On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scences glimpse into their lives as readers. I corresponded with Jonathan Leeman, editoral director for 9Marks and author most recently of Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism (B&H, 2016), about what’s on his nightstand, books that have shaped his biblical theology, his favorite—and wished-for—fiction, and more.

What’s on your nightstand right now?

  • A few commentaries on Hosea.
  • Gerald Bray’s new book, The Church.
  • A work of fiction I think I’m going to stop reading even though I’m only halfway through. Boring.
  • Steven Smith’s The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom.
  • Some Roman Catholic theologies on church polity. Predictable, right?
  • Russell Moore’s Onward, which I read a couple months ago. I recommend it.  
  • I also finally read Gregg Allison’s Sojourners and Strangers (four years too late)Except for the part where he strays into multi-site-ism, it’s very good!

What are some books you regularly re-read and why?

I don’t understand these guys who always say they re-read books. Where do they get the time? I have stacks and stacks of books I’m trying to get to for the first time. I don’t think I’ve ever re-read a book. 

What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel? 

Sermons have shaped me in this way more than books, but a few would be Charles Bridges’s The Christian MinistryEd Welch’s When People Are Big and God Is Small, and Mark Dever’s The Gospel and Personal Evangelism.

What books have most helped you teach others about Jesus? 

Various biblical theologies all the way. From books in Don Carson’s New Studies in Biblical Theology series (especially Stephen Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty) to the work of Greg Beale to Peter Gentry and Steve Wellum. These kinds of books help me understand my Bible, which in turn help me understand who Jesus is from the whole canon. This isn’t just as an academic matter; these authors have taught me what it means to say that Jesus is the last Adam, Abraham’s seed, the new Israel, David’s greater Son, fully God and fully man, priest and king. Such studies yield worship and the desire to help others worship.

What are your favorite fiction books?

I’m still looking for that perfect piece of fiction that does everything I want a novel to do. This imaginary novel would probably combine Dostoevsky’s psychological and philosophical insight with the simpler lyric of Hemingway. More importantly, it would reconcile Cormac McCarthy’s unflinching refusal to look away from the worst of this world with the magical and childlike hope that suffuses Lewis’s Narnia series. Can you name a book for me that does all this?

One well-known contemporary author almost achieved all this for me (minus the Lewis), but the quantity of raunch in his novel has kept me from reading a second book of his. So I asked a writer friend of mine to write something that combines that unnamed writer’s brilliant understanding of the fallen heart with John Piper’s vision for the glory of God. That’s what I want: first-rate Christian writers who can capture the worst while motioning if only dimly toward the best. So think of the Ecclesiastes-like despair at the end of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Give me that, and then give me an answer. Dostoevsky tried to combine these two things in Crime and Punishment, but I don’t think he pulled it off. Have you ever noticed how the final conversion scene of that book feels out of sync with the rest of the novel, as if another writer suddenly took over? That’s the particular challenge for Christian fiction in our secular and scientific age: making the supernatural believable, or combining regeneration and realism. These two things don’t fit naturally together, of course. You’re reading a good story, the author inserts something Christian-y . . . and suddenly you’re in an after-school special. 

The novel for me that came closest to telling a story set in the soiled pants and adulteries of everyday existence, while also offering a brief glimmer of the glorious beyond, as in a mirror dimly, was Les Miserables. I cried for the last 30 or 40 pages straight. My wife wondered what was wrong with me until she read it and did the same. May I therefore invite some brave young writer out there to write a Les Mis-like story of redemption set in a postmodern urban progressive idiom? You might say I want the glory of Michelangelo or Rembrandt in a contemporary art gallery—and for it to not look out of place! We all long to experience the beauty of redemption in our own world, don’t we? 

Also in the On My Shelf seriesMegan HillMarvin OlaskyDavid WellsJohn FrameRod DreherJames K. A. SmithRandy AlcornTom SchreinerTrillia NewbellJen WilkinJoe CarterTimothy GeorgeTim KellerBryan ChapellLauren ChandlerMike CosperRussell MooreJared WilsonKathy KellerJ. D. GreearKevin DeYoungKathleen NielsonThabiti AnyabwileElyse FitzpatrickCollin HansenFred SandersRosaria ButterfieldNancy Guthrie, and Matt Chandler.

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