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

We asked Ray Ortlund, senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville and TGC Council member, about what’s on his nightstand, books that have shaped his view of gospel ministry, his favorite fiction, and more.

What’s on your nightstand right now? 

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between The World and Me. Unless white people like me listen to our African-American friends enough to grow into some measure of understanding, we will have no prophetic voice to our generation.

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

  • Francis Schaeffer, No Little People. His sermon “The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way” is the most important thing outside the Bible I’ve ever read. Our integrity and power are at stake.
  • A. W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous. Tozer consistently leads me to deeper realism and humility as I stand before the Lord.

What books have most profoundly shaped how you view gospel ministry?

  • Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections. Edwards convinced me that I was too cerebral and abstract in my preaching. I had to re-learn how to preach, more to the heart.
  • D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers. His final chapter, “Demonstration of the Spirit and of the Power,” is the best declaration I’ve ever read advocating Spirit-filled preaching.
  • Paul Tournier, Guilt and Grace: A Psychological Study. Tournier sensitized me to the ocean of guilt-driven social dynamics we swim through every day. He alerted me to the especially poisonous nature of religiously induced anxiety, so that I detest it.

What books have most helped you teach Scripture to others? 

  • Robert L. Chapman, Roget’s International Thesaurus. Word choices matter. Precise wordings matter. When you have a word but need the meaning, you go to a dictionary. But when you have a meaning, an idea, a concept, and need the best word for it, you go to a thesaurus. Roget’s has helped me countless times.

What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?

  • Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield (two volumes). I love Whitefield for his energy and exuberance.

What are your favorite fiction books?

  • Charles Dickens, David Copperfield. Maybe the most perfectly told story I’ve ever read. Satisfying, moving!
  • C. S. Lewis, Till We Have FacesFull of insight into deep feelings we are barely aware of until Lewis identifies them and explains them to us.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the RingsSo like our real lives, in that the story is filled with subplots that initially seem to complicate the literary landscape and slow everything down. But that’s what life is like. And it’s eventually summed up in a glorious way. Tolkien tells me my own story.

What are your top books related to the local church?

  • Raymond C. Ortlund [my dad], Let The Church Be the Church. Dad imparted to me his simple but profound and fruitful ministry model marked by three priorities: Jesus, community, mission—in that order!

What book do you wish every Christian would read and why?

  • Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian. Jesus told us that our observable love for one another would set us apart as his true followers in the eyes of the watching world. But we aren’t good at loving one another, and we’re really lousy at repairing broken relationships. Schaeffer shows us all a better way.

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

Life is short, the merest vapor, quickly passing. I’m rapidly nearing the end. More and more, what matters isn’t my ministry accomplishments but only the grace of Christ crucified as my justification before the all-holy God.

Also in the On My Shelf series: Brett McCrackenMez McConnellErik RaymondSandra McCrackenTim ChalliesAnthony MooreSammy RhodesKaren EllisAlastair RobertsScott SaulsKaren Swallow PriorJackie Hill PerryBruce AshfordJonathan LeemanMegan 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.

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