“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”
The words of Oscar Wilde are no less true today than when he spoke them. The books we choose to read shape who we are and how we see the world. Because of this, I consume books voraciously. Mostly religious non-fiction, but also some fiction as well. I was recently thinking about which religious books I’ve read during the last decade shaped and impacted me most, and I decided to share them with you.
Leave a comment letting me know if you read and enjoyed any of these books, and feel free to leave some recommended titles of your own. I’m always looking for something new!
- In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen
Many of Nouwen’s books could be on this list, but I felt the late Catholic priest outdid himself in this volume by providing a picture of leadership that challenges many presented today. Using Jesus as a model, Nouwen shares personal stories and Biblical truths that left me in tears as I read the book in one sitting.
- The Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald B. Kraybill
In this award-winning book, Kraybill dismantles the domesticated Christianity that pervades many Western Churches. He explains the counter-intuitive nature of a Kingdom where the last are first, servants are leaders, the poor are privileged, and adults behave like little children. This book helped me recover the radical, revolutionary good news of Jesus.
- Godstories: New Narratives from Sacred Texts by Stephen Shoemaker
J.D. Salinger once said, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” That’s the way I felt reading this book. It’s a survey of the Bible from cover to cover and imaginatively recasts stories in ways that breathe new life into familiar passages.
- Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
As a Western Christian, my own cultural context influenced the way I read and interpreted Scripture. This book explores the ancient world in which the Bible was written, uncovers the way I often misread texts, and uncovered better interpretations of important passages. It revolutionized the way I read the Bible.
Wright is perhaps the foremost New Testament scholar alive today, and this provocative book dispels many of the modern myths perpetuated by New Testament churches and pastors. He explores themes such as heaven and the resurrection and provides truly surprising insight into the nature of God and His Kingdom. A bit academic, but worth the read.
- A Little Exercise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke
This 57-page volume contains more wisdom than most books quadruple its size. In it, the late German Bible scholar warns against the intoxicating nature of religious reflection and urges readers to nurture a spirit of theological humility. With the pompousness that saturates so many religious debates these days, I’m convinced that there are more than a few older theologians who could use this little exercise as well.
- Gospel Medicine by Barbara Brown Taylor
Taylor is a masterful storyteller who provides fresh if sometimes provocative interpretations of Scripture. The writing is so captivating, I had to force myself to put it down to make it last longer. This collection of sermons–as are the others in the series–is a must read.
- The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott
Likely the best book on the cross of Jesus written in the modern era, I found it to be a theologically rich exploration of the banner of the Christian faith. Stott is pastoral and yet personal in this volume, which helps readers uncover why the death of Christ is still the pinnacle of the Christian story. And all of human history.
- The Ragmuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning
The late Brennan Manning’s classic treatise on grace exposed areas where my fundamentalist and legalistic tendencies stole the joy God wants me to have in my journey with Him. Unlike many Christian books, I felt spiritually liberated when I finished it.
- Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Christ by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola
As a Christian, Jesus is my everything. This book reminded me of this truth. As it lifts Jesus up, it also lifted my spirit and reminded me why I love my Lord as much as I do.
Honorable Mention: Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers; Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott; The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich; Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle; The Organic God by Margaret Feinberg; Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight; The Mission of God by Christopher Wright;