On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Dane Ortlund—chief publishing officer and Bible publisher at Crossway and author of Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sufferers and Sinners—about what’s on his nightstand, favorite fiction books, edifying nonfiction books, and more.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
The same ESV Thinline I’ve been using since 2003. It’s all beat up, but I have a personal attachment to it. It’s comforting to have it close at hand to flip to favorite passages at nighttime.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together. The Lord has been convicting me of a need to be more embracing and less scrutinizing of my fellow Christians. This book was recommended to me to help me to that end, and it really is.
C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair. Reading it to one of my sons at bedtime.
Richard Sibbes, volume 4 of his Works. I read a page a day of either Sibbes or Goodwin.
Volume 48 of Luther’s Works. It’s a volume of letters. Fascinating, funny, insightful, edifying.
What are your favorite fiction books?
Part of the problem is that outside of Lewis and Tolkien I don’t read fiction. I tried Gilead and other books people rave about and just can’t get through them.
What are some nonfiction books that have been edifying to you recently?
Candice Millard, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President. Fascinating recounting of the six-month presidency of James Garfield in 1881, cut short by assassination. Garfield’s character and convictions shine through and are deeply inspiring and edifying, and a refreshing contrast to much of today’s leadership in the West.
Blaine Harden, Escape from Camp 14. Eye-opening account of the escape of a young man from the prison camps of North Korea. Heart-wrenching insight into the evil of the human heart. We need not travel back to Hitler’s concentration camps or Stalin’s gulags to see at work in systemic ways; it is alive and well today.
Bruce Henderson, Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler. Illuminating window into what it was like to grow up as a Jew in Germany, and fascinating story of the way German Jews employed their knowledge of the German language and culture against the Nazis by joining the U.S. Army, despite knowing what would happen to them if they were captured.
Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Impossible to read this book without a deepened heartache for the miseries some people experience as children in ways completely out of their hands. It’s the account of a young boy subscripted by force into the Sierra Leone military and the horrors of what he was forced to do, and how he eventually was restored to a sane human existence.
What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?
Arnold Dallimore’s two-volume (vols. 1 and 2) biography of George Whitefield. Unreal. I read it in the year between finishing college and starting seminary. I don’t know how you can read this and not long for God to do something supernatural through your life.
Iain Murray on Jonathan Edwards. Opened up to me an enchanting world of beauty.
What are some books you regularly re-read and why?
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. The vivid imagery, the terse insight, and especially the closing chapters with the vision of God turning us into real people as we yield our lives utterly to him—I keep coming back. I find more that I disagree with theologically each time, and at the same time I find I love the book a little more each time.
Narnia books. Why? I don’t really know. I just know it builds joy and freedom in my walk with Christ.
That’s pretty much it, I think. I’m going to leave so many good books un-read when I die, and I have trouble re-reading books unless they’re absolutely stellar.
What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?
Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor. The relentless rounds of visiting his flock, despite his brilliance and the case that could be made for him to be more reclusive, corrected my view of ministry and service of others. It made a deep impression.
Ray Ortlund, The Gospel. Gospel doctrine, gospel culture. Not complicated. But rare, precious, and vitally needed today.
Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections. The section on broken-heartedness informs—or I want it to, anyway—every ministry context I’m in.
What’s one book you wish every pastor read?
William Still, The Work of the Pastor. It’s idiosyncratic and odd at places. But you can’t read it without steel being put in your spine to make your work and church and ministry deeply defined by the Scriptures—the whole Scriptures, and nothing beyond the Scriptures.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
People are much more discouraged, uncertain, and scared than their smiles and outward comportment let on. Even the most seemingly impressive. Everyone is battling their way through life, sometimes barely hanging on. They need tenderness, gentleness, and a safe listener. Their sharp words or withdrawal reflects their own inner pain, not so much you, even if you are the target of their dysfunction.