Leaders Are Readers: Dr. Mike Adams Shares His Must-Read Book List

Mike Adams' Must Read Book ListSummit’s founder, Dr. David Noebel, would often say that “leaders are readers.” His call to read is something we take seriously around Summit. In the Spring Journal issue, we highlighted an interview with Dr. Mike Adams recorded for the Christian Worldview Thinking podcast last July. In it, Dr. Adams shares his must-read book list, and his testimony in the process.

Summit: Welcome, Dr. Adams! You take books very seriously. Talk about the “book a week” challenge. 

Dr. Mike Adams: Dr. Noebel — Doc — had challenged people for years to set aside their distractions and sit down and read a book a week. I had been a regular reader for a long time, but in the summer of 2010, I decided to cancel the cable, shut off the television, and take him up on the challenge. I actually went into the Summit Book Store and bought 52 books, and started reading. I’ve adhered to that system for over five years now. I didn’t realize how much time I was wasting watching those talking heads every night, hour after hour. And now that I’ve gotten in this habit, there’s no way I’d go back to cable again.

Here at Summit in Colorado, if a student walks into the Summit Bookstore, they’ll see a list posted on the wall titled “Dr. Mike Adams’ Top 10 Book List.” Let’s go through a few of those and you can explain why you recommend them.

1. How Now Shall We Live? by Chuck Colson & Nancy Pearcey

The year that I converted to Christianity, I was reading through the King James Bible. Why I chose the King James Bible to be the first version I read I will never understand. Predictably, by the time I hit Leviticus, I had “Levititis.” It was driving me nuts.

So I went to the UNCW library and saw a copy of How Now Shall We Live? I pulled it off the shelf because my mother had worked with Chuck Colson’s prison ministries. So I pick it up and I read it, and on the very first page of chapter one Chuck writes about being in a prison in Quito, Ecuador, which immediately caught my attention because that was how I converted to theism in 1996 — I was doing a tour of a prison in Quito, Ecuador. So I bought a copy of How Now Shall We Live?

That was my first exposure to Christian worldview. I’d never even heard the term worldview before. I saw Colson & Pearcey moving from one subject to the next, taking Christianity and applying it, making it very relevant.

I also noticed, at the end of the book, there was a very thick list of recommended readings, addressing every different subject. So, as I continued to get bored in certain parts of the Old Testament, I’d stop and I’d pick something from the reading list before moving on. That’s how I got through the King James Old Testament, by breaking things up with the recommended books from How Now Shall We Live?

I picked How Now Shall We Live? as my number one recommendation not just because it’s very well-written, but also because it provides a rich reservoir of other books to read. You can go through the different subject areas and say, “Hey, I’m interested in this” — be it life or creationism or whatever — and get very solid recommendations. In that sense, it’s the only reference book on the list.

2. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Frank Turek & Norman Geisler

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist was released in 2004 with a forward by David Limbaugh. David is a friend of mine and he sent me a copy, which I didn’t read. Then my old pitching coach Jimmy Duke lost his ex-wife to cancer — very slow and painful death — in 2005. They’d been divorced at least 15 years at that point, but had stayed friends, and he was really broken up by it. He had been an atheist for 32 years, but after that, he walked into Barnes & Noble one day and said, “I need to re-explore religion.” He was a guy who wasn’t interested in emotional reasons or being loved back to Jesus. He needed intellectual answers, so when he saw the provocative title I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, he picked it up and he read it.

He went on to read the book three times over a period of just a few months. In between the first and second reading and the second and third reading, he read the Book of Acts, because he wanted a historical book that was action-centered. And so he read Acts twice, and I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist three times, and he converted.

A couple of months after he converted — I heard this story from someone at his church — he walked into his business (he was a State Farm agent) and told his employees he’d had a conversion to Christianity. He said, “I want to explain to you guys what that means. If any of you want to go to the Holy Land, I’ll pay for it. If any of you wants to take a course in religion, I’ll pay for it. If anyone is called to the ministry and wants to get their divinity degree, I’ll pay for it.  This meeting is adjourned.” That was around November of 2005. It all happened pretty quickly. Early in the spring, around February, he’s diagnosed with a rare blood disease. He was dead in June.

I tell this story because it’s important for us to read and tackle issues. If you have unresolved questions, go to books. Sometimes people need the intellectual answers that are provided in books. I know fellowship is important, and I know individual witness is important, but books and arguments can be very important as well, like in Jimmy Duke’s case.

There is a little more to the story as well. I wrote a review of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, simply telling the story of Jimmy Duke’s conversion. I published it on townhall.com, and a few hours later this loud guy calls me and says, “Dr. Adams, Dr. Turek. Calling from Charlotte.” That’s how I met Frank Turek. That afternoon, Norm Geisler called me, the co-author of the book. He told me he had read my review, and that “it made me weep, because I forgot the reason why I write books.” So Frank and I struck up a friendship, and I was able to tell Norm Geisler that he was one of the ones that I had read when I converted, as well. It was really neat.

Frank and I struck up a friendship. He came out to see me speak at UNC Charlotte, and after the speech he got on the phone, called Dr. Noebel, and said, “You’ve got to have this Mike Adams guy out to speak at Summit. He just gave this really strong motivational speech, and it’s the kind of thing we want at Summit.” So the reason I’m here at Summit is because of that obnoxious guy from New Jersey, and if you’ve met Frank, you’ll agree with me. He’s great, but he’s Frank, but he was exactly what Jimmy Duke needed. Jimmy needed someone who was confident, not a soft touch. And so I’m glad Frank and Norm wrote the book. I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t.

3. Tactics by Greg Koukl

You can talk substance all you want, but if you don’t know how to argue, you’re in trouble. So many times, when I’ve been in a discussion with someone, they hit me really hard with an argument or claim, and I don’t know what to say. What I love about Greg Koukl’s Tactics is that he focuses on what he calls the “Columbo tactic.” He teaches you to ask three questions: What do you mean by that? How did you arrive at that conclusion? Have you ever considered … ?

The first two questions are meant to determine if the person you’re arguing with understands the terms that they’re using and if they have any evidence behind their arguments. Sometimes, you’ll find that when someone is being aggressive and confident toward you, they don’t know what they’re talking about. They don’t understand the terms that they’re using. For example, they might call you a fascist and not understand what that means. Or they will make an assertion when there’s no empirical evidence behind it.

Greg teaches you to be careful instead of jumping in and making assertions and arguments immediately. For example, if you’re in a college classroom with an atheist professor who’s well-schooled, you don’t need to jump out there and start making arguments. You need to stop and you need to get in the driver’s seat, and first of all expose the weaknesses of the other person’s argument.

Greg Koukl does a better job of teaching Christians how to do that than anyone who has ever put the pen to paper. I tell students that of all the books that I recommend, Tactics is the only one that I recommend they read two or three times, because it will help them when they’re overwhelmed. It’ll teach you to structure your arguments well, to stay calm, and not to panic when under fire. Greg has done a tremendous service to the Christian community by writing that book. And seriously, everyone should read it before you go off to college.

Summit: I love Greg’s “put a pebble in their shoe” approach. He’ll tell you that you’re not trying to convert every single person in every single conversation. Sometimes the goal of that conversation is to leave a pebble in their shoe, which will make them walk away saying, “I don’t know about that. I need to go look into that more,” which oftentimes spurs more conversation later.

Did you know that a woman in 1993 had a 10-minute conversation with me on the issue of abortion, and planted a stone in my shoe? She never raised the subject again with me, and now I’m a pro-life speaker. Remember, you don’t have to beat people over the head. Just get them to be bothered by an inconsistency in their argument. And then their conscience might do the rest of it.

4. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

There are two reasons I recommend Mere Christianity. First, Chuck Colson talks about C.S. Lewis and calls him the greatest prophet of the 20th century, and that’s reason enough. But I also have a personal reason. Back in 1992, when I was an atheist, my occupation while a graduate student was working as a professional musician. I was playing in a bar in Oxford, Mississippi, up at Ole Miss for a law school function. It was at a bar called The Gin, and the law school had rented it out. I’m performing, and as usual, I’m high as a kite, drunk, and hammered out of my mind. Obviously, this was back in my atheist days.

I was on a break and in bad shape, as always. I’m standing there in a kind of stupor, when this guy comes walking up to me. I don’t remember his name, but he was at Mississippi State. I’d known him, but hadn’t seen him in few years. So he walks up and asks if I’m still dating Susan, Susan being a mutual friend of ours. And I said, “No, we’re not dating anymore.” He asks me “why not?” and I told him that she was too religious. Then he asked me what I meant by that — Greg Koukl’s Tactics, right? I said, “I’m an atheist,” and he looked at me and said, “I’m real sorry to hear that, because you know what? You’re very intelligent. I know you. You’re too intelligent to be an atheist.” Then he asked me if I read, and I told him yes. He goes on and tells me that if I read a book by C.S. Lewis called Mere Christianity that there was no possible way, given my intelligence, that I could remain an atheist afterward. He was so confident. Here I am, drunk out of my mind. I forgot a lot of things back in those fuzzy days of playing in the bars. But I couldn’t forget that conversation. And so when I finally picked up Colson’s book How Now Shall We Live?, and realized that it kept mentioning C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity, I knew at that point I had to read it.

The part of Mere Christianity that I found to be the most persuasive was the part about the moral law, and the idea of a moral law written on our hearts, because stage one of my conversion occurred in 1996 when I was visiting that prison in Quito, Ecuador, seeing people being beaten, and hearing stories about how they shocked confessions out of people, and how they shot people in the back and buried their bodies behind the prison — claiming it was a thwarted escape attempt. I saw all these things happening, and there was something that awakened within me. This was evil, and it was a moment where the shadow proves the sunshine, where the darkness proved that there had to be a light.

When I finally got around to taking that guy’s advice from that drunken bar conversation, and I finally sat down and read Mere Christianity, it strongly resonated with me. There are so many different parts of the book that are persuasive. The part about the moral law being written on our hearts, well, I knew that to be the case. And it was also very well-written, and also coming from a person who was a former atheist, someone I could identify with. So I’ve got some real, personal reasons for putting that one on the list.

5. Letters to a Young Progressive by Mike Adams

Summit: Now, next on the list is your own book, Letters to a Young Progressive

Well, my next book is called “10 Steps to Humility and How I Made It in 7.” [Laughter] No, the reason why I put my book on the list is because I also converted to capitalism.

The book is written to a former student of mine. In a sense, it’s written to myself. The former student is a kid whom I taught in ’08, a great kid. I taught him again in 2010, and he was not a great kid. He was an angry, obnoxious, arrogant kid who hated his country. His father was a farmer in the Piedmont who never went to college. His father plowed fields for decades to afford to send his kids to college. What happened? This student wasn’t the same person. He rebelled against his family and his values. He’s not happy. He’s angry about things that aren’t even true.

He had an outburst in my class one day, in the spring of 2010. I told him, “Man, I wish I could have a talk with you about the crazy nonsense that you’re fuming about.” And I told him I would hate it if he were lost for 17 years like I was. I told him it was inappropriate for me to have a political or religious or worldview conversation with him while he’s in my class, but I asked him if he would mind if I wrote him a letter. In May, I wrote a letter to him and I sent it. Then I said, that’s not a letter, that’s a book, and called my book agent.

So the book is to him. In a sense it’s me writing to myself, sharing what I wish I would have known. But it’s also for parents, a guide for what to do when your kid goes off to college in August and comes home for Thanksgiving and you can’t have a conversation. He’s defensive and he’s angry. Well, here’s the book. I wrote it for that purpose.

Summit: Sadly, that’s a story we hear all too often here at Summit.

Far too often. That’s why we’re here.

6. Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

I’ve got a few apologetics books on the list because I think you should read several different books written from different perspectives. J. Warner Wallace is a former atheist who converted, and he’s also a cold-case homicide detective for the LAPD. He approaches the Bible the way that he would approach a murder case.

That cold-case perspective is what makes Jim’s [Cold-Case Christianity] great. He’s looking at the life and death of Jesus and treating it like a murder scene, focusing on examining the evidence. He talks about the difference between artifacts and evidence, and why it’s desirable for different eye witnesses to say different things. I think a lot of young people — and that’s who we’re trying to reach — can appreciate his approach. And if you take a book like that to college with you, it’s a good dorm room conversation starter.

Jim does different things well, but what I think he does best is textual authority, countering the Bart Ehrman argument. I mention that because I was told a bunch of nonsense in graduate school by one professor in particular, Lou Bloom. He got up in class and really reinforced my atheism at the time by saying the Bible is just stories passed around a campfire that can’t be trusted and so on and so forth. A to B, to B to C, just like the game Telephone. And that’s simply false, and J. refutes that argument better than just about anyone.

7. The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf

We have a lot of kids who come through Summit who are interested in getting into the pro-life movement. I’ve found that to get involved, you have to know how to argue.

If Scott Klusendorf were sitting here right now, having a conversation with us, he would say that being victorious in the pro-life movement means you have to do two things. First of all, you have to use science to establish that the unborn are human. Secondly, you need to use philosophy to establish that there’s no difference between the unborn embryo you once were and the adult you are today that would justify killing you at that earlier stage of development. Scott sets the moral framework, and for that reason, I always recommend The Case for Life first on the issue of life.

8. Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Questions by Randy Alcorn

I also include Randy Alcorn’s book Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Questions because once you’ve grasped the moral framework Scott provides you with, you sometimes need more information to build a strong case. Alcorn does a good job of that — Pro-Life Answers is chock full of good statistical information. Randy Alcorn’s book might actually be the most marked-up book that I own. You can open it up anywhere and see my handwriting in the margins.

Summit: Let’s go back to your conversion story. You’re in a prison in Quito, Ecuador, and you see a man reading something that challenges you.

I converted to theism in ’96 as a result of that prison experience. I didn’t return to Christianity until 2000, and that was actually the result of a second prison trip. I was on Death Row visiting John Paul Penry before his execution in Texas. Very famous case. He had an IQ of 55, and he was a rapist twice, murderer once, guilty as can be, with full knowledge of what he had done. I had an opportunity to interview him for three hours. At the end of the interview something really unusual happened. He quoted John 3:16 to me. He bungled it, of course, but I asked him if he’d read the Bible. He told me he had. He’d been on Death Row for 20 years and two months, exactly, when I visited him. And he said he’d read the entire Bible. Slowly. I’ll bet he didn’t tackle the King James. But he got through the whole thing. When I left the prison that day I was embarrassed, because remember, in ’99, I was already a tenured college professor and a theist. I was embarrassed that a mentally retarded rapist and murderer had read the Bible, and I, calling myself an educated person, hadn’t.

I went back home to North Carolina in the first week of January and went to Barnes & Noble to buy a copy of the Bible. As it turns out, one of my students was behind the counter, so I put the Bible up on the shelf and came back. I didn’t want anyone to see what I was doing. Eventually, I got a copy of the King James and started to read it. Later, I found Colson’s book, and it directed me toward a bunch of apologetics. That was the best year of my life. I read Norm Geisler, Josh McDowell, J.P. Moreland, and more. The incredible thing is that in eight years I’d be joining the Summit faculty with those guys.

Summit: Now, your father challenged you, in a way that’s a bit unique.

Around 1991, my father, who was a very conservative man, picked up a book by Alan Dershowitz called Contrary to Popular Opinion. And he read it. Back then, I was a political liberal. My father said to me, “You know, son, I’m reading this book despite the fact that Dershowitz and I have very different political views,” and he said, “You should do the same. You ought not to be afraid to read contrary opinions.” So I started doing that around 1992. I read a Rush Limbaugh book. I still have that copy in my office at UNC Wilmington. And I will not show you that copy because there are so many obscene words written in the margins. It was from my angry atheist days.

To look at it now, it’s like, wow, I used that kind of language and I was that angry. But about the same year — and I obviously didn’t like Rush’s book at that time — I read, though, a book called Illiberal Education by Dinesh d’Souza. And that was the first one that exposed me to the campus political correctness problems that actually infringe upon free speech.

Summit: Which is now a passion of yours.

Now it’s a passion. And I think — actually, I can tell you in all honesty — that Dinesh’s book was the first one to put some cracks into my liberal foundation. Where I said, what’s wrong with these people that they’re so insecure with their beliefs that they would act this way on college campuses? And he began my political conversion, Dinesh did. And so, I would encourage people — I don’t care what your political or religious leanings are: Be confident enough to reach out and read the opinions of those who differ from your own.

I’m reminded of something John Stuart Mill wrote in his 18th-century book On Liberty. Mills was a libertarian. I’m not. He wasn’t a believer. I am. But I’m very jealous of this one quote, which I’ll paraphrase: “The danger of censorship it twofold. Number one, it deprives people of the truth. Number two, it deprives people of a greater appreciation of the truth via its collision with falsity.” So I’m convinced if you read our stuff next to their stuff, once you’ve read their stuff, our stuff looks even better.

Summit: Finish this interview with the challenge.

The challenge is, cancel the cable and just try it for one year. Get rid of that satellite dish. It’s tough, but cancel it, and come to Summit and get yourself 52 books, and try to do it for one year. One year is not that long. But I’ve been at it for over five years and I have no intention whatsoever of going back. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and it helps me communicate better with others, regardless of where they’re coming from.

You can find Dr. Adams’ full book list and the original interview at summit.org/podcast.

Dr. Mike Adams is a professor of sociology at UNC-Wilmington and has been a faculty member of Summit’s Summer Student Conferences since 2008. He’s the author of Letters to a Young Progressive and a regular contributor to TownHall.com. He’s best known for his strong, active involvement in challenging campus censorship.