Top Ten Books that Shaped My Life: #1

By John Frye

Priority of Passion

Immediately intrigued by One-T Scot’s suggestion, it fascinated me to select some books that created landmark moments in my spiritual journey. One-T nudged me to think of life-shaping books. Like most of the One-T Saloon community gathering at Jesus Creed, I am a bibliophile. Given the choice to do anything else and read a book, I choose the book. (This does not jibe well at times with my outdoorsy wife, Julie, but we’ve made it through 47 years together so far.) Am I recommending the books? I found them significant agents of God’s leading, yet some of these books may not scratch where your soul itches. I have arranged the ten books by decades starting with my earliest Christian growth in the 1960s. After reflection and winnowing, here are the top two books for each 10 years. Let’s go back in time.

The 1960s: book number one. In my formative years as a new Christian seeking “to know God’s will,” I read two soul-shaping books. During these years I graduated from Moody Bible Institute and studied two years at North Texas State University (Denton, TX). Many course textbooks were purchased, read and forgotten. Two books shaped my spiritual direction and life pursuit. First is Elisabeth Elliot’s Shadow of the Almighty: Life, Adventure, Witness, Testament and Glory of Jim Elliot, One of the Five Martyrs of Ecuador (1958 edition). Converted in 1960 in Zion, IL, I was baptized into a Christian community that hailed “full time Christian work.” Four years before my conversion, Jim Elliot, a missionary in Ecuador to the Huaorani Indians (also called “Auca” or “savage”), died at the hands of ten or so Huaorani men on a sandy beach of the Curaray River. Killed with Jim were fellow missionaries, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming and Nate Saint. These five men were the newest heroes of the Christian missionary world. Their commitment to Christ and to reaching the world with the Gospel captivated my vision. I wanted to become a missionary pilot like Nate Saint.

Because my stepfather, Neal, was a very skilled mechanic and operated a Mobil Gas Station with service bays in Waukegan, IL, I learned the ways of the auto mechanic world. My stepfather specialized in “foreign car repair.” As a high school teen I overhauled more Volkswagen engines than I can remember. I could take the engine out, tear it down, put in new parts, assemble it, put it back in and fire it up—all in a day’s time. VW engines were air-cooled. (I was tricked one day early on when my stepfather and some buddies sent me to the auto parts store to get a radiator thermostat for a VW. Yes, the parts guy looked at me like I was crazy. Then he laughed. I had been punked.) Guess what other engines are air-cooled? Single engine, missionary aviation planes. I enrolled in the MBI Missionary Aviation School. I aimed to be skilled in airframes and power-plants in the ministry of JAARS: Jungle Aviation and Radio Services.

The Dilemma. In my first semester at MBI (1966), I got overwhelmed with the mathematical acumen needed to be a pilot. Plus I was very near-sighted. Discomfort and confusion clouded my aviation vision. Thankfully, I had a teacher who often spoke at my home church in Zion. I told him about my “calling” and the confusion and doubt I was having. He wisely counseled me to consider a “what if.” That is, perhaps God had called me to MBI by the aviation program, but now that I was here, God might be guiding me to something different. I changed to the general Bible and pastoral training program. I sensed a burden lifted and an excitement building. I had two to three years to discern God’s direction. The passion to serve God was still there fueled by the life and deaths of five missionaries. The quest now was to find direction for the passion. Jim Elliot had written, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.” The story continues with book number two.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.