On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers. I corresponded with Randy Alcorn, founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM) and author of over 40 books, including the forthcoming book Happiness (Tyndale, October 2015).
In this interview we learn what books Alcorn regularly re-reads, what books have profoundly shaped him, his favorite works of fiction, and more.
(1) What's on your nightstand right now?
I don’t keep books on my nightstand, but I have two equivalents: a book table by the living room recliner, and another by my office chair. Here’s what’s on them, besides the Bible:
- The Valley of Vision
- The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers
- Studies in Words, C. S. Lewis
- The Gospel as Center, D. A. Carson and Tim Keller, eds.
- What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?, Kevin DeYoung
- The Lamb of God, Nancy Guthrie
- Does God Desire All to be Saved?, John Piper
- Preaching, Tim Keller
- My Boy Ben, David Wheaton
- Walking in the Dust of the Rabbi Jesus, Lois Tverberg
- The Oxford of Inspector Morse and Lewis, Bill Leonard
- The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes, John P. Hoover
- Justice League of America Omnibus
- The Brave and the Bold Team Up, Archives
- The Apostle, Randy Alcorn. (My newest graphic novel, which just arrived off the press, and now I get to look at it without being able to change it anymore so I can read and hopefully enjoy the finished work!)
Audio books I’m currently listening to (on my Android Note 4):
- The Game, Laurie B. King, read by Jenny Sterlin
- Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, read by Tim Robbins
- The Complete Sherlock Holmes, read by Simon Vance (terrifically read)
- Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton, read by Scott Brick
(2) What are your favorite fiction books?
- The Narnia series and Space Trilogy, C. S. Lewis
- The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
- Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- The Singer Trilogy, Calvin Miller
- The Odyssey and The Iliad, Homer
- Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
- Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
- Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
- Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry (fabulous audio narration by Paul Michael)
(3) What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?
- Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand. I read it as a teenager, just after coming to Christ and it profoundly affected my understanding of being “all in” following Jesus.
- Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. This book did what Wurmbrand’s book did, but showed me in the context of many throughout church history.
- Here I Stand, Roland Bainton. Classic bio of Martin Luther.
- John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, Jonathan Aitken
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, Eberhard Bethge (over 1,000 pages!)
- William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity, Kevin Belmonte. The book which the wonderful movie Amazing Grace was based on.
- Spurgeon: A New Biography, Arnold Dallimore
- Jonathan Edwards, George Marsden
- Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis
The most recent autobiography I read, still untitled and unpublished, is by pastor and civil rights leader John M. Perkins. John is a great man who has had a strong impact on my life, and was honored that he asked me to write the foreword.
(4) What are some books you regularly re-read and why?
I do re-read some books, though there aren’t many I read more than two or three times.
I’ve read Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy several times, as I have Lewis’s Space Trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Calvin Miller’s Singer Trilogy. I’ve read the complete Sherlock Holmes several times too, both the printed and audio versions.
Another old favorite is Francis Schaeffer’s He Is There and He Is Not Silent. I’ve found myself reentering Knowing God by J. I. Packer, which had a huge impact on me when I read it the year it came out. I’ve also gone back to Piper’s Desiring God, Jerry Bridges’s The Joy of Fearing God, and Chuck Colson’s Kingdoms in Conflict.
I’ll frequently revisit Charles Spurgeon’s writings, including his sermons, though he wrote so much it’s hard to call it “re-reading,” since by now I’m not sure what I’ve read and what I haven’t!
I’m currently rereading some of the old comic books I grew up on, which are now in Archive and Omnibus volumes—a blast from the past! Legion of Super Heroes, Justice League of America, Fantastic Four, The Flash, Green Lantern. Very fun.
(5) What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?
Well, it’s not The Flash or Fantastic Four.
Five years ago a friend and I had lunch with Bruce Ware, who teaches theology at Southern Seminary in Louisville, and Gerry Breshears, theology professor at Western Seminary in Portland.
Bruce asked me, “Randy, of all books besides the Bible itself, what book has had the greatest influence on your life?” And I said, “That’s easy. Without a doubt it’s A. W. Tozer’s book The Knowledge of the Holy.”
Bruce smiled and said, “You’re kidding. That’s the book that has had the biggest influence on my life!”
And then Gerry Breshears said, “Okay, this is crazy. That’s my number one book too!”
If you haven’t read The Knowledge of the Holy, I encourage you to. (Or listen to the excellent audio read by Scott Brick, only 4.5 hours). Give God a chance to use it in your life as he has in so many others. It’s a short book written with extraordinary concision and power. Tozer observes, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Utterly true, and with incredible life-shaping impact.
(6) What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
Much of what I’m learning is directly connected to the biblical and historical research I’ve done the last three years for a book on happiness, which I just completed (it comes out in October). I studied all the Hebrew and Greek happiness words used in Scripture (primarily 22 Hebrew words and 16 Greek), including those rendered joy, gladness, delight, and pleasure, and also studied the happiness-related themes of celebration, feasting, and so on.
The sheer quantity of what Scripture has to say about being glad in God is overwhelming. The biblical and historical affirmation of God’s happiness, while not a new concept to me, has had a profound effect on my own thinking by sheer volume and weight. I’ve been saturated with this and it’s influenced my worldview, creeping into daily little things, including the delight I take in God’s creation—everything from my Golden Retriever to bike rides with my grandsons.
As I walk with God, he calls me to enter into a happiness within and between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a happiness that preexisted the universe itself. And though the ultimate entrance into his happiness awaits us after death (Matt. 25:21), God calls us not to wait until we die to experience the wonder and celebration and gladness that overflows us, but to experience it here and now in a fallen and cursed world that doesn’t revoke happiness but will ultimately result in greater eternal happiness.
I keep pondering how heaven will overflow with happiness because God himself overflows with happiness. It is not a fairy tale that we will live happily ever after. Our Creator and Redeemer’s happiness guarantees a happy ending to the story that will never end.
I have found myself daily frontloading into the present the promises of eternal joy, and letting that color my view of daily events. It’s been a truly Christ-centered and happy-making experience.
Also in the On My Shelf series: 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, Tullian Tchividjian, Nancy Guthrie, and Matt Chandler.