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Home > 2012 > November Online Only > The Most Influential Book of My Life

Once I was invited to speak to a gathering of people in the publishing business. I accepted the invitation because I thought it an excellent opportunity to publicly express my gratitude to people who had been kind to me as an author.

Accepting the invitation was easy. Selecting an appropriate topic was not. I would be talking to men and women who were experts in the business of communication and who worked with some of the finest Christian communicators in the world. What could I say that they'd not heard, and heard better, a hundred times?

Then I had a breakthrough. Why not, I asked myself, began my speech like this?

Ladies and gentlemen, as I anticipated this event and what I might say to you, I began to toy with this question: In all of my reading experiences, what book has most influenced me and set the direction of my life? Perhaps my answer might interest you.

Now I realize that this question is not really a novel one. Almost every week in the New York Times Book Review section, an interviewer asks it of some famous author. They often name books I've never heard of such as—let's say—Sigmund Trilovicholaski's Poems from a 17th Century Mongolian Barbershop.

The time for my speech to the publishers came. I began with the question I'd asked myself during my time of preparation: What has been the most influential, the most life-directing, book I have ever read?

I felt the members of the audience spring to attention. Would the book I was about to name be one that had been published by their company? Maybe each VP of marketing and sales was imagining a full-page advertisement that proclaimed, "Read the book that Gordon MacDonald described as the most …"

I confess I enjoyed this moment as everyone awaited my disclosure of the most influential book of my life. I admit to teasing the audience for a moment, just like they do on Dancing with the Stars when they prepare to announce the winning couple.

To heighten the suspense, I listed categories of possible books—biographies, spiritual life books, theological studies, instructional pieces on how to cast great visions and develop great leaders.

Then I dangled the names of a few classic authors. C.S. Lewis, for example. Doesn't everyone have him on their A-list? Dostoyevsky? Some people think you're really deep if you mention him. I named Thomas Merton because serious thinkers adore Merton-readers. Oh, I also added Annie Dillard, the darling of the edgy crowd.

I added some specific titles that might or might not be on my most-influential book list. Augustine's Confessions, for example, and Thomas a Kempis's Imitation of Christ, and Bonhoeffer's Life Together.

Suddenly, a guy in the back of the banquet hall stood up and shouted, "For crying out loud, get on with it! What is the most influential book you have ever read? Our jobs may depend on your answer." (This didn't really happen, but it should have).

Leaving the question unanswered for a further moment, I related a story from my childhood.

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Gordon MacDonald is chancellor of Denver Seminary and editor-at-large for Leadership Journal. He is author of numerous books, including Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence.

Posted: November 5, 2012

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Displaying 1–5 of 6 comments

Karen Rhodes

February 15, 2013  2:54pm

I had never read "Egermeier's Bible Story Book" until 2007, when we were updating it. I even looked at all the maps as I read it, wanting to "see" where each story was taking place. It's a wonderful, easy-to-read rendering of God's story. We're thrilled every time we read how Elsie's book has touched lives. Thank you, Mr. MacDonald for sharing how much this book has meant to you.

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November 13, 2012  1:13pm

I have virtually the same testimony - at least the same book. It was on the bottom shelf of my mom's bookcase. She never read it to me. I "discovered" it and read it over and over and over. I analyzed the blue and white maps inside the front and back covers. I have no doubt that it influenced me more than any other book - in seminary or elsewhere. I praise God for Elsie Egermeier and for the fruit God produced through her simple retelling the stories in the Word in a way that can capture a child's heart.

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John C. Douglas (New Zealand)

November 07, 2012  12:49pm

Reading this article is Far out! I went to a church family camp when I was 12 years old (came from a non-Christian home and gave my life to Christ @ age 9, some 60 years ago last New Zealand Labour-Day weekend"), and was looking at the temporary book-selling table set up to encouraging campers to buy and read Christian literature I "found" Elsie's E's book . . . the man looking after the sales said "you should buy that it will help you read the Bible, if you pay half, I'll cover the rest – I bought it!! It became my companion as a child, adolescent, first reference as a Sunday School teacher and volunteer children's worker, youth leader, young church elder preparing to preach, beginning pastor, and Christian educator - still tell students "get an illustrated Children's Bible story book and read the text there first - for the story/narrative get an Egermeier's or Uncle Arthur's." Still in my library, still lives "on and off the shelf", still my "first call in narrative hermeneutics”.

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Gregg Andrew Bisset

November 06, 2012  3:17pm

I to was blessed to have a Children bible full of pictures and stories and a mum who read them to me. A Christian Primary school where I was fascinated with the large prints like Jesus carrying a lamb. Devotions after dinner of "Little visits from God" which my four children now want to read to their children my grand children. Let every young parent read and recognize this both the time spent in relationship with the child and they eternal impact this has.

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Matt Tague

November 06, 2012  1:14pm

This is a great article. I have written a blog post on some of the better Bible Storybooks available today. You can read it here: http://pastormatttague.com/2012/07/18/the-big-blog-of-bible-storybooks/

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