On My Shelf: Life and Books with Isaac Adams

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Editors’ note: 

We invite you to join the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition at a special event, “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” taking place April 3–4, 2018, in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Register today: MLK50conference.com.

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

I asked Isaac Adams—pastoral assistant at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and co-host of the podcast United? We Pray—about what’s on his nightstand, the books that have shaped his view of gospel ministry, and more.


What’s on your nightstand right now?

Currently, on my nightstand, there’s a phone changer and a lamp I keep knocking over every time I try to put away the laundry. So you could say that my nightstand and I have a love-hate relationship; I wouldn’t house my precious books there! But if you’re asking about my bookshelves . . .

My Bible is the book I need most of all. You can say it’s a cliché answer, but I’m happy to be cliché in that regard.

God’s Very Good Idea by Trillia Newbell

I have a 10-month-old daughter and while she probably can’t understand a word we’re saying, my wife and I want her to know that any lie the world might tell her about who she is because of the color of her skin is just that—a lie. We rejoice in her dignity every night by just reading a page of this little book and books like it.

God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts

I’m reading this book with a teenager I’m discipling, and it’s helped us both understand the overarching story of the Bible and track God’s people under God’s rule in God’s place. It’s really accessible.

Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention edited by Kevin Jones and Jarvis Williams

Another pastor and I led a handful of members from our church through this book recently, and it provided helpful insights and prompts for great conversation and prayer. As a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention, this clarified the “family history” in ways that were both saddening and enlightening.

Black and Reformed by Tony Carter

Tony clearly demonstrates why Reformed theology is anything but antithetical to the common African-American experience in the United States.

Holiness by J. C. Ryle

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a young pastor in the 19th century, once said: “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.” Of course, the greatest need of folks is Christ, and M’Cheyne knew that. Nonetheless, J. C. Ryle’s Holiness is a monolithic work on the topic. Should we sin so grace can abound? Ryle answers the question clearly.

Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland

Bringing her work in social sciences to the church, Cleveland looks at the forces that often lead Christians to devour one another (to use Paul’s words from Galatians 5:15). This book challenges the ways we currently think about unity and interrogates our assumptions. It left me with some questions I’m still wrestling with, and I think good books do that.

What books have most shaped how you view gospel ministry?

I did a pastoral internship some years ago under Mark Dever, and he has all the interns read The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges. It’s easily the book that has most helped me as a young pastor. Bridges’s sage-like wisdom, amassed over years, has slowed me down in all the right ways.

Which book do you wish every evangelical Christian would read and why?

I wish every evangelical Christian would read The Negro: His Rights and Wrongs, the Forces for and against Him by Francis J. Grimké. Grimké was a pastor in the 19th century in Washington, D.C. (my city!). This book has profoundly influenced how I see matters of race and prejudice, and it’s executed biblically. It’s really a sermon series that Grimké preached, and we would all do well to sit under his preaching for a season by reading this book. His sermon “God and Prayer as Factors in the Struggle” led me to begin the podcast I host with Trillia Newbell: United? We Pray.

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

Oh man, more and more I’m seeing the need of simply sticking to the basics of the faith: reading my Bible, praying, showing up at church, and loving the people there. Admitting my faults without trying to justify myself in the middle of doing so. Sharing the gospel. Being just. Focusing on Jesus and remembering that the Father’s grace is sufficient for me. The second we think we’ve graduated from the basics is the second we proved we haven’t, and I need that reminder daily. I’m still learning what the hymn writer’s call meant: “Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in me thine all in all.”


Also in the On My Shelf series: Denny Burk • Vermon Pierre • Jake Meador • Russ Ramsey • Jason Allen • Jason Cook • Mack Stiles • Michael Kruger • Robert Smith • Tony Merida • Andy Crouch • Walter Strickland • Hannah Anderson • S. D. Smith • Curtis Woods • Mindy Belz • Steve Timmis • David Mathis • Michael Lindsay • Nathan Finn • 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.

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