I love reading. And what better time is there to read than summer? While there are certainly plenty of good books to read, here are five of my personal favorites. While they tend to be in the category of apologetics and culture, these books were all “game changers” for me that either led me to act or see the world differently:
1. Handoff: The Only Way to Win the Race of Life, by Jeff Myers. He begins the book by saying, “I wish I would have known ten years ago what I’m about to share with you.” Naturally, that got my attention. What was his great insight? Basically, he had been teaching college, writing books, and traveling around the world speaking at big events. Since he was busy and an in-demand speaker, he assumed his influence was equally profound. Yet something kept bugging him—whenever graduating students talked about the teachers who truly influenced them, his name never came up. While he got strokes for being a good communicator, he couldn’t shake the perception that influence in students’ lives was strongly correlated with personal investment. As Jeff said, “I was covering the globe but making little impression on it.” He describes how to have genuine impact on the lives of students. If you are a parent, youth pastor, teacher or youth worker, this is a quick, yet powerful read.
2. The Privileged Planet, by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards. This book is one of my all-time favorite apologetics books. The authors discuss the fine-tuning of the laws of physics and also how there needs to be a number of precise factors in place for life to survive on Earth—such as a carefully calibrated atmosphere of the right gases, a moon, surrounding gas giants, a sun of our size and age, and much more. But then they make an additional argument, namely, that our location in the galaxy is carefully designed for discovery. There is a surprising “coincidence” between the factors that enable us to survive and those that allow us to make discoveries about our universe. For instance, Earth sits within a narrow range of places where life could exist, and yet Earth also has a rare platform uniquely suited for discovery. This book was a game-changer for me about how I look at our moon, surrounding planets, and our place in the galaxy.
3. The Storytelling Animal, by Jonathan Gottschall. This is one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time. I have always valued the role of stories in our understanding of the world, but Gottschall opened my eyes up to how centrally story is to virtually everything we do as humans—campaigns are stories, commercials are stories, movies are stories, songs are stories, we communicate with stories, and our lives are stories. The author attempts to give a Darwinian account for our storytelling nature, and as I describe here, I believe he falls short. To me, our storytelling nature best points to the fact that we are part of a Grand Story. But regardless of our differences, this was an eye-opening and game-changing book for me.
4. The Allure of Gentleness, by Dallas Willard. As far as I am aware, this is the last book Willard wrote before his death in 2013. In fact, his daughter helped put the book together posthumously from some of his lectures, notes, and conversations she had with her father. This is a quick and easy read, but it is filled with wisdom. Essentially, Willard describes how apologetics today has often become a cage match about proofs for God’s existence, whereas it should be a way of gently and lovingly welcoming honest doubts and questions that burden believers’ faith. In an age characterized by divisiveness and argumentativeness, this book is a call for Christians to embrace gentleness and kindness. I wish every pastor, teacher, and apologist (and really every Christian) would read this book and take it to heart.
5. The Gospel of Mark. If you are looking to study the Bible this summer, why not begin with the Gospel of Mark? Even if you are not a Christian, why not read a key part of the most influential book of all time? I recently took a class of high school students through the Gospel of Mark, chapter by chapter, and thoroughly enjoyed it (so did they). I have read Mark dozens of times, but there were so many new insights that I gained, including the realization that Mark—from the opening chapter to the end—is essentially about revealing the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. My humble suggestion is to read the entire book each day for 30 days. Or, if you have less time, read 4 or 8 chapters per day. If you do this for at least a month, you will unmistakably have new insights and make fresh connections you likely never saw in the book of Mark before.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org, where you can find the original version of this article.