My 15 Most Influential Authors
I love reading. I’m a book fan. For some reason God has wired me to thoroughly enjoy lots of different kinds of writing, and though I don’t get the time to read nearly as much as I’d like, it is one of my favorite things to do. Therefore, as a tribute to my favorite authors, here is my list of my 15 most influential authors in the way I think, express myself, write, and shape my understanding of the writing craft. The first six are secular, the last nine are Christian. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do, and I would definitely encourage you to take a look at what they’ve written if you are unfamiliar with their work.
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorn Clemens)
I adore Mark Twain’s quick wit, incisive satire, immensely dry humor, vivid descriptions, and down-to-earth view of the world. He has written much, but his short stories are top-notch in my opinion. My favorites of his are: “The Diaries of Adam and Eve,” “The Frog Jumping Contest of Calaveras County,” and the classics “Tom Sawyer,” and “Huckleberry Finn.”
Without question, my favorite children’s book writer was Bill Peet. His imagination, creativity, illustrations, and uncanny ability to bring fiction to life before his readers’ eyes make him an absolute joy to read. A great overview of his material can be found in his “Autobiography,” but I would also commend to you “Cappyboppy,” (about a pet capybara) “The Wingdingdilly,” (about fantastic multi-animal wild creature) “Big Bad Bruce,” (about a bully bear who is shrunk to the size of a pebble) and just about anything else that you can find. They are great reads, and thoroughly entertaining.
Another author I’ve recently re-delved into is Louis L’Amour. He wrote mostly western short stories and radio dramas. L’Amour’s skill with plot development, his economic use of adjectives to provide full but descriptions in just a few words, and his ability to lead the reader to anticipate the plot are excellent, in my opinion. His plot turns are interesting and leave the reader wanting to turn the page, but follow a set course that is sensible and grounded in historical fact. He is an historian-turned-author, and he is truly excellent with the western genre of literature. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of any story that has Chick Bowdrie in it (his quintessential leading character – also a Texas Ranger), or pick up his dramatized audiobooks. They got me through the vast majority of my childhood in the back of my family’s Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
This great American poet is well-know by many, and well-loved by me. Poetry is fairly difficult for me to analyze and dig into, but the exception to that rule is Robert Frost. I love him for his poetry construction, creativity, imagery, and symbolism. His melancholic but hopeful tone in much of his writing speaks deeply to me, and I am awestruck with his use of words and weaving of concepts. He is an excellent poet, and I find myself thumbing through his collected works (which I received as a gift from a dear friend) from time to time. I would commend to you “Birches,” “The Road Not Taken,” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” but there are many more that are well worth your time.
Shakespeare is, in my opinion, the master of puns and a genius in humor, poetry, rhetoric, plot construction, and almost every other literary category that one could be awesome in. Though I didn’t like the way I had to dissect his art into meaningless pieces when I was in school, I dearly love and am very much entertained by his work. My favorites of his are: “Macbeth,” “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Merchant of Venice,” (probably my favorite) and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I plan on reading “Twelfth Night,” and “As You Like It” sometime soon.
If Shakespeare is the master of puns, in my opinion Charles Dickens is a master of all the literary devices (foreshadowing, foils, etc.). His descriptions are vivid, and his plot construction – though complex – is excellent. Without question my favorite book of his is “A Tale of Two Cities.” Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. You might want some coffee, though… he can be a bit dry and wordy. But I like him.
The Apostle Paul
I don’t believe any other human has influenced me as much as Paul. God used him to write the majority of the New Testament, and his writings are among the richest and most influential in the entire Bible. I love the way Paul writes – he typically sets up a line of theological reasoning and then moves to application after setting the stage. He has also informed my own personal letter writing, and brought much clarity to the gospel in a myriad of contexts. My favorites in Paul’s corpus are Romans and Philippians – both for their theology, their honesty, their accessibility, and their clarity. I dearly love Paul and look forward to meeting him someday. If you haven’t read much Paul, you should read your Bible. It’s pretty good.
One man that I deeply respect, resonate with, and cherish is C.S. Lewis. He is immensely creative and practical in his approach to theology, and even dabbles in apologetics. His letters to friends and acquaintances are exemplary, and I hope to someday have a body of letters that rivals his for their application of the gospel, their accessibility, and their respectful honesty. For my money, I suggest “Mere Christianity,” “The Screwtape Letters,” “The Efficacy of Prayer,” (from ‘The World’s Last Night and other essays’) and “The Weight of glory.” The Chronicles of Narnia is excellent as well – I loved those books when I was much younger and plan on reading them to my children someday, Lord willing. As a side note, I got to visit his favorite pub called ‘The Eagle and Child’ when I was studying abroad in Oxford one summer. I sat in the very booth that he and the other ‘inklings’ occupied when they stopped in for a brew and conversation.
I am deeply indebted to Dr John Piper for drawing a very crucial conclusion for me: that is, that God’s glory and my joy need not be divested from each other – in fact, they are one in the same! Piper brings to the table a great deal of gospel clarity, and more than any other author I know shows his delight in living with joy in Christ. He is also one of the more thorough writers I’ve come across. He will usually examine and exhaust a topic before moving on – which can be both a blessing and a headache. I have read much of Dr. Piper’s work, but I would definitely commend to you his most widely known contribution “Desiring God.” It is his thesis and serves a foundation for the vast majority of his other writings. God has used Dr. Piper in my life in many ways, and for him I am immensely grateful.
If John Piper is bold and Charles Dickens is wordy, Mark Driscoll is bold and abrupt. He is an astoundingly intense man, and his Christ-driven boldness and missional thinking for the sake of the Kingdom of God is a huge blessing. In his boldness and passion for Christ, I have been able to see in his letter writing a beautiful contextualized gospel clarity and pastoral tone. Though all his books and sermons have been very formative for my life and walk with Christ, I must say that my favorite is his collection of letters called “Death by Love.” It is heart-wrenching, honest, gritty, and beautiful. Though we live in very different places and have very different backgrounds, I’ve found that God has used Driscoll in many ways to shape my thinking, leadership, and writing.
I must say that my current favorite author overall is Dr. Don Carson. He is arguably one of the smartest men I’ve ever gotten to read, and his understanding of the Scriptures are come of the most clearly articulated applied wisdom I’ve ever seen. He is an academic man, but his writing carries a tone of accessibility as well – incredible depth paired with personal insight. He is becoming more of a household name, but as of right now is fairly unknown in the broader spectrum of Christian writing. Rest assured, he is one of the best writers I’ve come across. I commend to you just about anything he has written, including his commentaries, and especially what is currently on my bedside table: “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” (a discussion of prayer that stems from Paul’s prayers in Scripture). My seminary Greek and New Testament professor, Dr. Paul Hoskins, also studied under Dr. Carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago for quite some time. He’s smart too.
A great example of an old-school pastor who has spent many years in ministry, but who has decided to become conversant with the recent generations so that he can share the wisdom God has given him is R.C. Sproul. He possesses great pastoral wisdom and theological depth, and carries the tone of a very highly educated and very friendly grandpa. Though there are a couple of places that I differ with him theologically, I love his writing and would commend to you “The Soul’s Quest for God.” It is excellent, and it will be a catalyst in your walk with Christ, I assure you.
The Puritans were an interesting sect of Christianity back in the day, and the Puritan of Puritans was Jonathan Edwards. I love his writing because it depicts a depth and emotion in writing that is rarely duplicated – especially this day in age. John Piper is basically a reincarnated Jonathan Edwards in his theology, but Edwards stands alone in his writing and preaching. As the most influential American theologian (in my opinion), he is brilliant, insightful, and preaches the glories of Christ in ways that I aspire to someday. I would encourage you to read “Religious Affections,” or any of his sermons – I’ve not read a bad one yet.
If there is one man in history that I feel I identify with more than others, it is likely Charles Spurgeon. I love his writing because of his pastoral wisdom, the beautiful vivid imagery that he brings to life in his sermons, and his sheer rhetorical ability. I have read a fair amount of Spurgeon, but I would say that any of his sermons are worth a read (I have read some of his early stuff that isn’t very good), and definitely pick up “Lectures to my Students” if you’re involved in ministry at all, or thinking about doing so.
Finally, the most heart-wrenching author I’ve ever read in terms of his depth, blunt force, and articulation of sin and battling it is John Owen. He says in just a few pages what many men take volumes to convey. I’ve never come across anything of his that didn’t make me weep for my offense to God, and I am grateful to God for this man’s writings. In my opinion, God has given the modern church an immense gift in the writings of John Owen, and I would recommend anything he has written. Some of his writing is very thick and hard to understand, but it should be no problem if you get an updated version of his works. If you’re a Christian and you sin at all, you need to read “The Mortification of Sin” and make sure you have some serious time set aside to do so. It is not long, but it will rip your soul and speak hard gospel-centered truths to you about how to lay your sin in its grave.
Well, that’s about all I’ve got – you now have my most influential authors… do with them what you will. If you have any suggestions, I’d be more than happy to entertain them. Otherwise, enjoy, read, and thank God for the men and women he’s allowed to speak the gospel into our lives.