I’ve been thinking about books. Actually, I think about books a lot. That’s part of what pastors are supposed to do, right? Someone visits a pastor with a problem, shares heartfelt vulnerability, and gets handed a book (off a shelf filled with books) and sent on their merry way. Well. . . hopefully that’s not how it works, but sometimes we bibliophilic pastors give that impression. This is also the time of year when everyone begins releasing lists of top however many books of the year. I’m not going to do that. Rather, I‘ll heed the suggestion of a friend of mine and share an annotated list of a few books that I’ve found really helpful in my own understanding of the Christian faith. These are my Christian must-reads:
The Confessions by Augustine of Hippo
The Confessions is widely hailed as a Christian classic. It set the example for spiritual autobiography. Although written 1500 years ago, it still manages to be relevant today, recording with vulnerability the growth of a Christian seeker.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
A classic introduction to the basics of the Christian faith from British scholar-author C.S. Lewis. In a style very different from his beloved children’s fantasy series—The Chronicles of Narnia—Lewis expounds a reasoned and readable primer on Christianity.
The Prodigal God by Tim Keller
Tim Keller is a pastor in our denomination who, in some circles, has taken on semi-divine status. Although not divine, Keller is an insightful cultural critic and Biblical theologian. This re-telling of the well-known parable of the prodigal son is a top-notch read that shows how Jesus' teaching still matters today.
I’ve joked before that I’m just not into fiction. That isn’t true. Although I read more non-fiction than fiction, I do have a few favorite novels.
Peace Like A River by Leif Enger
Enger addresses themes of family, faith, and hope in this fast-paced drama that follows one family’s struggle with crime and its aftermath. Through the voice of a child, Enger drills down into the essential quality of faith. His book (soon to be released as a movie starring Billy Bob Thorton) also contains the most beautiful descriptions of heaven I’ve ever read.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
There aren’t a whole lot of examples of fiction writers with Calvinistic tendencies, but Robinson is one. Gilead is a character study of a Midwestern pastor trying to embody the grace and love he believes. The novel is a treasure for its beautiful language as much as for its characters and plot.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
19th century Russian literature isn’t cheery nor is it brief. But Dostoevsky is a genius at capturing human psychology, particularly at its intersection with faith. This is my favoritest novel of all time. The effort required to read this lengthy tome will be rewarded.