This summer, after returning from Africa, I had the opportunity to exhale and take a little extra time to read, study, and reflect. The following books are the ones I found to be most helpful, stimulating and encouraging.
Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen. This is Nouwen’s most recent book, and it was actually written posthumously by two of his former students/apprentices based largely on Nouwen’s university teaching notes on the subject. It’s an outstanding book and it shows us how to live in sync with God and how to find wisdom for our long walks of faith. And hey, getting Nouwen as a personal mentor ain’t bad either!
Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright is simply a masterpiece! It’s not a simple read, but it cuts to the core of what it truly means to be Christian and why the deepest longings of our heart make so much sense. It felt to me something like a postmodern version of C.S Lewis' classic, Mere Christianity. My blog post below, “echoes of africa,” borrows heavily on Wright’s thinking, so read that post to get a feel for where Wright will take you in this brilliant look at the very nature of God and his followers.
The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, is a provocative look at emerging culture and a stimulating exploration of the kind of church it will take to reach the postmodern world. Their understanding of what it means to be church is radically different than what most followers of Christ have come to experience as church. I love what they write, and I’ve had a taste of a new kind of church through our involvement in NieuCommunities. But I suspect their way of being church will still, for at least a few more years, be primarily attractive to counter-cultural people rather than popular culture. But if you have a bent to challenge the status quo and connect with people who just don’t “get church” as they see it lived out in their neighborhoods, Frost and Hirsh will get you thinking!
Mere Discipleship by Lee Camp is a full-on challenge to those of us who call ourselves Christians to cease playing at faith and to become radical followers of Christ. He challenges the softness that often characterizes our faith and our churches. He offers a different kind of discipleship, a different kind of following God that involves sacrifice, risk, and asking our world and ourselves the uncomfortable questions. Throughout the book I found myself wondering, “Just how much have I unknowingly become culturally captive? How much of my faith is more middle-class conservative America than it is Christ-like?” Don’t read this book if you’re looking for confirmation of what you already practice. But if you’re ready to take a hard look at the way you follow God in light of Scripture, Camp will take you on a profound ride.
Leaving Church, by Barbara Brown Taylor. This book was recommended to me by a good friend who has left the church, but not God. In fact, his relationship with God is as rich now as it has ever been. Taylor is an Episcopal priest, and this is her personal story about breaking free of the religious machinery of the priesthood in hopes of finding a fresh and freeing faith. This is a warm, thought-provoking, sometimes sad, but very well written book. I wouldn’t want to give up as much as she has to enjoy a life-giving faith, but after 20 years of voactional ministry, there are certainly parts of her journey I resonate with.
On the lighter side, I had a blast reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This historical fiction follows the lives of a handful of historians who are searching for the tomb of Vlad III, the 15th century Romanian prince who fought against the Ottoman Empire. He was also called Vlad the Impaler, and his life is the stuff of the legend of Dracula. This is a fascinating tale that takes you on an investigative journey through Amsterdam, France, Istanbul, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Fascinating stuff…especially if you’ve already visited many of these places or have always wanted to!