During my ministry of more than forty years, I have read hundreds of books. I even have a T-shirt that quotes Erasmus: "When I get a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes."
Though I grew up surrounded by books, the special inspiration behind my reading habits comes from H. M. S. Richards, founder of the Voice of Prophecy radio program. Visiting his library, and hearing him expound on the value of reading, ingrained in me an even deeper love for books.
In my substantial personal library, some twenty books stand out; the cream of the crop. I simply would not want to be without them. I don't necessarily agree with everything they say, but the piece they each add to the overall quest for knowledge and pastoral application is the measure of their worth.
Admittedly, these are mostly books dealing with pastoral concerns, and if you're a professional biblical scholar this list may not particularly impress you. Some are old and out of print (many from the 1950s and 1960s), though you can still find them if you browse the Internet.
In terms of the value of a book, however, "old" is relative. It's the content that counts, not the copyright date. The amazing thing is that, for me at least, these books continue to be valuable. With a little contextualization and updating, the ideas they offer still work. When I show these books to friends and colleagues, their reaction is usually, "Where can I get that book?" That in itself says something about their impact.
The first three books on the list are, in my opinion, the best of the best. The rest are not list ed in any particular priority. They're all good.
1. William J. Hyde, Dig or Die, Brother Hyde (Harper & Brothers, 1954), is the autobiography of a Methodist pastor. This is a most remarkable book on pastoral ministry. There is almost nothing that can happen to a pastor in a local church that "Brother Hyde" didn't face!
Any time you're totally frustrated and ready to quit, just read this book and go back to work.
2. John D. Snider, I Love Books: A Guide through Bookland (Review and Herald, 1955). This book went through 22 printings, the last one in 1966. It's an amazing journey through the world of books, with an excellent section on how to build a library collection.
3. Paris D. Whitesell, Preaching on Bible Characters (Baker Book House, 1955). Whitesell's chapter on "Organizing Bible Character Sermons" is priceless. It outlines 25 ways to organize biographical sermons. These outlines are equally valuable as guides for personal study, a prayer meeting series, small group topics, etc. This book just can't be beat.
4. David Elton Trueblood, Philosophy of Religion (Harper & Brothers, 1957). Every pastor ought to have at least a speaking acquaintance with philosophy. It gives one the "big picture" of fields of human knowledge. Trueblood, a Quaker philosopher, is an inspiration to read, even though you won't agree with everything he says.
5. Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Bible Handbook (Moody Press, 1966 [original edition]). A lot of people use Halley's Bible Handbook, but I like Unger's better. The revised edition is more up-to-date, but I personally like the conciseness of the information in the original edition. There's just something about Unger that for me has been immensely helpful over the years.
6. Frederick W. Danker, Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study (Fortress Press, 2003, rev. ed.). First published in 1960, this book is a literal gold mine of information on original languages and Bible study tools.
The current edition comes with a CD-ROM full of additional information. What Canker's book does so well is to show the reader how to use the critical apparatus in Nestle and Aland's Greek New Testament. It also traces the history of manuscripts, concordances, and works like Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.
I mean, how often do you read a book that tells you about an "inverted Nun" (that's Hebrew grammar in case you forgot!) and actually makes it interesting!
7. Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Baker Book House, 1956. A third edition is now available). This book is really valuable in the field of hermeneutics.
8. Howard Vos, Effective Bible Study (Zondervan, 1956). Vos discusses 17 ways to study the Bible. This is a practical book of remarkable value. It is filled with sermon ideas and is a great source of ideas for prayer meetings and small groups. Douglas Fee and Douglas Stuart's, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan, 1982) comes in a close second, but I still like Vos the best.
9. Henry Grady Davis, Design for Preaching (Mulhenberg Press, 1958). There are innumerable books on preaching, but Davis's approach stands out. Davis's concern is that most sermons are actually, albeit probably unconsciously, prepared for the eye, not the ear. The "design" part of the book shows how to overcome this. His conversations with a parishioner named "Bill Hamartolos" (translate that to Greek and see what you get!) are classic.
10. Merrill F. Linger, Principles of Expository Preaching (Zondervan, 1955). Once again, there are many books avail able on this topic. Walter C. Kaiser's, Toward an Exegetical Theology comes close, but in my estimation, no one beats Unger. All the principles are covered in an interesting and practical fashion that makes this a noteworthy book.
11. Eric C. Frost, This Jesus (Channel Press, 1959). The subtitle, almost as long as the book itself, reads "Towards a Clearer Understanding of the Significance of Jesus Christ: A Non-technical Approach." The book only has 132 pages to accomplish that stated purpose, but it does it better than any other book I know on this topic. As a workable outline of Christology, it is outstanding.
12. Uriah Smith, Here and Hereafter (Review and Herald. A reproduction copy is available through Amazing Facts telecast). The "state of the dead" perspectives of Adventism are receiving increasing interest in the contemporary theological world. In the light of the rebirth of spiritualism in the New Age movement and the so-called "new spirituality," this doctrine needs study and understanding.
H. M. S. Richards once told a group of us theology students, "I don't see how anyone can meet the issue of the state of the dead without Uriah Smith's book." I had never heard of it, so I dug around until I found one. It is absolutely invaluable.
13. Donald McGavran, How Churches Grow (Friendship Press, 1966, 1977). Since church growth happens to be an area of particular interest to me, I have something like twenty-one feet of shelving filled (read "jammed") with books on the topic. How Churches Grow stands out from all the rest. This is McCavran's first book on the topic, published be fore his magnum opus, Understanding Church Growth. It's concise and practical and, for me at least, more helpful than other more extensive treatments of the subject.
14. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, 2 vols. (Harper & Row, 1975). Latourette, from Yale University, writes from the perspective of the expansion of Christianity (also the title of another series by him) that includes the great missionary movements. It's an approach to church history that is invaluable.
15. Eugene A. Nida, Customs and Cultures (Harper & Brothers, 1954. Republished by William Carey Library, 1977). No one within the religious com munity has done more to inform and train people in cross-cultural endeavors than Eugene Nida. You have to read this book.
16. Marion Cady, The Education That Educates (Flemming H. Revell, 1937). There are all kinds of books available on Christian education, but in my estimation, this one is outstanding. The author worked in the Education Department of the Seventh-day Adventist world headquarters in the 1920s. The book is an outline of the principles of Hebrew biblical education. It is long out of print and you will have to dig around to find one, but the effort will be well rewarded.
17. Herbert E. Saunders, The Sabbath: Symbol of Creation and Re-Creation (American Sabbath Tract Society, 1970). Saunders, a Seventh Day Baptist, presents the Sabbath in a way that appeals to the heart. No, he doesn't include the Seventh-day Adventist emphasis on the role of the Sabbath in the final judgment, but of ail the books in my library about the Sabbath, this one stands out for an inherently spiritual perspective on the Sabbath that is not commonly heard in Adventist pulpits.
To some extent Saunders follows the chain of thought of Rabbi Abraham Heschel's The Sabbath but in ways that speak better to Seventh-day Adventists.
18. J. B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small (Macmillan, 1979). This book needs no introduction. I have used ideas from this book for sermons, revival series, and small group studies, etc. There is nothing else quite like it that I know of. Like anything else, it has to be "Adventized," but its intrinsic value remains.
19. John Paterson, The Book That Is Alive (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1954). This book focuses mostly on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, but it does it in a singular way. It is filled with preaching values. The chapter on "The Fool in Proverbs" is in itself worth the price of the book.
20. Eugene Dinsmore Dolloff, It Can Happen Between Sundays (The Judson Press, 1942). If your midweek prayer meeting is dead, this is a fine resource. In 111 pages Dolloff says more on this subject than anyone I know. Yes, you have to contemporize in view of today's social realities, but the ideas in the book are invaluable.
21. John Huss, Ideas for a Successful Pastorate (Zondervan Publishing House, 1953). This book was a gift from a friend, and it is just invaluable. Its 144 pages are packed with useful ideas. Some approaches are more or less standard practice; some are very innovative. Even though it comes from the 1950s, I can't leave this book off of my personal "Big 21" list.