About a year and a half ago, I changed how chose which books I read.
Prior to my decision, I read books purely for knowledge – reading became a way to obtain intellectual insight into the mysteries of God and faith.
And I soon found myself losing the joy of reading.
Because reading became a chore.
And it was all about me.
I slogged through dense books of theology that served only to increase my intellectual arrogance and dogmatic approach to faith.
And, to be honest, I wasn’t even enjoying what I was reading.
So, I changed my tune. I became more intentional with my reading choices. And I laid out a few personal ground rules.
I would only devote time to reading a book if I thought it would:
- Change the way I approached God; and
- Increase my love for people; and
- Be practical enough that I could easily share what I was learning with other people.
And those three rules changed my world.
The more I read and learn about God’s immutable grace and reckless love for humanity, the more compelled I am to share the same grace and love to other people.
Therefore, I present this list of eight books that have challenged my understanding of God and what it means to be an ambassador of love and grace in the modern world.
Through their pages, I hope you learn to love others well and live in sync with the One Who Holds All This Together.
A Brief Note on Hersey: The appearance of a book on this list does not mean I fully endorse the views expressed in the book or the views of the author.
It pains me that I even have to bring this up.
If you only read books that you agree with, how are you ever going to learn?
If you only expose yourself to ideas you are already comfortable with, are you really living in faith?
If you only listen to voices that reinforce your pre-existing beliefs, how are you ever going to be able to understand someone else’s point of view?
Read a book from a faith tradition different than your own. Ask questions. Have a conversation. Wrestle with your faith. Don’t be afraid to challenge what you’ve always been taught.
You might surprise yourself.
And God might surprise you.
Surprised By Hope – N.T. Wright
If I could get Christians in America to read just one book, N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope would be it. Wright absolutely blows apart our common misconceptions of Heaven, Hell, and the mission of the church by graciously revealing that our preoccupation with life after death is preventing us from fully participating in life before death.
The story of the Bible, Wright argues, is not about evacuating Earth to go to Heaven, but believing that through the life of Jesus, Heaven and Earth are being united as one and to be a Christian is to live fully present within that reality.
If you flip through my copy of Surprised By Hope, you’ll find nearly entire pages highlighted and underlined.
Blow Your Mind Quote: “Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.”
The Irresistible Revolution: Tenth Anniversary Edition – Shane Claiborne
This book single-handedly changed the way I viewed politics, poverty, violence, war, charity, wealth, employment, military service, and love. Filled with beautiful stories of redemption and staggering statistics, The Irresistible Revolution will alter your perception of the world and, more importantly, your neighborhood.
Author Shane Claiborne is the real deal. He works and lives among the homeless in Philadelphia. He traveled to Iraq after the 2004 invasion to care for the civilians injured by American bombs. He’s been arrested and tried for helping the homeless and protesting the death penalty.
Even though I read it nearly six years ago, I can still remember thinking, “I’m never going to be the same,” after reading some of the stories and statistics in this book. I’ve owned four copies of this book – I’ve given away the previous three. It’s just that good.
Blow Your Mind Quote: “Our world is desperately in need of imagination, for we have spent so much creativity devising ways to destroy our enemies that some folks don’t even think it’s possible (much less practical) to love them. We have placed such idolatrous faith in our ability to protect ourselves that we call it more courageous to die killing than to die loving.”
Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster
Richard Foster was a Christian theologian from the Quaker tradition. Which meant he knew a lot about discipline. But by “discipline,” he means “practices that draw you closer to God.”
In Celebration of Discipline, Foster explores four internal disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, and study), four external disciplines (simplicity, solitude, submission, and service) and four corporate disciplines (confession, worship, guidance, and celebration). Each chapter is short and filled to the brim with practical advice and soul-piercing wisdom.
While it would be easy for a book about disciplines to be harsh and urgent, Foster roots his study in grace, patience, and beauty. If you’ve ever struggled with developing or maintaining an active spiritual life, pick up a copy of The Celebration of Discipline as soon as possible.
Blow Your Mind Quote: “The life that is pleasing to God is not a series of religious duties. We have only one thing to do, namely to experience a life of relationship and intimacy with God, the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
The Divine Conspiracy – Dallas Willard
Without a doubt, The Divine Conspiracy is one of the most (if not the most) important book written about Christianity is the past fifty years.
The Divine Conspiracy revolves around the life-changing concept that the love of God inhabits every square inch of creation, and his divine will beautifully (and mysteriously) intertwines with our freedom in every important and mundane decision throughout our lives.
Through beautiful prose and philosophical insight, Willard reveals how the conservative gospel of sin management nor the liberal gospel of social justice will never be enough to satisfy our thirst for the Divine. From prayer, community, discipleship and the restoration of all things, Willard shows how the story God is telling is so much more beautiful than anything we could possibly imagine.
Blow Your Mind Quote: “We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly, he is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of his love and generosity is inseparable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness.”
The Pursuit of God – A.W. Tozer
Even though it’s the oldest (and shortest) book on the list, The Pursuit of God is in no way outdated or lacking for content. To the contrary, Tozer’s words are more relevant than ever before and each page contains such a depth and richness of knowledge that you’ll find yourself pausing after every paragraph, wide eyed with awe and wonder.
With soul-piercing insight and wisdom, Tozer takes aim at shallow spirituality and helps the reader understand what it means to cultivate a relationship with the Almighty. In spite of the topic’s heaviness, The Pursuit of God is extremely accessible and applicable to everyone, regardless of their faith tradition or spiritual maturity.
A well-worn copy of this book belongs on everyone’s shelf.
Blow Your Mind Quote: “God is so vastly wonderful, so utterly and completely delightful that He can, without anything other than Himself, meet and overflow the deepest demands of our total nature, mysterious and deep as that nature is.”
God Has A Name – John Mark Comer
John Mark Comer’s God Has A Name begins with a simple premise: How would your relationship with God change if you started calling Him by his real name – Yahweh? And then Comer takes the answer to that question to some very unexpected places.
Comer – the teaching pastor at the hip Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon – dissects Exodus 34:4-7 (“the most quoted passage in the Bible, by the Bible”) word by word to show how absolutely groundbreaking and revolutionary the Israelite’s understanding of God was at that point in history and culture.
God Has A Name is an easy read (simple sentences, short paragraphs, lots of white space on the page), but it has the potential to completely rock your perception of God and His character. If you’ve ever struggled with the violence and temperament of God in the Old Testament, add this book to your must-read stack.
Blow Your Mind Quote: “Yahweh isn’t the “unmoved mover” of Aristotle; he’s the relational, dynamic God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God who responds. Who can be moved, influenced, who can change his mind at a moment’s notice. And this isn’t a lower view of God; it’s a much higher view. He would be less of a God if he couldn’t change his intentions when he wants to or be open to new ideas from intelligent, creative beings he’s in relationship with.”
The Sin of Certainty – Peter Enns
Raise your hand if you’ve ever struggled with doubt and have been afraid to voice those concerns in the church. Or maybe you drown out your doubt in reading as much theological scholarship as possible in hopes of “figuring out” how God works.
I can raise my hand because I’ve been there. And if you have too, then Peter Enns’ The Sin of Certainty is for you. Enns, a Biblical scholar, reveals the futility of understanding the Divine in the midst of sorrow and hardship by showing how various Biblical characters dealt with the same difficult questions and received vastly different responses from God.
However, instead of wallowing in the uncertainty, Enns shows how our faith is most alive when we trust God without the safety net of a preferred outcome. He also challenges the modern church’s emphasis on “correct thinking” about God at the expense of the “correct doing of what He commanded.”
Blow Your Mind Quote: “When we reach the point where things simply make no sense, when our thinking about God and life no longer line up, when any sense of certainty is gone, and when we can find no reason to trust God but we still do, well that is what trust looks like at its brightest – when all else is dark.”
What Is The Bible? – Rob Bell
Easily the most recent (and possibly controversial) book on this list, Rob Bell’s What Is The Bible has one of the best subtitles of any book I’ve ever read: “How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything.”
Even if you don’t agree with all of Bell’s conclusions, you cannot deny his infatuation with the Bible. This book breathes new life into familiar stories and enriches your understanding of the cultures that help shape the Bible into a breathtaking piece of literary art and history.
While Bible scholars and seminary students won’t find anything in here that hasn’t been said before (by C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, etc.), What Is The Bible will prove most challenging to those who have been raised within strict fundamentalist traditions, but Bell’s simple and engaging style will provide ample material for reflection and discussion – regardless if you agree with him or not. What Is The Bible makes this list because it illustrates the heart of Biblical study isn’t the mental acknowledgment of historical facts, but the participation in a vibrant dialogue that’s been going on for thousands of years.
Blow Your Mind Quote: “So when you’re reading the Bible, you’re always asking questions. You’re asking questions about the details of a particular passage, and then you’re asking larger questions about the passage as it relates to everything around it. What comes before it? What comes after it? Is there any action or phrase or idea that I’ve seen before? Sometimes the meaning is in the story itself, other times the meaning is found in how the story sits among a number of other stories, and sometimes it’s the larger pattern that is the point.”
How about you?
What books have been instrumental in your spiritual development or have challenged you to see parts of your faith in a new light?
Or, if you could, what is the one book you wish you could get everyone to read?
Leave your list in the comment below!