On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.

I asked Nathan Finn—dean of the School of Theology and Missions and professor of Christian thought and tradition at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and co-author of The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement—about what’s on his nightstand, his favorite fiction books, the biographies that have influenced him the most, and more.

What’s on your nightstand right now?

What are your favorite fiction books?

What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?

I love biographies of U.S. presidents. My all-time favorite is David McCullough’s John Adams, a book that convinced me that biographies ought to read like novels. Plus, John Adams just wasn’t that interesting of a figure to me until I read the book. That’s the power of a good biography. I recently had a similar experience with Ronald White’s stellar new biography of Ulysses Grant, a good man (and evangelical!) who gets a bad rap because of some errors of judgment during his second term.

Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson is my favorite explicitly Christian biography. I’ve recommended it to literally hundreds of students and pastors over the years. Judson is a seminal figure in missions history and in my own ecclesial tradition, and I especially appreciate how Anderson humanizes the famous missionary while still maintaining an empathetic tone. Missionaries aren’t evangelical superheroes—they’re ordinary believers who obeyed God’s call to proclaim Christ cross-culturally.

Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor: A Memoir is an outstanding pastoral autobiography, written by a master storyteller. Though I’m not a pastor at this time, I was captivated by his commitment to everyday faithfulness in the ongoing work of preaching and pastoral care in particular. I’ve tried to apply his insights to my own calling as a professor who teaches a lot of future pastors.

What’s the last great book you read?

Earlier this spring, I read Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, which is a delightful book that I’ve been recommending to others. She takes insights from monasticism, the spiritual formation movement, and her own Anglican tradition and applies them to everyday activities. It’s a modern-day counterpart to The Practice of the Presence of God, and while a lot of the material is especially relevant to women, I found it easy to translate Warren’s insights into my own context as a husband, father, and academic.

What’s one book you wish every evangelical read? 

Every evangelical should read J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. It’s the only book I can think of that I’ve read closely more than three times, and each time I find it helps me grow in my walk with Christ. That book is such a gift to the body of Christ.

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

I’m learning that I’m not nearly burdened enough for reaching the unbelievers around me with the good news of Christ. As a professor, I have periodic opportunities to share the gospel with unbelieving students—even at a Christian university. As an itinerant preacher and speaker, I have loads of opportunities to share the gospel in public venues.

But I live in a Christian bubble, and I rarely think strategically about how to get outside of that bubble to build relationships with lost men and women who live in my city. I’m praying for greater intentionality in personal evangelism and boldness in sharing. I also have an evangelism accountability partner—he’a a pastor in another state who lives in a similar bubble. We talk every month and try to encourage each other to be faithful in sharing Christ.

Also in the On My Shelf series: 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

Browse dozens of book recommendations from The Gospel Coalition’s leaders and sign up your church at Hubworthy.