On My Shelf helps you get to know diverse writers through a behind-the-scenes look into their lives as readers.
I asked Thaddeus Williams, associate professor of systematic theology at the University of Biola and author of Confronting Injustice Without Compromising the Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice—about what’s on his bedside table, his favorite fictions, his favorite re-reads and much more.
What’s on your bedside table right now?
My daily go-to lately has been the devotion of Abraham Kuyper Honey from the Rock. It’s a gem, especially for those looking for theologically rich devotional content. Kuyper reminds me daily how small I am and how great God is.
I also worked on Tom Holland’s volume Dominationwhich sheds light on how the Christian view of power as service and sacrifice has reshaped our world over the centuries.
Then there are books on my bedside table that I turn by chapter, which currently includes William Wilberforce true christianityby Matthew Barrett None superiorby GK Chesterton In defense of reasonNatasha Crain’s faithfully differentby George Yancey A faith is no moreand Thomas Sowell Intellectuals and race.
What are your favorite fiction novels?
I’m a huge fan of CS Lewis’s underrated space trilogy, especially the finale This hideous force, which I have re-read more than any other work of fiction, always finding a treasure trove of new theological and cultural insights. My favorite fiction list also includes Lewis’s big divorcein particular the chapter “red lizard”, The silver chairin particular the chapter “Queen of the Underworld”, and the chapter of Dostoyevsky Karamazov brothers, especially the “Grand Inquisitor” chapter, which I think is perhaps the best chapter outside of Scripture in the history of literature. Beyond that, given the reality of common grace, I find much truth in David Foster Wallace’s statement infinity joke as well as that of Jack Kerouac On the road (especially his great line, “Those who never yawn or say a trivial thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders through the stars and in the middle you see the light central blue appear and everyone goes ‘Awww!'”) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sherlock holmes stories are always fun.
Which biographies or autobiographies influenced you the most and why?
confession by Augustine and The Life and Story of Frederick Douglass at the top of my list of autobiographies. As for the biographies, the two books by John Piper, The Heritage of Sovereign Joy: The Triumphant Grace of God in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin and The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd, are extremely useful. I go back again and again to everything Charles Spurgeon wrote about his personal experience with anxiety and depression, especially “The minister’s fainting.”
What books do you read regularly and why?
My regular reviews include those of CS Lewis This hideous forceJ.I. Packer Knowing Godby Abraham Kuyper Lectures on Calvinismby Alexander Solzhenitsyn Divided worldRookmaaker HR Modern art and the death of culture (which has a brilliant riposte, Modern art and the life of culture by William Dyrness and Jonathan Anderson).
Which books have most profoundly shaped the way you serve and lead others in the cause of the gospel?
Since I first read Francis Schaeffer’s book The God who is there on a transpacific flight to Nepal in 1998, I was never the same again. Schaeffer’s willingness to think deeply about literature, art, philosophy, politics, science, film, and anything and everything else under the sun and under the lordship of Christ , has left an indelible mark on the way I communicate the truth of the gospel. Schaffer’s student Jerram Barrs wrote Learn the evangelism of Jesuswhich was also a major influence, as was JI Packer’s classic Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.
The book on discipleship that I have given away more than any other – the book that I have seen God use more than any other in the lives of my students to break addictions to pornography and other sins that beset them – is the John Owen classic The mortification of sin.
What book do you wish every pastor read?
Knowing God by JI Packer and, when you’re done, Knowing God again and again. Throw in Herman Bavinck The Wonders of God and Stephen Charnock The existence and attributes of God for good measure. The more often we remember the size and splendor of the God we serve, the less seriously we take ourselves. And not taking yourself seriously is an essential mark of good pastors.
If your congregation wants to reflect biblically on the social justice controversies of our time, which it likely does, I recommend Carl Trueman The rise and triumph of the modern self and George Yancey Beyond the Racial Impasse. My editor would be happy if I winked at Confronting Injustice Without Compromising the Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice.
What do you learn about the life and following of Jesus?
I learned that a mark of a reverent life, valuing God more and more as he deserves, has a nice side effect. This means we don’t have to take ourselves seriously!
Value God’s reputation above all else and it becomes that much easier to tolerate the cheap online slap from a stranger or even a verbal stab in the back from someone we trust. Worrying about its glory and fame, its redeeming cosmic platform, and our own platforms and popularity starts to look as cute and small as it really is. I learn that we were designed to run on fear. We think, communicate, function, and thrive best when we’re transfixed by something or someone truly awesome, and it’s good news that God is infinitely more interesting and awesome than us. For every thought or worry we have about ourselves, may we think a hundred thoughts about God, his glory and his goodness. Holy Spirit, make it so in our hearts and minds.