george hancock stefanWe are family of readers. We have purchased thousands of books since we came to the United States from Eastern Europe. One time I purchased about 500 Romanian books from a gentleman who wanted to sell his collection. My parents always encouraged me to purchase books, so currently I have books in the church, in the parsonage, and in my office at the seminary.

At a recent graduation celebration during a church service, I wondered if I could pick three books that have influenced my life the most (in addition to the Holy Scriptures). Those books are Knowing God by J. I. Packer, The Institutes of Theology by John Calvin, and The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoefer, in that order.

J.I. Packer starts the first chapter of his book Knowing God with a quote from Haddon Spurgeon, known as the Prince of Preachers. “It has been said by someone that the proper study of mankind is man. I will not oppose the idea, but I believe equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God: the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the works, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom we call Father.”

I have gifted this book to many of my friends and many of the college graduates in our church with the prayer that, above everything else, they will deepen their knowledge of God.

The second book has over 1200 pages and the time to read it was a summer gift from my parents. In the summer of 1976 I traveled to Los Angeles. After a few attempts to find a job, my father told me that this was probably the last long vacation that I will have and I should use it in whatever manner I wanted. Thus, I found myself almost daily in the library of Fuller Theological Seminary reading difficult books. John Calvin’s The Institutes is a difficult book yet, even according to people who do not agree with his conclusions, it should be read because it stretches one’s mind like no other book does. John McNeill, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, wrote that John Calvin’s writing shaped the destinies of nations like no other book.

The last in the three is The Cost of Discipleship. Dietrich argued that the coming of Hitler and other evils in the 20th century were in part because Christianity was no longer following Christ.  In this book, Bonhoeffer wrote that the church no longer makes disciples of Christ – it simply makes members of the church. Discipleship as prescribed by Jesus in the Bible is costly because it invites us to take up a cross daily. A colleague of Bonhoffer defined contemporary Christianity as a church without the cross.

When writing to Timothy, the apostle Paul reminded him to bring the parchments, the books that he left at Troas. We do not know what they were, but it was important for Timothy to bring them to Paul. Are there any books you have read and reread because they have made an impact on your life?