: The Journey we must take to find the life God offers by John Eldredge (Actually I could list all his books because I own all of them and have re-read each numerous times. This one I read as we drove to OK for my mother-in-law’s funeral. I thought it’d be about canoeing, fishing, and other manly adventures and how they relate to God. Instead, the book dealt with grief.)

    The Rest of the Gospel: When the Partial Gospel has Worn You out by Dan Stone

    What God Wishes Christians Knew about Christianity by Bill Gillham

    Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola

    From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God by Frank Viola

    a collection of sermons by A.W. Tozer

    Sailing Between the Stars by Steven James

    Esther, The Patriarchs, To Live as Christ, etc. Bible studies by Beth Moore

    I just “bought” three Francis Chan books that I expect will be amazing.

  9. Avatar
    Jennifer Major April 9, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    I used to have the time and level of concentration to have tackled many of the books mentioned above. Now? Bwahahaha. But some works have resonated with me over a lifetime.

    Claiming the prize for most superior, self-important, devout and pretentious answer…
    The Bible-The Complete Works of God- by God

    Lord of the Rings Trilogy- by JRR Tolkien
    The Hiding Place by Corrie- ten Boom
    Tramp for the Lord-by Corrie ten Boom
    The Chronicles of Narnia- by CS Lewis
    Surprised by Joy- by CS Lewis
    The Kingdom of the Cults- Dr Walter Martin
    Dove- by Robin Lee Graham
    Home is the Sailor-by Robin Lee Graham
    A Severe Mercy- by Sheldon Vanauken
    Unbroken- by Laura Hillenbrand

  10. Avatar
    Suanne April 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    Thanks so much for your list. I found it insightful as I have many of the same books on my list as well. That said, I’ve noticed that most of the books listed above are written by men (with the few exceptions falling in comments written by women, and that still only a few). Nothing wrong with books written by men, of course (I’m a fan), but the consistency with which these types of lists lack women writers is fascinating to me. I was hoping you might provide some insight as to why you think that, more often than not, is the case. Is it simply men identifying more with men and women with women? Is it the authority a woman’s voice fails to carry with both genders? Is it a lack of quality women writers? Cultural conditioning? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much!

  11. Avatar
    Patrick Craig April 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    The Spiritual War – Donald Grey Barnhouse
    The Saving Life of Christ – Major Ian Thomas
    The Ring Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkein
    Why So Many Churches – Noah Hutchings
    Pursuit of God – A.W. Tozer
    Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
    The Normal Christian Life – Watchman Nee
    The Normal Christian Church Life – Watchman Nee
    Biblical Eldership – Alexander Strauch
    The Mystery of Godliness – Major Ian Thomas

  12. Avatar
    Tracey April 9, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    Hi Steve!
    GREAT list of books, so many that I cherish and from which I have gleaned so much. Would love to hear your thoughts on Suanne’s comment above 😉 Are the words of women such as Evelyn Underhill, Mother Teresa, St. Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich or even contemporaries such as Anne Graham Lotz or Adele Calhoun to be so quickly overlooked? Can it really be that of 21 books not a single woman’s voice would make the list? Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your favorites though as I know they will bless many.

  13. Avatar
    Steve Laube April 9, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    Happy to lend my two cents on the “female author” question.

    First, note that the list is not exhaustive. Only those that are my “punctuation marks.” Before reading Richard Foster many of the mystics (Teresa of Avila and Julian of Norwich) were unfamiliar to me.

    If I were to expand this to a top 500 list I would still leave many great books unmentioned!

    It was later that I discovered many of those writers. For example, I have a complete shelf of Evelyn Underhill’s works in hardcover.

    A book that nearly made my top 21 but not quite is DISCIPLINES OF THE HEART by Anne Ortlund. That book was intended for a woman reader at least in its packaging. Purple lace endpapers and frilly interior design. But the content is gender neutral. A wonderful book, but one that I could only recommend to women or to men I knew who would not be put off by the packaging.

    Other influential female writers for me include:
    Tricia Rhodes
    Ruth Haley Barton
    Jan Johnson
    Madame Guyon
    Macrina Wiederkehr (A Tree Full of Angels)
    Nancey Pearcy
    Joan Chittister
    Marjorie J. Thompson
    Barbara Brown Taylor
    Laura Winner
    Annie Dillard

    Hope this added some new names to your “recommended” list.

  14. Avatar
    Gloria Ashby April 9, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    I’ve read several of those books on your list and would add a few more…

    The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life by Charles Stanley

    The Pursuit of God by Charles Stanley

    Experiencing God by Blackerby and King

    The Book on Leadership by John MacArthur

    Believing God by Beth Moore

    They Found the Secret by V. Raymond Edman

  15. Avatar
    Suanne April 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    Thanks so much for the response, Steve. Your comment about packaging does bring up an important point. Hearts and flowers don’t appeal to me, let alone to any of the men in my life : ) I love your list and didn’t mean to insunate that you weren’t influenced by women writers. As a female communicator, I’m always looking for ways to sharpen my skills and broaden my voice and the gender gap is one that never fails to perplex me. If you have any other thoughts on it, I’d love to hear them. Maybe even a future blog post?

  16. Avatar
    Donna Nabors April 9, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    So many books, so little time. Two that stand out over time:

    Unlimiting God by Richard Blackaby
    Beautiful in God’s Eyes by Elizabeth George

  17. Avatar
    Kathleen Overby April 9, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    “The beauty of having them all in one place is the visual reminder of those moments where God reached out through the pages of creative people who listened to the call to write and thereby touched me.”. – I’m grateful for this also. iLike x 1000

  18. Avatar
    Jennifer Major April 10, 2012 at 4:16 am #


    Through Gates of Splendor -Elizabeth Elliot

    Give me just about any missionary biography, and I’ll read it.

    And yet, NO ONE put down “Twilight”…thank you.

  19. Avatar
    Mary Young April 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    Some of those that have already been listed, yes… and I would add these to those lists. For some of these, it’s been years since I’ve read them, for others, I’ve re-read them more recently. But all stopped me in my tracks, at one point or another, or influenced my thoughts and faith journey.

    The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brendan Manning
    The Irrational Season, by Madeleine L’Engle
    The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris
    The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom
    Hinds Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard
    His Thoughts Said, His Father Said, by Amy Carmichael

    Evidence of Mercy by Terri Blackstock (10+ years after first reading it, I still remember a scene where a hospital nurse is washing a patient’s hair, cleaning the cut glass and blood out of it. The patient asks her why, and the nurse says something along the lines of “I’m a Christian, and your feet don’t need washed, your hair does.”

    And, as odd as it will seem to some people, The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon.

  20. Avatar
    J.L. Mbewe April 13, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    Christy by Catherine Marshall was pivotal in my journey to know Christ. It pointed at something I didn’t have, yet wanted. It propelled me into “religion” until God showed me otherwise. After reading that book, I didn’t pick up another fictional book for 10 years.

    Other life impacting books for me:

    Victory over Darkness by Neil T Anderson
    Lord, is it Warfare? Teach me to stand by Kay Arthur
    Hinds Feet in High Places by Hannah Hurnard
    Lady in Waiting by Jackie Kendall & Debby Jones
    Woman after God’s Own Heart by Elisabeth George
    Finding Peace for Your Heart by Stormie Omartian
    Beauty for Ashes: Finding Healing for your Heart by Joyce Meyer
    A Gentle Thunder, Hearing God Through the Storm by Max Lucado
    Eternity in their Hearts by Don Richardson
    Disciples are Made Not Born by Walter A Henrichsen
    One Church Many Tribes by Richard Twiss
    Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller


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