On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Jason Allen—president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of several books, including Discerning Your Call to Ministry and Being a Christian—about what’s on his nightstand, his favorite biographies, the last great book he read, and more.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
My wife is gracious and permits me to keep a pretty tall stack on my nightstand. On it right now is a collection of books, including Stephen King’s On Writing and J. C. Ryle’s little book Is All Scripture Inspired? Additionally, there are two books on geopolitics, especially relating to Asia. One is Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison, and the other is Asia’s Reckoning: China, Japan, and the Fate of the U.S. Power in the Pacific Century by Richard McGregor. For many years I’ve been fascinated by geopolitics, military history, and the broader world. My two favorite geopolitical thinkers are George Friedman and Robert Kaplan. (George Friedman is often confused with The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. I find Thomas interesting, but George genuinely insightful about the world and its future.)
What are your favorite fiction books?
To be honest, I don’t read a lot of fiction. Over the years, I have read a good number of Wendell Berry’s books and, of course, C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series, but I’ve just found history, and especially biographies, more intriguing than fiction.
What biographies and autobiographies have influenced you and why?
Now this is a great question. I always have a biography or two at hand. From adolescence I’ve enjoyed reading biographies of great leaders, and I’m currently working through a project of reading a biography of every U.S. president. Of the many biographies I’ve enjoyed, I’d put these at the top of the list:
- William Manchester’s The Last Lion
- Ronnie Dugger’s The Politician: The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson
- Arnold Dallimore’s George Whitefield, the Life and Times of the Great Evangelist
- Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand
- Iain Murray’s Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography
Like any book, I suppose, a biography’s impact is often amplified by the timing in one’s life. For instance, I read Iain Murray’s two-volume biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones in my earliest months of ministry, and it affected me profoundly.
What was the last great book you read?
This is another interesting question. Of course, it depends on how you define a “great” book. If by a great book you mean, objectively, a book that has made a massive impact on the church, that would lead me to answer it one way. If, more personally, you mean a book that has made a great impact on me, I would answer the question another way.
With more of the latter in mind, I would say in the last couple of months I have read three books that have been particularly helpful: Matthew Barrett’s Reformation Theology, Stephen Wellum’s God the Son Incarnate, and I have re-read James Montgomery Boice’s Foundations of the Christian Faith.
What should the role of reading be in the lives of pastors and leaders?
For a pastor and leader, reading is essential. Through reading I’m spiritually and intellectually informed, and it proves to be an artesian well of ideas and insights. For me, every good book isn’t only good unto itself, but it’s an idea-generator, sending me down a thousand roads of thought and inquiry.
What is the one book you wish every evangelical would read and why?
I answer this question without hyperbole or condescension, but I simply must say the Bible. As evangelicals we’re inundated with great content. I’m a beneficiary of such content, and I aim to contribute to such content, but I do fear at times we overlook the simple reading of God’s Word. For me, priority number one every day is to immerse myself in Scripture and encourage my students to do the same.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
In light of my calling to Midwestern Seminary, I feel like every day I continue to learn two lessons. On the one hand, to work harder every day than the day before so I might honor the Lord and best leverage my life and stewardship for his glory. At the same time, every day I learn to depend more and more on his grace, his strength, his care, and to pray and seek his kind providence over all of my affairs and Midwestern Seminary’s. I just can’t imagine leading or serving without both of these realities in my life.
Also in the On My Shelf series: Jason Cook • Mack Stiles • Michael Kruger • Robert Smith • Tony Merida • Andy Crouch • Walter Strickland • Hannah Anderson • S. D. Smith • Curtis Woods • Mindy Belz • Steve Timmis • David Mathis • Michael Lindsay • Nathan Finn • Jennifer Marshall • Todd Billings • Greg Thornbury • Greg Forster • Jen Pollock Michel • Sam Storms • Barton Swaim • John Stonestreet • George Marsden • Andrew Wilson • Sally Lloyd-Jones • Darryl Williamson • D. A. Horton • Carl Ellis • Owen Strachan • Thomas Kidd • David Murray • Jarvis Williams • Gracy Olmstead • Matthew Hall • Drew Dyck • Louis Markos • Ray Ortlund • Brett McCracken • Mez McConnell • Erik Raymond • Sandra McCracken • Tim Challies • Sammy Rhodes • Karen Ellis • Alastair Roberts • Scott Sauls • Karen Swallow Prior • Jackie Hill Perry • Bruce Ashford • Jonathan Leeman • Megan Hill • Marvin Olasky • David Wells • John Frame • Rod Dreher • James K. A. Smith • Randy Alcorn • Tom Schreiner • Trillia Newbell • Jen Wilkin • Joe Carter • Timothy George • Tim Keller • Bryan Chapell • Lauren Chandler • Mike Cosper • Russell Moore • Jared Wilson • Kathy Keller • J. D. Greear • Kevin DeYoung • Kathleen Nielson • Thabiti Anyabwile • Elyse Fitzpatrick • Collin Hansen • Fred Sanders • Rosaria Butterfield • Nancy Guthrie • Matt Chandler