Paradigm Shifting, Life Shaping Books

It seems we all like books. And we especially like making lists of books. In 2005 I wrote The Five Books I Would Recommend to a College Student…or Actually, to Anyone!, and listed in another post the Top 100 Religious Books of the 20th Century According to Christianity Today. If you want you could access lists for the 100 Best Novels and 100 Best Nonfiction Lists, and yes, there is even a list for the 100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library. Sorry women, I couldn’t find your list.

But what I’m interested in here is another list. Books that have been paradigm shifting, and life shaping for you.

When we think of books in those terms I think the lists we have are often reduced, because just not every book, or every other book….or even 1 in every 1000 book or so is paradigm shifting, and for that matter gives shape to your life.

There were many more I could have listed, but I have listed my 10 below. It’s interesting to notice how many of them come out of required reading for graduate school or my vocational interests. So though these books are important to me, I wonder what new books will be added as my vocational interests broaden over the years. As a former pastor, current therapist and social media/tech dabbler, the books I choose might be very different than someone else in the same lines of profession, and maybe very, very different from someone in different vocations. Maybe?

What 10 books have been paradigm shifting and life shaping for you?

The Latin Quarter, Paris, France

These are my 10, and I will just say why in 1-2 sentences, or maybe just a few words…AND they are not in order of importance (except the Bible), but rather alphabetically by author’s last name.

  1. The Bible
    What can I say, but that it’s the foundational text for guidance in my relationship with Jesus Christ. Has taught me about grace, love, truth, honesty, patience, community, perseverance, etc, etc.

  2. The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom
    Resonated deeply on the importance of decentralization in organizations, and the view of a bottom’s up leadership, rather than hierarchical, top-down authoritarian structures.

  3. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    Was one of the first times I realized the magnitude of God’s grace in my life, and the importance of costly obedience and discipleship, rather than the cheap grace that is often taught and practiced. And Bonhoeffer lived it out.

  4. The Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    Wow! An amazing work on suffering, love, grace, redemption…and no author understands and captures the human condition in it’s honest and authentic entirety like Dostoyevsky.  Confirmed for me the idea that often the deepest theological/psychological/philosophical truths are in novels, not textbooks.

  5. Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
    I re-read this book every year since I first read it in 2001. There is no better book on vocation and identity.

  6. Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
    Kierkegaard’s retelling of the Abraham and Isaac story brought to reality the difficult and often “absurd” ways that we are asked to follow God and his commands…rather than the sugar coated stories we are often told in Church. Ethics at its most challenging.

  7. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller
    I had never read a “Christian” book like this, until this one. Miller is masterful at weaving a narrative about the Christian life that is infused with humor, authenticity, friendship and challenges. Timely to read it in my mid-20’s as well. Such resonation.

  8. In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen
    Best book on leadership in my opinion. Nouwen dumps traditional leadership on it’s head and challenges us to be the type of leaders that truly lead within, and among those that follow us. He calls for a vulnerable leadership that most leaders are afraid to offer up.

  9. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf
    Volf brings together some of the broadest and most diverse perspectives in theology (drawing from postmodern, modern, feminist, etc.) and challenges us to embrace the “other.” A challenging call for us, especially as we move into a more global society where our differences keep us at arm’s length from one another, often living in fear.

  10. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene Peterson.
    Helped me realize that what was required of me as a pastor and leader was not what was/is most often being taught. Really helped me to slow down and view my role as a pastor/leader from a vary different perspective. I think a must read for all pastors.

Like I said, there are more that I could add, but this is a good top 10 list for me…one of the ways that I know a book has become paradigm shifting, and life shaping is because I have read it over numerous times. These type of books are not 1 time reads.

What do you think of my list?

What books would you add to the list?


  1. by Jason Taylor on March 17, 2009  7:57 am Reply

    I had two initial reactions...1, I haven't heard of most of these and 2, I've got some reading to do.
    I think I'll put a post together similar to this. I think Ben Arment did one not to long ago as well. What a great way to challenge one another with great reads.
    I'm working through Desiring God and Wide Awake right now. Both are taking me to new places and I'm enjoying the journey.
    Thanks for the post.

  2. by John on March 17, 2009  8:38 am Reply

    Rhett, Your #1 and #2 are in my top 10 (1 of course still being #1). For me I would add Velvet Elvis-Rob Bell, Celebration of Discipline-Foster, The Dip-Seth Godin, Sacred Romance and Waking the Dead-John Eldredge and so many more that it is hard to boil down. I guess it is rare to have real paradigm shift though.
    Great list. I will be interested to see what others say.

  3. by dewde on March 17, 2009  9:01 am Reply

    Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend.

    Velvet Elvis by Bell.

    Blue Like Jazz by Miller.

    Mere Christianity by Lewis.

  4. by Sean Reid on March 17, 2009  9:24 am Reply

    I second Dewde's plug for Mere Christianity. I'll add to that:

    Wild at Heart by John Eldridge - This one really gets at the struggle of being a man in a world that wants neutered men yet borders on warrior worship (which is why, IMHO, we get alot of the WRONG kind of warriors). It's like a spiritual version of "Fight Club", which leads me to.....

    Fight Club - Seriously, totally paradigm shifting for me. It spoke right to the place I was at the time I read it. I felt like I was trapped in chains. I grew up forced how to "behave" and somehow culture even managed to control what I thought was rebellion. The idea of just letting that all hit the wall, literally, as a means to find freedom was empowering at the time. (as an aside, studying boxing - a healthy way to channel aggression - played a pivotal role in my returning to God)

    Anything by Thoreau - I know, it's a cop-out. But I can't narrow it down and all of his writings seem to say things I thought but couldn't put into words.

    UnChristian by Gabe Lyons & David Kinnamen - This one got right to the heart of the things that drove me away from Christianity and the things I can do to help lead others back to a relationship with Christ. Highly recommended.

  5. by Adam S on March 17, 2009  9:58 am Reply

    I would say Ragamuffin Gospel by Bennan Manning - really helps to understand grace as no other book as done for me.

    Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - this is really a stand in book there are lots others that I could put here, but I realized how important fiction is to me. For a while I only read non-fiction, primarily Christian. But story is so important to sharing the gospel with people and there is often no better way to explore theology and philosophy than through fiction.

    Malcom and Martin by James H Cone. I am not a liberation theologian but that book more than his others (and I think I have read all of this others) really help me to seek the theology of social justice.

    Theirs is the Kingdom by Robert Lupton. I have read many other devotional books before and after but this one was important for me as I was beginning to consider ministry in an urban setting.

    Enough for now.

  6. by Michelle (Meesh) on March 18, 2009  4:43 am Reply

    Looks like I'll be busy reading. : )

  7. by Rhett Smith on March 19, 2009  11:54 am Reply

    Awesome recommendations friends.

    Yeah, I could have easily put up Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis and C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.

    Adam, I love your list. I have been reading a lot of liberation theology...great stuff there that has been lacking in much Christian reading.

    Sean, I love Fight Club. Not sure what I think of the "warrior worship" movement though....tell me a little more why you are interested in it...I have reservations about the theology behind it, and the implications of the message that is being talked about. Say more?

    Dewde, Townsend and Cloud are great stuff...Boundaries has changed a lot of lives.

    John, yes, it's hard to find those paradigm shifting books. Godin does do it quite a bit though.

    Jason, haaaaa. Plenty of time to read..and of course, this is just my list. I have plenty to read on other's lists.


  8. Pingback : Ask the leadership coach » Paradigm Shifting, Life Shaping Books

  9. by Sharon Ruffin on October 10, 2009  10:50 am Reply

    God Chasers by Tommy Tenney
    This book realy changed my life. It brought me to a place of worship and relationship with God.

  10. by finde mehr heraus on April 13, 2018  11:05 am Reply

    Dieser harte Schwengel hier rotzt mir eine ordentliche Ladung auf meine Titties, genau wie ich es brauche...

  11. by clubs on April 24, 2018  7:04 am Reply

    Ich bilde Sklaven aller aus und forme sie für meine Bedürfnisse und nach meinen Vorstellungen.

  12. by sehen on April 25, 2018  1:14 pm Reply

    Darüber hinaus entblößte der 24-Jährige ihr gegenüber sein Hinterteil.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.