A few weeks ago, one of my students asked me for a list of the 20 most influential books in my ministry, with a view to getting these books before returning to his home nation. Here’s what I came up with, and why.


The Diary and Letters of Andrew Bonar: First book I started reading on my first day in my first congregation. Powerfully influenced my view of pastoral ministry.

The Life and Diary of David Brainerd and The Life and Labors of Asahel Nettleton. When I was a student I tried to set aside one day every month to read one book through and pray over it. These were two of the first books I read in this way and both made a profound impact on me, especially in the motives and methods of evangelism.

Martyn Lloyd Jones Vol. 1 (Vol. 2): My wife and I read both books together during our courtship. Great preparation for life of ministry together. Also helpful warnings about certain popular trends.

Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon Vol. 1 (Vol. 2): Again, another great help in training for the ministry. I have pages and pages of quotables from these pages. Also introduced me to the inevitable suffering of a faithful pastor.

Old Testament

I’d never grasped the point of the Old Testament until I read Christ of the Covenants by O P Robertson. When I read this, the lights went on, or should I say, the shadows went on. Calvin’s Institutes (especially Book 2 chapters 9-11) advanced the revolution in my understanding of the relation between the Testaments. Then came Jonathan Edwards’ History of the Work of Redemption to show me how to put all this together and preach Christ from the Old Testament.

Two other impactful books in this area were Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament by Christopher Wright, and Preaching Christ from the Old Testament by Sidney Greidanus.

Staying with the Old Testament, Richard Pratt’s He Gave us Stories helped me to see the vital importance of the original message for the original audience.


The Glory of Christ by John Owen and The Fountain of Life by John Flavel soar above all other Puritan works I’ve read. Owen’s book is certainly more demanding, but both are richly rewarding studies in the person and work of Christ.

Then there’s Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement and The Apostle’s Doctrine of the Atonement by George Smeaton. Smeaton is perhaps the greatest New Testament exegete I’ve come across. These books will give you rare insight into the length, depth, breadth and height of our suffering Savior’s life and death. You cannot but preach Christ crucified after reading them. 

Redemption Accomplished & Applied by John Murray isn’t as textual as Smeaton’s work, but rarely has so much systematic theology been packed into so few words. This book made my Calvinism much more Christ-centered.


While on the subject of systematics, I have to admit that I’ve never got beyond Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. It does weaken towards the end. However, for brevity and clarity, I regularly find myself picking it up over other options, and almost always getting an answer.

The Sovereignty of God by A W Pink. I love short books. None shorter nor better than this. And none that exalted God higher in my heart.

The Pleasures of God by John Piper revolutionized my view of God, or rather my understanding of God’s view of His people. A long period of church controversy had worn me down and infected me with a strain of negativity that was also influencing my preaching. This book brought me back to the glorious Gospel of the ever-happy God and His delight in Himself, His Gospel, His people, and His salvation. The Pleasures of God restored my pleasure in God, and in people, and in preaching.


The Bible and the Future by Anthony Hoekema and Promise of the Future by Cornelius Venema. Both books brought me out of an eschatological fog and into the clear light of optimistic amillennialism (that should get the comments going).


Truth Applied by Jay Adams made me preach much more personally, and twenty years later continues to challenge me to apply God’s truth in every sermon.

The Imperative of Preaching by John Carrick is a fantastic little book on how to keep the balance between the indicative and the imperative.


I’m not supposed to feel like this by Chris Williams, etc. and Overcoming Spiritual Depression by Arie Elshout gave me quantum leap insight into depression at a very critical time in my family’s life. Broken Minds by Steve and Robyn Bloem broke my heart and gave me much-needed compassion for people suffering with depression.


I know I’m over the twenty book mark now, but I can’t close without saying how helpful I found Does God believe in Atheists? by John Blanchard. I’ve used so much of this book in preaching and evangelistic situations.(UPDATE: Evangelical Press tell me that a fully revised and updated – God delusion, etc., – paperback edition is presently en route to the US and will cost $16.99 for 720 pages).

Lastly, God in the Wasteland by David Wells gave me huge insight not just into worrying trends in the church and society, but the theological roots behind them. It continues to call me to impress the “weightiness of God” upon myself and others.

So, there you go. Maybe some predictable books, and maybe some surprises, but all highly influential in my own life. I’m thankful to God for all the writers and their publishers.

  • Stefanie

    I just read through the first book on your list, Andrew Bonar’s Diary and I have to agree it was excellent. I was especially struck by some of his thoughts after he lost his wife. A couple others you mentioned are on my ‘to read list’. Thanks for sharing,Stefanie

  • David Murray

    Yes, Stefanie, that section on Bonar’s loss of his wife is unforgettable.

  • Ryder

    I’m reading through “The Promise of the Future” by Cornelis Venema, I too can see the fog clearing!!! Thanks for the great recommendation!

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Great book, isn’t it. Glad you’re enjoying it.

  • http://nowuntohim.posterous.com/ Reuben Huffman

    The Pleasures of God…glad to see it hit you too. That book,… wow. I had to laugh out loud with joy at times; I just had never thought of seeing God’s delight in just being God. What a refreshing, exhilarating breath of fresh air indeed. Thanking God for John Piper’s window on the wonder of God, and the sharing of the vista via publishing.

  • Diana

    Reuben sums up my sentiments as well. What a wonderful book about a wonderful God.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      I think I need to re-read it.

  • http://www.poffclan.blogspot.com Trisha

    Very helpful list. Thank you!

  • http://thebreadline.wordpress.com David Bissett

    David, Thanks for your list — I would probably have most of these on my own list (along with both John Stott’s & DMLJ’s “Sermon on the Mount” and a couple by Francis Schaeffer). I am glad you put the biographies first (perhaps most influential?). *I am currently reading JE’s HISTORY which you mention — it’s very good.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Yes, David, for me the bios were the most influential. Agreed, DMLJ’s Sermon on the Mount is another mega-book for me.