You are what you read.

Read. Read constantly. Read the kind of stuff you wish you could write. Read until your brain creaks. Tolkien said that his ideas sprang up from the leaf mold of his mind: your readings are the trees where your fallen leaves would come from” (Wordsmithy,Wilson, 29).

All writing, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, is really just thinking put to paper. So it turns out that what we’re reading, we’re thinking about; and what we’re thinking about is what most shapes who we are. We are (or are becoming) what we read.

That’s one reason I love to ask people, especially people I respect and want to imitate, what books have most shaped your thinking and identity? Of course there is no substitute for actually getting face time with people, but the books they’ve read tell us a lot about them. When a person gives me a top ten list of their most impactful books, it is a great way for me to get to know them, to see the foundations of their life that so often lie beneath any visible surface. It’s also an opportunity to practice humility, because it forces me to stop talking about myself and listen to others.

In regard to my friend Davin, his death has made me ask that question, Who was he? What did he stand for, believe, and live? What ideas shaped him? He’s reawakening me to the truth that everyone’s life is a story to be told, read, and considered solemnly (some better than others). People are truly fascinating when you dig into them just a little bit.

Like Davin, great thoughts turn into great lives, and a life lived in excellence is what I’m after as a Christian man. You’ll never meet a great man who wasn’t first driven by a few great ideas. So you must read great books if you would have great thoughts, and you must have great thoughts if you would be a great man.


Now comes the interactive portion of the program. What makes it on your top ten book listโ€”books that you would say have formed who you are? Just state your name and make a list, it’s that simple. Trust me, it’s worth the time spent thinking about what ideas have molded your life. And I am assuming for many the answer is “the Bible.” Don’t put that; I promise I won’t think of you as any less spiritual. Thanks for sharing!


17 thoughts on “You are what you read.

  1. can’t say i can think of 10 but i will try…
    don’t waste your life- piper
    when God weeps- eareckson tada
    faithful women & their extraordinary God- noel piper
    why we aren’t emergent & why we love the church- deyoung & kluck
    spiritual disciplines- whitney
    george muller- roger steer
    john pipers short biographies
    randy alcorn
    counte of monte cristo
    a sweet & bitter providence- piper
    hunger games ๐Ÿ˜›

  2. Thanks Jerilyn. I am going to pretend like I didn’t see “Hunger Games” there at the end… but then again, I never said you couldn’t put that. (-:

  3. honestly i wanted to put it first but i don’t want you to judge me so i put it last so it would seem like an after thought… ๐Ÿ˜›

  4. 10 is tough but here you go (in no particular order):

    To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
    The Myth of a Christian Nation – Gregory Boyd
    Surprised by Joy – C. S. Lewis
    The Chronicles of Narnia series – C. S. Lewis
    The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster
    Spiritual Authority – Watchman Nee
    The Lord of the Rings trilogy – J. R. R. Tolkien
    Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
    The Good Earth – Pearl Buck

    And yes, I realize that claiming a whole series is cheating but that’s okay.

    Also, I want to see your list.

    • Thank you Chris. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Good Earth, both high school reads and one’s I’ll always remember. Didn’t like it at the time, but glad they made us read them. TKM (“Tequilla Mockingbird,” as we called it then) was very powerful. Good stuff.

      My list, not in order except for no. 1.

      1. Desiring God, John Piper
      2. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas (unabridged version)
      3. The Lord’s Service, Jeff Meyers
      4. To a 1,000 generations, Doug Wilson
      5. The Bruised Reed and The Soul’s Conflict with itself, Richard Sibbes, collected works
      6. Providence, John Flavel
      7. Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs
      8. Martyn Lloyd-Jones biography, Iain Murray
      9. Seeing through new eyes, David Powlison.
      10. Through New Eyes, James Jordan.

  5. My list, not in order except for no. 1.

    1. Faith is Not a Feeling, by Ney Bailey
    2. Loving the Little Years: Motherhood life in the trenches, by Rachel Jankovic
    3. Choosing to See, by Mary Beth Chapman
    4. Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard
    5. Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb
    6. Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick
    7. Love is Now by Gillquist
    8. Foxes Book of Martyrs
    9. Let Me be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot
    10. hmm, rarely do I ever finish books, I love books, I think they’re pretty, I love holding them, flipping through the pages and reading the first 1-3 chapters, then I get bored and put it down and never return, all of the books listed above I DID finish! So having 9 is great for me ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Rob’s . . .
    Lord of the Rings (there’s three)
    Silmarillion by Tolkien
    The Hobbit by Tolkien
    The Pursuit of God, by Tozer
    Systematic Theology by Grudem
    Chronicles of Narnia
    Box Car Children Series
    Desiring God by Piper

    • Awesome list. Oh Kristy, if I had a list of all the books I’ve started and not finished… I could not keep it under ten, for sure. Thanks for sharing. I can’t believe Rob read the boxcar series; I did too. I’ve never read Lord of the Rings, but maybe it’s time to start. Thanks!

    • Tuesday’s with Morrie was good. Tearful. Sobering. But really thought-provoking. All this reminds me of the books I read as a kid, Summer of the Monkeys, by Wilson Rawls, and Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli. That takes me way back. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Ok, Here we go:

    10. 90 minutes in Heaven
    9. Heaven is For Real.
    8. Love Wins.

    Ok, just kidding. If you think those books are Christian, then you need to read the Bible, because those books are inconsistent with Scripture.

    Currently as a Pastor, I am on a reading spree of books about the church and church ministry, so alot of my 10 are going to come from 9 marks, because I think they are helpful.

    10. What is A Healthy Church
    9. What is a Healthy Church Member
    8. What is the Gospel.
    7. Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons.
    6. Am I Really a Christian?
    5. Church Membership &Church Discipline (Two books, but they go together)
    4. Radical
    3. The Pursuit of Holiness
    2. The Holiness of God (Sproul)
    1. The Sovereignty of God (Pink)

    Other books would include

    1. Systematic Theology by Grudem
    2. 20 Basic Beliefs, by Grudem (If Systematic looks to big and scary)
    3. Basic Christianity
    4. Anything by AW Tozer
    5. Anything by Spurgeon
    6. Calvin’s Institutes
    7. The Puritan Paperback Series (If its written by a dead puritan, its good) **These were guys who tried to purify the corrupt church. They wanted a church that reflected the character of God. This is needed today!

    • Hitch, you make me laugh, as always. Great books. If I see you wearing emo glasses and talking about social campaigns to spread the love of Jesus through cool and completely heretical 10 minute video clips, I’m gonna start worrying you’ve got too much Rob Bell in your system. Stick with 9Marks. (-:

  7. I tried to think of a list of my top favorite books but instead i thought i would go with a top eleven books that have influenced me at different times in my life. In no particular order.
    1. Institutes of Christian Religion – John Calvin
    2. Lectures to my Students- Charles Spurgeon
    3. Evidence that Demands a Verdict- Josh Mcdowell
    4. Mere Christianity – CS Lewis
    5. Radical Reformission – Mark Driscoll
    6. Revolution- Ron Paul
    7. Understanding our Times -David A. Noebel
    8. Where the Red Fern Grows- Wilson Rawls
    9. Lord of the Rings- JRR Tolkien
    10. Under God- Wallbuilders
    11. Any Hardy Boys books – Frank W Dixon – These were childhood favorites along with any history book I could get my hands on.

    • Very nice Joe. Thanks for posting your list. I’m gonna have to say the Hardy Boys series was among my favorite reading as a boy. Good memories. I like also how you got your Ron Paul in there! That’s great.

  8. Not ten (I don’t read as much as I would like to think I do), and in no particular order:

    The Lord of the Rings – Tolkien
    Watership Down – Adams
    The Wind in the Willows – Grahame
    A Canticle for Leibowitz – Miller

    • Have you read all the Lord of the Rings? I feel like I should since so many people have mentioned it. I’m intrigued by some of the others I’ve not read. Thanks for posting your list.

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