Over at Patheos.com several people were asked to note books that have changed their faith-lives (not including the Bible) over the last ten years (see here). For those who care I thought I’d list mine as well. Here is my list:
(1) Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, and The Screw Tape Letters by C.S. Lewis
I know many have been influenced by C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. In the Problem of Pain he provided me with some satisfying intellectual answers to the subject of the book though I would argue you can’t understand Lewis in this book without reading his personal memoir on suffering A Grief Observed. The Great Divorce helped me think more broadly about the doctrine of hell which has always been a difficult pill to swallow. Finally, the Screwtape Letters but a “personal” spin on demonology making it apparent that any interaction with this subject must include the fact that whatever demons do it is not computerized, it can be planned, and it must be logical. As one who has spent much time around Pentecostalism I appreciated the warning against fascination with the demonic; as one who has been studying in an academic setting for years I appreciated the warning against ignoring the demonic.
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If anyone can tell stories about being abused by fellow Christians it is I. For a long time I wanted to be one of those “non-religious” Christians who “followed Jesus” while being critical of the church. This seems a bit impractical in a religion with sacraments like baptism and the Eucharist that are both religious and ecclesiologically centered. In Bonhoeffer’s book I finally found myself comfortable as part of the church realizing that he was right when he said you have to love the church as she is now if you will ever see her become greater. In addition, I have come to realize that I am often as much a shame to Christianity as those I have judged. The beauty of our faith is not our success but the grace of God.
The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
This book was recommended to me by my pastor, Jeff Garner. I read it over a Christmas Break from school. It changed the way I viewed Jesus forever. It put a face on what seemed like a ghost. I realized that the complexity of the gospel traditions is what makes the Jesus we have received so glorious.
The New Testament and the People of God, The Challenge of Jesus, The Last Word, Surprised by Hope, and After You Believe by N.T. Wright
The New Testament and the People of God was my introduction to reading N.T. Wright and it shaped my epistemology as well as my interest in how I approach New Testament studies. The Challenge of Jesus was peaked my interest in historical Jesus studies. The Last Word helped me think about the role of Scripture in the life of the church. Surprised by Hope confirmed so many things I was noticing in my own study of Scripture as regards eschatology and it cemented Romans 8 as my favorite chapter in all of Scripture. After You Believe provided me with a framework for Christian morality that I had not firmly established since leaving a very legalistic version of Christianity while in college.
Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
This books was so witty and brilliant it made me what to convert to Roman Catholicism. I have remained a Protestant for many reasons but this book, like Bonhoeffer’s, reinforced my commitment to the historical church and her teachings. It is one of the few books I have read more than a couple of times.
On the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria
This book introduced me to the beauty of the Nicene Creed as well as the Greek Fathers like Basil, the Gregories, John Chrysostom, and so forth. Often it seems that Athanasius noticed aspects of Scripture, especially Paul, that modern commentators ignore. For all the criticism the Western church has launched against theosis it is obvious to me that Athanasius and others realized the essential need to be united with God by Christ through the Holy Spirit. This book made me see how important Christ is to this aspect of our salvation and the redemption of the cosmos.
Unlocking Romans by J.R. Daniel Kirk
This book reformatted my reading of Romans. It has long been my favorite book of the Bible but there were so many pieces that seems to be disconnected. Kirk helped provide a structure by emphasizing how the doctrine of resurrection functions in the epistle. It has led me to see the importance of the Adam-Christ contrast, the role of the Holy Spirit in the new humanity, and the destiny of the entire creation.
God’s Empowering Presence by G.D. Fee
I read this entire massive exposition on all references or allusions to the Holy Spirit in the letters of Paul. It changed my life. I was raised around Pentecostalism and I knew the Spirit was important but the framework with which I was provided (Spirit = essentially tongues) seemed a bit limited. This book expanded my Pneumatology like no other.