Ten Books That Have Influenced Me
Ten Books That Have Influenced Me
by Timothy McGrew
Not too long ago, an online friend asked that I list ten books that have influenced me, and what follows is that list – or rather, one version of it. I have restricted myself to books that are not in the public domain, so this time there will be no links. These are not necessarily the most influential books; ask me on a different day, and I might come up with a list that has only modest overlap with this one. And I present them to you in no particular order. But all of them made a difference to me.
Thomas Howard, Christ the Tiger – This book is an intensely personal memoir of a young man who was raised Christian, threw it all over, and then came back to the faith. One need not endorse everything Howard says (and I would not) in order to appreciate an autobiography that reads like the Confessions of a modern-day Augustine.
John Warwick Montgomery, Where is History Going? – This was the first book, so far as I can now remember, that I encountered that gave a robustly evidential defense of Christianity. Although I would not make all of the same arguments that Montgomery does, it had a decisive influence on my understanding of the relationship between faith and reason.
John Warwick Montgomery, The Suicide of Christian Theology – In this collection of his essays and debates, Montgomery offers a blistering indictment of the epistemic weakness of much modern theology. The transcript of the debate with Altizer is worth the price of the book all by itself.
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead – There are not many modern novels that treat Christianity with integrity. Robinson’s masterpiece is an exception, and her development of the protagonist, who is a minister in a small town, is both profound and moving. Again, one needn’t accept (and I wouldn’t) the epistemic stance of the protagonist in order to appreciate Robinson’s achievement.
Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament – Kitchen is one of the greatest living authorities on the archaeology of Egypt and the Sinai, and this book does not disappoint the reader’s expectations. Among the bonus features is a devastating review of various popular skeptical works like Finkelstein and Silberman’s book The Bible Unearthed, which Kitchen shreds pitilessly.
Timothy Larsen, Crisis of Doubt – The history of Victorian England is often told as the history of how a generation lost its faith. Larsen’s brilliant historical study quietly subverts this one-sided picture by demonstrating that the traffic was not by any means one way. Through seven deftly written biographical studies, Larsen shows how and why some Victorians became reconverts, returning to the Christianity of their youth after a time of doubt and disbelief.
John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure – David Hume’s critique of belief in reported miracles had the reputation, in the mid-twentieth century, of an impregnable achievement from which philosophy would never have to retreat. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, a sea-change has overtaken Hume, and the central argument from Part I of his famous Essay is now widely considered to be a failure. John Earman, himself an agnostic, deserves no small part of the credit for this, as his book is a pitiless exposure of the failings of Hume’s argument.
Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations – I stumbled upon this collection of Popper’s essays as a young student, and it provided me with both a map of interesting questions along the borders of philosophy and science and a model of clear and engaging philosophical prose. Though I no longer accept some of the key points of Popper’s epistemology and philosophy of science, I remain grateful to have had such a guide when I was entering the field.
Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield, The Fabric of the Heavens – Sometimes a textbook opens a new world for the reader. Toulmin and Goodfield did this for me, opening the world of the history of astronomy and dynamics in an accessible manner. This is not the latest and deepest analysis, but it remains a terrific point of entry for anyone new to the field.
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death – Postman opens his book with a contrast between two dystopian visions, that of Orwell in 1984 and that of Huxley in Brave New World. The former depicts a world in which we are overcome by externally imposed oppression; the latter describes a future where we are subjugated by technologies we willingly embrace that silently erode our ability to think. Orwell feared those who would ban books; Huxley feared that no one would have to, because there would be no one left who would want to read one. “This book,” Postman writes, “is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.” In this era of NSA surveillance and the politicized use of the IRS, it seems that perhaps both were right. But Postman certainly makes his case that Huxley was.
Dr. Timothy McGrew is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Western Michigan University, a Senior Research Fellow with Apologetics.com, and Director of the Library of Historical Apologetics. A well-published specialist in the theory of knowledge and the history and philosophy of science, Tim has spoken at Oxford, MIT, and other universities as well as many churches and seminaries across the United States and overseas. His talks on the meaning of faith, the rationality of belief in miracles, and the historical reliability of the Gospels are known for respectfully engaging skeptics and for deepening the faith of all Christian believers.