On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scences glimpse into their lives as readers. I corresponded with Nancy Guthrie, prolific author and prominent conference speaker, about what’s on her nightstand, what she’s learning, her favorite biographies, and more. You can learn from Guthrie as a plenary speaker at The Gospel Coalition 2014 National Women’s Conference.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
Since I’ve been working on a five-book series, I’ve had a next chapter needing to be written for the past four years, which has profoundly shaped my reading. But I finished writing the series this summer, so August was my month to read some things I’ve just wanted to for the pleasure of it. I went to the bookstore (yes, an actual brick-and-mortar bookstore) to look for some fiction. But I’ve realized I enjoy memoir more than fiction and so, with the promise of Ralph from the behind the counter that I wouldn’t be able to put it down, I bought Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. He was right. With my appreciation for the biblical theology of people like Vaughan Roberts, and as a regular watcher of Inspector Lewis, a trip to Oxford is on my wish list. Weber took me there through the pages of her book. More than that, she invited me into the heart and mind of a skeptic who allowed me to see Christ and Christianity and Christians in a fresh way. The openness, humor, honesty, and integrity of her coming-to-Christ journey drew me in.
Then last week I ran into my friend, Ashley Cleveland, at the park where we both like to walk, and she pulled a hot-off-the-press copy of her memoir, Little Black Sheep, out of her Jeep and gave it to me. As an accomplished songwriter, Ashley has a way with words. Even more, she figured out how to write a book that’s all about herself and yet reflects personal insight more than inflated ego. The way she writes with grace and acceptance about the imperfect people in her life made me want to extend that kind of grace and acceptance to imperfect people in my life. And the way she writes about her Shepherd made me grateful he’s my Shepherd, too.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve read a couple of books in preparation for interviewing the authors for the Christ the Center podcast. Amie Byrd’s Housewife Theologian is a winsome call to women to be thinking Christians. And reading Barbara Duguid’s Extravagant Grace, in which she works from the writings of John Newton to deal with sin and guilt, is like lingering over lunch with a wise friend willing to confess her own embarrassing struggles with sin, making you not feel so alone. I’m still thinking through the implications of Barbara’s book in regard to God’s sovereignty over the sin in my life, and pondering statements like this: “At this very moment, you are exactly as holy and mature in your faith as God wants you to be.”
It thrills me that as I’m working my way ever-so-slowly through classes at Covenant Theological Seminary, mostly through distance education, the reading continually calls me to worship and wonder at the salvation I’ve inherited and the Savior to whom I’m united. Perhaps my favorite book from my latest class was Jesus: Lord and Savior by F. F. Bruce. The book expanded my understanding of the person, ministry, and words of Jesus by placing them in the social, political, and religious state of Palestine under the Roman Empire in the first century. Anthony Hoekema’s Saved by Grace deepened my understanding of aspects of salvation including regeneration, conversion, justification, sanctification, and perseverance. I’m grateful a full understanding of this miracle wasn’t required when I was brought from spiritual death to life, and that even now I don’t have to grasp it perfectly to enjoy full confidence in its benefit.
What are some books you regularly re-read and why?
There are several books I tend to pull off my shelf over and over again as I work on writing projects and correspond with people who write me. I go back to Michael Williams’s Far as the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption to find words to explain the purpose of things like the failed kings in the Old Testament and the healing ministry of Jesus in the New. My copy of The Goldsworthy Trilogy has proved to be worth more than its weight in gold in providing the framework that runs through Scripture of “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule,” understanding the importance of order and disorder in the Wisdom Literature, and the way God speaks and guides. I pulled out Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrines again this week to look for verbiage to respond to some readers of my Genesis study who wrote to me struggling with the suggestion that God chooses who will be his.
What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?
When I look back on the books that had the greatest effect on me at key points, I can’t help but remember reading that big green Decision-Making and the Will of God by Gary Friesen and J. Robin Maxson in college. When I met my future husband, David, who had taken classes from Friesen at Multnomah School of the Bible and had also read the book, it was one of the places we immediately found common ground. More recently a book I’ve read and re-read on this issue is Guidance and the Voice of God by Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne. It’s much shorter and clearer, and I simply think everyone should read it. For example, I love this statement: “Many of our problems with guidance stem from precisely this: we ask the wrong questions, and then wonder why we cannot find answers. . . . We should ask the questions that God thinks are important, and these are the questions he has answered in the Bible.”
Randy Alcorn’s Money, Posessions, and Eternity is another book that’s had a big effect on my husband and me. Randy’s personal example in regard to ministry and money is challenging, as is his questioning of accepted practices concerning ministry fundraising, honorariums, and benefiting from money raised by lotteries.
I’ve read my share of books on grief and death, but the only one I’ve bought in bulk to provide to grieving couples we minister to through our Respite Retreats is Grieving, Hope, and Solace by Albert Martin, which uniquely offers comfort less in the intermediate state in God’s presence and more in our confident hope of resurrection.
If I were to pick one book that’s had the biggest effect on me personally and in how I minister to others, it would have to be John Piper’s Desiring God. This volume brought about a seismic shift in my understanding of what God desires from me and for me.
What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?
I recently re-read Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place and was reminded why it is such a significant book. I want to believe God will give me the grace to be faithful should I ever face anything like Corrie and Betsy did, but I admit it’s hard to imagine. About 10 years ago, I worked with Gracia Burnham when she returned to the United States after having been held captive in the jungles of the Philippines and losing her husband in the battle from which she was rescued. She wrote about this tragedy in In the Presence of My Enemies. I rarely step into the hot shower in my comfortable house without thinking about what it was like for her to survive in the jungle all those months without the comforts of clean running water, soap, a shower, a toothbrush, privacy, and more than enough to eat.