Part of the The Reading Interviews series.
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary, where I have served since 1993. I have written ten books, starting in 1986 with Unmasking the New Age. My most recent books (released on the same day) are On Jesus (2003) and On Pascal (2003). I am married to the brilliant and beautiful writer and editor, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis.
What are your favorite books? What do you like about them and how have they influenced you?
There are hundreds, but these have probably influenced me the most (outside of the Bible):
- Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There. Originally published in 1968, this began a publishing explosion by Schaeffer that lasted until his death in 1984 at age 72. Schaeffer pleads for a culturally-informed, biblically orthodox, and deeply compassionate apologetic apt for modern men and women. This vision for ministry has guided me ever since I first read it shortly after my conversion in 1976.
- Blaise Pascal, Pensées. Out in many editions, but the Penguin in my favorite. Pascal was one of the most brilliant scientific, mathematical, and philosophical minds of his day. This is a record of an unfinished project defending the Christian faith rationally. It is more epigrammatic than systematic, but the apologetic insights are often arresting and deeply memorable. His argument for Christianity from human nature has guided my apologetic thinking for over thirty years. I first read this book in 1977 or 1978.
- Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. Kierkegaard was a kind of fideist, and I emphatically am not; however, this devotional book was branded into my soul when I read it in 1977 or 1978. The “one thing” is undivided devotion to God under “the audit of eternity.” God used this book to solidify my calling as a thinker and scholar. I have not reread it, but should.
- Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death. It is not an appealing title, but Kierkegaard’s account of the human self in rebellion against God helped lead me to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in 1976. I taught from the book in a class at the University of Oregon about five years later.
- Os Guinness, The Dust of Death and In Two Minds: The Dilemma of Doubt and How to Resolve it. All of Guinness’s books have spoken to my condition, as the Quakers say, but none more than these two modern classics. The first is a Christian critique of the counterculture, and the best ever written. In Two Minds helps the troubled Christian navigate through the deep and turbulent waters of doubt without guilt and without losing one’s faith.
- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908). His endlessly amazing wit and apologetic prowess amazed me and equipped me intellectually. I recently listed to this in audio book form and was dazzled once again.
There are so many more, but I must stop somewhere!
Who are your favorite writers?
- Francis Schaeffer: a prophetic conscience and compassionate pastor to a lost generation. I have read all his books, some several times. I am not on a jag of rereading many of them, including True Spirituality, Genesis in Space and Time, He is There, He is Not Silent, Art and the Bible, Escape From Reason, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, Death in the City, and The Church Before the Watching World. They all hold up and inspire me.
- Os Guinness. The man is a brilliant social critique and I have read all of his books. I recommend all of them (as well as any recorded lecture).
- Rebecca Merrill Groothuis. She is the most lucid, logical, and compelling writer alive on the issue of women in the home, culture, and in the church. She can write a sentence a third of a page long that never loses the train of thought and which can be read easily.
- C.S. Lewis. His apologetic works – Mere Christianity, The Abolition of Man, and Miracles – helped me to keep my head in college, and I return to them (and many of his other works) often. He was a peerlessly clear, clever, and knowledgeable writer.
What is the best non-fiction and fiction book you have read recently?
Non-fiction: Best, meaning “most influential” – The God Who is There by Francis Schaeffer.
Fiction: I don’t read much fiction, but probably The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
Why do you think reading is important? What has led you to make it a priority in your life?
Those who don’t read shouldn’t lead. It’s not original to me, but it is true and consequential. We need the mental discipline and the knowledge that reading brings. I have written a poem called, “Ode to the Book.”
How many books do you normally read at a time?
Do you mark and take notes while you read? If so, how?
Yes. I underline, make notes in the margins, and put my own index in the front of the book. When I was younger, I took detailed pages of notes on books, which I still consult on occasion. I used to destroy books through colored marking pens. No more.
When you finish a book, how do you decide what to read next?
I have no idea. I want to know most everything related to my calling: showing the truth, rationality, and pertinence of Christianity across the broad spectrum of life. I always feel guilty that I don’t read enough.
Do you have any advice about reading that others might find helpful?
Stop watching television. Make time for reading. Invest in books. Reread classics.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!
Thank you for asking me about this delightful subject.