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On My Shelf: Life and Books with Mack Stiles

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

I asked Mack Stiles—pastor of Erbil International Baptist Church in northern Iraq and author of several books, including Marks of the Messenger and Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus—about what’s on his nightstand, favorite biographies, books that have shaped his thinking on gospel ministry, and more.


What’s on your nightstand right now?

Besides some loose change and a lamp, there’s my passport and my moleskin journal. I recently returned to Iraq, where I’m pastoring a church and heading up a humanitarian NGO. Given the current upheaval, travel to Iraq is complicated, and the passport reminds me to pray and be ready.

We walk by faith, but we get to reflect backwards by sight.

For years I’ve journaled daily. Journaling helps me to pray without distraction. I guess I’m given to distraction; I bow my head to pray, and the next thing I know I’m 1,000 miles away in my head. So the journal helps me stay on task. But it also becomes a catalog of God’s faithfulness. When I look back over my journals from years ago, the memory of the day I was writing about comes flooding back, and I can look back with gratefulness and joy over God’s kindness and care. We walk by faith, but we get to reflect backward by sight, and journaling helps me do that. Moreover, the days in Iraq are so filled with gospel opportunities and God’s amazing designs that I especially want to remember God’s work.

I’ve just started a preaching a series on 1 Corinthians and I have Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner’s commentary on my bookstand. I like commentaries, and this one is really excellent. And I just finished reading Kevin DeYoungs The Hole In Our Holiness, which is excellent and wonderfully challenging.

What are some books you re-read and why?

This year I re-read Iain Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided, which seems more and more prescient to me. I want to get at the scourge of accommodation in evangelical thought in general and in missions particularly. Murray doesn’t address missions, but the parallels are obvious. Missionaries are hugely tempted by cultural accommodation.

Even more than 100 years ago, B. B. Warfield remarked that the real danger for missionaries as they try to “convert the heathen” is that “the heathen would convert them.” That is stunningly true. Physical danger in Warfields day was malaria, and today it’s ISIS, but spiritual and cultural accommodation remains the same deadly assault on the gospel. Muslim-idiom translations and the Insider Movement, among others, are signs that missionaries are being converted.

What books have most shaped how you view gospel ministry and the local church? 

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God was so helpful to me in my early years. I still go back to that little book on occasion. All of my writings on evangelism are built on J. I. Packer’s platform.

All of my writings on evangelism are built on J. I. Packer’s platform.

I’ve been deeply influenced by Tim Keller‘s work on gospel centrality. I don’t think what I initially read by Tim was even a book, but a talk that was transcribed (badly) for a Sunday school class about how the gospel is the hub of our faith. That was almost 20 years ago, but it blew me away. I find myself going to those basic principles weekly as I preach and write.

And most all of the 9Marks books have been helpful, especially for the church. My favorite, as one who backed into church planting, has been Mark Dever’s The Church: The Gospel Made Visible. I suspect it isn’t on the bestseller list, but when I was involved in church reform and church planting in Dubai it was my go-to book for the principles that must be in place in a church (at the time it was published as a chapter in Danny Akin’s A Theology for the Church). I’m so grateful for, and indebted to, the theological work Mark has done for the church over the years.

What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?

Biographies or autobiographies are my favorite genres for reading.

William Manchester’s work on Winston Churchill would rank as one of my favorites. I like how it’s written, and I’m inspired by Churchill’s clarity of vision, ability to communicate, and determination to persevere. He was a flawed man, but those three characteristics made him a great man.

Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters: America in the King Years (1954–63) is a favorite, and a must-read for evangelicals who desire to be more aware of race relations in the United States.

Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor was mind-blowing when I was 20 years old; that’s one I’ll go back and read again this year.

My family (the Stiles) and Jonathan Edwards’s family were intertwined back in the day. Jonathan Edwards was named for Jonathan Stiles (the father of Ezra Stiles, one of the first presidents of Yale). And Jonathan Edwards was a tutor for Ezra Stiles. So I’ve always enjoyed reading biographies about Edwards, but particularly Iain Murray’s work and especially George Marsden’s.

What are your favorite fiction books?

I have always treasured J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series. I’m the proud owner of an American, first-edition, first-printing copy of The Hobbit. (On the cover there’s a quote from the London Times that says, “May prove to be a classic alongside Wind and the Willows.”) One of my great accomplishments in life was reading all four volumes in Tolkien’s series aloud to each of my sons, individually, when they were just starting to read.

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

I wish evangelicals would read Michael Lawrence’s new book, Conversion. Biblical conversion, rightly understood, would clear up so many problems for the church in America.

Biblical conversion, rightly understood, would clear up so many problems for the church in America.

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

There’s no one like Jesus. There’s no message like the gospel. I am so grateful for the forgiveness and mercy and love of God for a sinner like me.


Also in the On My Shelf series: 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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