10 Most Influential Christian Leaders Pick 5 Most Influential Books

As an avid reader, I’m always looking out for “great” books to read. I came across this fascinating personal reading survey of world-renowned Christian leaders conducted by R. Kent Hughes, author of “Disciplines of a Goldy Man.” Specific questions asked on the survey were:

  1. What are the five books, secular or sacred, which have influenced you most?
  2. Of the spiritual books which have influenced you, which is your favorite?
  3. What is your favorite novel?
  4. What is your favorite biography?

I pray you’ll find these books immensely helpful in your spiritual journey. Read on! (Remember, these were asked 20-30 years ago!

Eugene H. Peterson


Eugene Peterson is a pastor, scholar, author, and poet. He has written over thirty books, including Gold Medallion Book Award winner The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, an idiomatic translation of the original languages of the Bible.

1. Most Influential: Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans; Fyodor Dostoyevski, The Idiot; Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove; Herman Melville, Moby Dick; George Herbert,The Country Parson

2. Favorite Spiritual Book: Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans

3. Favorite Novel: Fyodor Dostoyevski, The Brothers Karamazov

4. Favorite Biography: Meriol Trevor, Newman: The Pillar of the Cloud

R. C. Sproul


R.C. Sproul is an American Calvinist theologian, author, and pastor. He is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries and can be heard daily on the Renewing Your Mind radio broadcast in the United States and internationally.  In late July 2012, a new Christian internet radio station called RefNet was also announced by Ligonier Ministries in an effort to reach “as many people as possible” where Internet access is available.

1. Most Influential: J. Edwards, Freedom of the Will; Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will; John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; James Collins, God in Modern Philosophy; William Simon, A Time for Truth

2. Favorite Spiritual Book: The Bondage of the Will because of its theological insight and its literary style.

3. Favorite Novel: Herman Melville, Moby Dick

4. Favorite Biography: W. Manchester, American Caesar

Charles R. Swindoll


“Chuck” Swindoll is an evangelical Christian pastor, author, educator, and radio preacher. He founded Insight for Living, headquartered in Plano, Texas, which airs a radio program of the same name on more than 2,000 stations around the world in 15 languages. He is currently senior pastor at Stonebriar Community Church, in Frisco, Texas.

John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress; A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God; J.I. Packer, Knowing God; Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor; J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership; Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students



Warren Wiersbe


Warren Wendel Wiersbe is an American pastor, Bible teacher, conference speaker and a prolific writer of Christian literature and theological works. Born in East Chicago, Indiana, Wiersbe is perhaps best known for his series of 50 books in the “BE” series: Be Real, Be Rich, Be Obedient, Be Mature, Be Joyful, etc. and other theological works.

1. Most Influential: A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God; A.W.Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy; Jill Morgan, A Man of the Word; Thomas Kempis, The Imitation of Christ; Henry David Thoreau, Walden

2. Favorite Spiritual Book: Thomas Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

3. Favorite Novel: Herman Melville, Moby Dick

4. Favorite Biography: James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

Howard G. Hendricks


Howard Hendricks was a longtime professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and speaker for Promise Keepers. Upon his graduation from Dallas, Hendricks accepted the pastorate at Calvary Independent Presbyterian Church. However, the founder and President of Dallas Theological Seminary, Lewis Sperry Chafer, died and the new President, John Walvoord, asked Hendricks to delay his doctorate and return to Dallas as a teacher. For over fifty years, he taught “Bible Exposition and Hermeneutics” to freshmen. He mentored many Christian leaders, including Chuck Swindoll, Tony Evans, Joseph Stowell and David Jeremiah.

1. Most Influential: C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

2. Favorite Spiritual Book: Adler Mortimer, How to Read a Book

3. Favorite Novel: John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

4. Favorite Biography: A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Elisabeth Elliot


Elisabeth Elliot is a Christian author and speaker. Her first husband, Jim Elliot, was killed in 1956 while attempting to make missionary contact with the Auca (now known as Huaorani) of eastern Ecuador. She later spent two years as a missionary to the tribe members who killed her husband. Returning to the United States after many years in South America, she became widely known as the author of over twenty books and as a speaker in constant demand. Elliot toured the country, sharing her knowledge and experience, well into her seventies.

1. Most Influential: Romano Guardini, The Lord; George MacDonald, Salted with Fire; Amy Carmichael, Toward Jerusalem; Janet Erskine Stuart, Life and Letters of Janet Erskine ; Evelyn Underhill, The School of Charity

2. Favorite Spiritual Book: Impossible to say.

3. Favorite Novel: Sigrid Undeset, Kristin Lavransdatter

4. Favorite Biography: St. Augustine, Confessions

Charles Colson


“Chuck” Colson was an Evangelical Christian leader who founded Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint. Prior to his conversion to Christianity, he served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973. Colson gained notoriety at the height of the Watergate scandal, for being named as one of the Watergate Seven, and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for attempting to defame Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg. In 1974, he served seven months in the federal Maxwell Prison in Alabama as the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges. His mid-life conversion to Christianity sparked a radical life change that led to the founding of his non-profit ministry Prison Fellowship.

1. Most Influential: C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; St. Augustine, Confessions; Armando Valladares, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag; Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago; Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square

2. Favorite Spiritual Book: No Answer

3. Favorite Novel: John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress; Fyodor Dostoyevski, The Brothers Karamazov

4. Favorite Biography: St. Augustine, Confessions

John. W. Alexander


John Alexander was a professor and chair in the UW-Madison Geography Department for many years, and played a key role in encouraging Christian faculty during his career. In 1964, John became President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a post he held until 1981. John, who was known by many as “Dr. A”, continued his service to the campus through his pastoral influence until his death in 2002. Dr. A’s passion for meetings of small faculty, many of which occurred in the basement of University United Methodist Church is legendary, and influenced a generation of faculty.

1. Most Influential: Charles Sheldon, In His Steps; H.B. Wright, The will of God and a man’s lifework; H.J. Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics; William Manchester, American Caesar

2. Favorite Spiritual Book: H.J. Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics

3. Favorite Novel: Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

4. Favorite Biography: William Manchester, American Caesar

Lyle Dorsett

Lyle Dorsett

Lyle W. Dorsett was the second director of the Marion E. Wade Center. A prolific author and accomplished speaker and teacher, he began his teaching career at the University of Missouri, moving briefly to the Univ. of Southern California and University of Colorado at Denver, before he joined the history department at the University of Denver. Specializing originally in urban history, Dr. Dorsett’s academic career took a turn after he published a biography of Joy Davidman (C.S. Lewis’s wife). His great interest in the writings of Lewis led him to accept the position of director of the Wade Center after Dr. Kilby’s retirement.

1. Most Influential: Besides the BIble, which I would, of course, rank #1 E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer; George Muller, The Life of Trust; G.K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy; Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

2. Favorite Spiritual Book: Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

3. Favorite Novel: C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

4. Favorite Biography: Catherine Marshall, A Man Called Peter

James C. Dobson


Jim Dobson is an American evangelical Christian author, psychologist, and founder in 1977 of Focus on the Family, which he led until 2003. In the 1980s he was ranked as one of the most influential spokesmen for conservative social positions in American public life. Although never an ordained minister, he was called “the nation’s most influential evangelical leader” by Time while Slate portrayed him as a successor to evangelical leaders Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson.

Rather than select several books which exceed all others in their impact on my life, I prefer to commend the authors whose collection of writings are most highly prized. This is easier because best writers require several books to state their cases and leave their mark. First, I admire the memory of Dr. Francis Schaeffer and the anthology he left to us. Second I have great appreciation for the writings of Chuck Colson. His best book, I believe, is Loving God. His life is a demonstration of its theme.

  • Thanks for putting this together, Paul. I enjoyed it very much and it gave me more for my reading list.

  • Really interesting that a couple of these books show up twice like “Mere Christianity” and “Brothers Karamazov” I’m scaning the list now to pick out a new one for me to read. Thanks Paul!

  • Thank you Paul for thinking of others when you put this together. Its amazing to see how many influential Leaders there are in our Christian Community. Honestly, I needed to know more about them. Thanks for sharing.

  • dr. james willingham

    C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength is, perhaps, the most fascinating novel I ever read. It is strange that he should choose to write about a conspiracy and even list a real conspirator in his fictional conspirators whose organization is a forecast of Taylor Caldwell’s Captains and The Kings (a novel with a bibliography), Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope ( a work listed in Taylor’s bibliography), and Isaac Asimov’s A Pebble in The Sky along with many other sci/fi works, along with the fact that man was already, apparently trying to go to the stars in the period of Lewis’ work and by the 90s, one of the engineers said we could take E.T. home, if he needed transportation (to another Galaxy(?).

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  • Great list Paul – I found it interesting that Moby Dick showed up 3 times

    • I think that merely tells us that three men have not read a novel since high school.

      • You are probably right. – A few years ago I was in the category my self. Then I started adding one or two classic novels a year. It is good to let my mind rest and read just for the fun of a great story.

  • What a cool post! I’ve added several new books to my list.

  • Hendricks’ answers cracked me up – Favorite novel: Calvin’s Instiutes?? Favorite biography – Tozer’s Pursuit of God? I’m so confused.

  • bob ortiz

    did you forget Rick Warren “Purpose Driven Church” Best Selling Book next to the Bible of All Times

    • Chicago

      Just because it sold well doesn’t make it ‘good’

  • Andrew K.

    At one time, this list would have included “Favorite Poet” as well.

    Interesting, and kind of sad, that poetry has become so marginalized in society today.

    Some great books here, though. I’m a huge Dostoevsky, Chesterton, and Augustine fan myself.

    • Jalamb

      Andrew, do you have a favorite poet?

      • Andrew K.

        Robert Frost, Alfred Tennyson, and Virgil would be up there.

        But truth be told, I’m including myself here too; I don’t read that much poetry either. Always makes me kind of sad, but I’m a child of the age as well, I guess.

  • tony

    Some wonderful books here… but why are the “10 Most Influential Christian Leaders” all male?

    • mary

      Did you miss Elisabeth Elliot?

    • Karen

      All good leaders. There are leaders of great influence outside of the US. Their ideas may give a more complete picture.

  • Go Irani

    The 10 Most Influential Books Ever Written


  • E.J. Carnell