I love reading books, and like many of you, I read a lot of books in the last 10 years. Half of the decade I spent in graduate school (finishing up my MDiv and MFT) so there were a lot of books to be read. And I just really enjoy reading anyways.
I read about 500 books this last decade and there were a lot of great ones….some good ones….and some not so good ones. But there were definitely some books that stood out and really changed my life.
These are 30 books that I consider to have greatly been a part of spiritually transforming my life.
When I chose my books there were some basic criteria that I considered:
- they were memorable (some books are just forgettable, and these were not)
- they didn’t have to be written this decade
- they are ones that I recommend to everyone
- they are leading works in their field
- they are ones that I have read multiple times, or are back on the reading rotation to read again
- they needed to have fundamentally shifted some area of my thinking–paradigm shifting influence
- they transformed me spiritually (my theology, my ministry, my prayer life, my leadership, my preaching, my counseling, my pastoring, my understanding of humanity, my relationship with God, etc.)
- and yes, I didn’t list the bible, because I’m hoping you assume that that is the book that has spiritually transformed me the most
Here we go:
The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry with Theological Praxis by Ray Anderson
–Two words: theological praxis. Anderson helped me bridge the gap between my theology and ministry like few others did.
The Reciprocating Self: Human Development in Theological Perspective by Jack Balswick, Pamela Ebstyne King and Kevin S. Reimer
–The concept of the “reciprocating self”, centered in the Trinity was life shaping for my work not only as a pastor, but as a therapist.
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
–This book forever changed my view of the Sermon on the Mount, as well as forever affecting my view on grace.
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
–Bonhoeffer was a theologian who didn’t live in an ivory tower, and this work coming out of his experience of community while in an underground seminary during WWII is amazing.
Message of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann
–Brueggemann’s writing on the Psalms and their rhythm of “orientation/disorientation/re-orientation” provided the lens through which I come to understand many things in life, especially areas of trial and transition.
Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts by Eberhard Busch
–Many consider Barth to be the greatest theologians of all time, and a theologian that must be read if one is to better understand the landscape of 20th Century Protestant theology. His Church Dogmatics alone is enough to garner more in depth study.
The Stranger by Albert Camus
–Camus’ existentialism, and the themes of absurdity, nihilism and the meaningless of life were challenging and insightful, and helped me better understand and proclaim the hope of Christ in a lost world.
The Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
–Sigmund Freud called it “The most magnificent novel ever written, ” and who can argue that. Dostoyevsky’s exploration of God, free will, ethics is unbelievable, and I walked away from the novel with a greater sense of God’s grace than almost anything I have ever read.
Is There a Text in this Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities by Stanley Fish
—Nancey Murphy let me into her “Theological Uses of Postmodern Philosophy” doctoral seminary as an MDiv student, and this book is what I wrote my paper on for the class. Fish challenged my views of on the authority of interpretive communities, and who holds the power in communities to provide various interpretations. This book began to alter my views on how one interprets scripture. It forced me to ask very different questions of a text than I previously did.
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
–Gibran’s views on marriage, solitude, and what can be considered differentiation in a relationship helped me better understand the relational interactions in marriage like few books on marriage could do.
Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions by Roberta Gilbert
–This is a great book from a Bowenian perspective, and her exploration of family systems, boundaries, triangles and enmeshment forever changed my views and perceptions of how families and couples operate–and how the church operates as a family.
Glittering Images by Susan Howatch
–I have read this novel about 7 times and it is better and better everytime. This honest and authentic look at people in ministry with all their foibles, vices and strengths is a penetrating work that gets behind the masks and “glittering images” we all put on in ministry. I actually recommend the entire Starbridge Series.
Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
–This interpretation of the binding of Isaac by Abraham in Genesis 22 is thought provoking, and Kierkegaards discussion on the “teleological suspension of the ethical” is enough to blow your mind as you begin to re-think how ethics are practiced and lived out.
Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing: Spiritual Preparation for the Office of Confession by Soren Kierkegaard
–This work on willing one thing and our double mindedness was particularly insightful as he explores it in our vocations and occupations.
The Mystery of Marriage: Meditations on the Miracle by Mike Mason
–My favorite book on marriage–why a lot of books on marriage try to tidy things up into simple steps, Mason really explores some of the greater philosophical and theological themes in marriage.
Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam McHugh
–This book altered my view on leadership by helping me recognize that I was failing to understand a large population of the church. From now on I will be looking differently at people when I recruit leaders for ministry positions.
The New Man by Thomas Merton
–Merton’s discussion on identity is mind-blowing, discussing how and why most people seek identity in external things, and how those external things lead us to a false sense of identity. It is extremely penetrating and convicting in our new web driven world.
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller
–This book forever changed what I’m looking for in writers–a humble, vulnerable authenticity as one wrestles with God is hard to find in many writers, but Miller changed the game when he wrote this book.
Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen
–Nouwen’s exposition of Philippians 2:6-11 is wonderful, and his discussion on “downward mobility” provided a new lens through which I view my service and vocation in life.
In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen
–Best book on leadership in ministry. I required my student leadership team to read it every year, and I re-read it every year as well. I wish more leaders read books like this and not simply defaulted to those found in the business world.
The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen
–This book is a much needed antidote in a busy, wordy culture. His themes of solitude, silence and prayer speak deeply to me.
The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Grant R. Osborne
–One of the first major books I read on hermeneutics, and Osborne leaves no stone unturned. This set the stage in how I approach scripture.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer
–One of the best explorations on vocation and identity. Phenomenal book that I read 1-2 times a year.
The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene Peterson
–Peterson has so, so many books, but this challenge to pastors is so counter-cultural (how many pastors can be described as contemplative in this busy culture?) and I wish more people read it. It’s a book that spoke deeply to who I wanted to be as a pastor.
My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
–This book started me thinking about the tension that often exists between calling/vocation and the religious communities we are a part of. Beautiful story.
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
–Rilke’s advice to this young poet had me nodding my head in agreement at every word. Rilke’s words speak to the poet, pastor, artist, writer, etc.
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
–Shirky’s discussions on “communities of failure” and “architectures of participation” helped inform my views of participatory culture especially in church.
New Horizons in Hermeneutics by Anthony Thisleton
–One of the first hermeneutic books that I read that included theology, interpretation and hermeneutics from those who are not White, Male, American/European (Western) theologians. Helped me understand how much of mine/our views of scripture and interpretation are culturally bound.
Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf
–This is perhaps the best book I have read in the last 10 years. Volf discusses almost every major theologian and theological school in this book on identity, otherness and reconciliation (as the book title states). He presents a huge challenge to approach, live and embrace the “other” in a culture that usually resorts to alienation and warfare.
Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends by Michael White and David Epston
–One of the seminal books in therapy, their exploration of narrative in therapy helped me better understand the use of story and re-framing as I work with people.
Okay, so there it is. I would love any comments or feedback that you might have. Or if you have further questions about any book, as I didn’t exactly have time or room to comment at length on every one.
Which books have you read?
Did any of these books change your life?
Which ones are you wanting to read?