The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer
I first read Schaeffer when I went back to university in 1981 to finish my Bachelor’s degree. Before reading his book, I never thought much about the intellectual plausibility of the biblical worldview. Schaeffer showed how Christianity made sense and he modeled “intellectual hospitality” with those who did not believe. He demonstrated how to interpret unbelief and how to communicate with unbelievers. When I went to seminary in 1990, I began to encounter more and more thinkers who had been discipled by Schaeffer. He also prepared me theoretically for the study of apologetics at seminary by utilizing the concepts of presupposition and worldview. This statement was helpful:
Non-Christian presuppositions [fundamental beliefs] simply do not fit into what God has made, including what man is. This being so, every man is a place of tension. Man cannot make is own universe and then live in . . . . Thus, when you face twentieth-century man, whether he is brilliant or an ordinary man of the street, a man of the university or a man of the docks, you are facing a man in tension; and it is this tension which works on your behalf as you speak to him . . . . A man may try to bury the tension and you may have to help him find it, but somewhere there is a point of inconsistency. He stands in a position he cannot pursue to the end; and this is not just an intellectual concept of tension, it is what is wrapped up in what he is as a man.
Knowing God by J. I. Packer
This book was my first exposure to systematic theology―specifically Reformed theology―and Packer expressed it in a very pastoral manner. I learned about God’s nature, his wrath and forgiveness, his word and scripture, his devotion to us, justification and sanctification, and the path of discipleship. I remember saying at this time, “I discovered that I could use my brain and be a Christian!” Reading Knowing God was a revival. When I was considering going to seminary in the late 1980’s (and leaving the American Dream behind), I read this counsel from Packer in a section called “The Adequacy of God”:
We know what kind of life Christ calls us to . . . . But do we live it? Well, look at the churches. Observe the shortage of ministers and missionaries, especially men; the luxury goods in Christian homes; the fundraising problems of Christian societies; the readiness of Christians in all walks of life to grumble about their salaries; the lack of concern for the old and lonely, or of anyone outside the circle of ‘sound believers’ . . . . Why, compared to them [Christians of the New Testament] do we appear as no more than half-way Christians? . . . One reason it seems is that in our heart of hearts we are afraid of the consequences of going the whole way into the Christian life.
The Institutes Of Christian Religion Vol. 1 by John Calvin
I discovered Calvin in my first class at seminary―the beginning of a five-year renewal. I wrote on the inside cover of this book “January 14, 1990.” The Introduction says that the Institutes “holds a place in the short list of books that have notably affected the course of history, molding the beliefs and behavior of generations of mankind.” This is clearly true, including me. When I read Calvin and received instruction about his system, I saw how he labored to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Volume One concerns “The Knowledge of God, the Creator.” Here are a few insights that I highlighted years ago and which still influence me:
It is certain that a man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.
And because nothing appears within or around us that has not been contaminated by a great immorality, what is a little less vile pleases us as a thing most pure―so long as we confine our minds within the limits of human corruption.
Our mind cannot apprehend God without rendering some honor to him . . . unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of every good, and that we must seek nothing elsewhere than in him.