Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Good Reading

I am asked to recommend books at times ( to be candid, not all that often). If I mention a book in a sermon, I am usually asked for more biographical information after the sermon ( to be candid, by one or two people, only). My wife and I share reading lists and pass books back and forth. I have a couple pastor friends who pass on good titles they have read and are interested in what I am reading. One of my sons is always looking for good reading and has taken a number of my suggestions and now he is suggesting good books for me to read, too. In sum, it seems to me that too many Christians do not read good books ( or any books!) and that, I find, there are too many good books and not enough time to read them or to even be aware of them! In the event that someone might want to know what good books I recommend, I thought it would be fun to blog about a list.

For those interested in spiritual theology (which sounds daunting and what I mean by that is anyone who wants to think deeply about life as spiritual) I would point them to any book by Eugene Peterson. For pastors, especially, I testify that he has saved my life. I mean I could not have survived pastoral ministry without his writings. I also recommend anything by Dallas Willard, Confessions by Saint Augustine, C. S. Lewis's books and the long trail of reading that reading Peterson and Willard put you on.

One thing Peterson taught me long ago is that everyone needs a theologian, every pastor, for sure. Good theologians help you to think Biblically about everything. Karl Barth is the one I have chosen and over the years have read his works ( and am reading his works which are massive!). In his writings are an entire education in church history, and Biblical exposition, as well as, theology, and all at the intersection of culture. Eberhard Busch on Barth's life is very good, too.

Writers of Biblical commentaries are many and never ending. I have purchased way too many and most of them are gathering dust on my shelves. I like a commentary that does solid exegesis and then interacts with real life and church issues, past and present. Frederick Dale Bruner's commentary on Matthew (two volumes) does that and is my favorite. It is a commentary for pastors but it is equallty accessible for a layperson who wants to study God's word. I like Genesis commenaries because Genesis is the beginning of everything we are, as human beings made in the image of God. Its all in there. Bruggeman, von Rad, Thelicke ( on the first chapters, only) and Wanderings, a history of the Jews, by Chaim Potok are good guides. Bruggeman and Peterson on 1 and 2 Samuel and Ian Provan on 1 and 2 Kings bring insight and understanding to the OT historical period and show us why that's important for us to this day. The Psalms are meant for our daily reading and prayer. Peterson, Bruggeman and Lewis have helpful studies on portions of the Psalter. There are many good commentaries on the prophets: John Bright on Jeremiah and don't miss Peterson's smaller volume on the same book, and Elizabeth Achtemeier is a good name to know as she has written well on a number of the prophets. An OT book that I overlooked for a long time is Esther and Karen Jobes has helped me to see why this book should not be overlooked today.

In the New Testament, there are names like Raymond Brown on John, Gordon Fee on Corinthians and Philippians, Marcus Barth on Ephesians, and Peterson and Eugene Boring (exactly the wrong name for a commentary writer!) on Revelation.

I will never understand why many Christians see fiction as a waste of time. We love stories and novels are just good stories. Novelists are keen observers of human life, as well, and help us understand ourselves and this life we live in - and some help us get pointed to God, too. How can someone go through life and not read Dostoyevsky? Get started in fiction. Read Books and Culture, a review of current books that comes out six times a year. They have some great suggestions. Check out the NY Times book review section. Get a list of the novels considered classics and start reading.

Finally, for now, there are some authors that are able to show how Christianity makes sense today. It is not that they answer all our questions for they know that all our questions are not all answerable. It is Christian faith, after all. But, they deftly illustrate how sensible our faith is. Phil Yancey is one writer who immediately comes to mind. Read whatever he has written. C. S. Lewis, of course, too. Earl Palmer, Leslie Newbigin, Miroslov Volf... and don't bypass a surprising new book by first time author William Young called The Shack.

I love reading history, especially biography, too, and I wish I had had history teachers who taught the way some of our current writers of history write. Alan Jacobs has written a wonderful biography of Lewis called the Narnian. Malcolm Muggeridge reports on a life of reporting in Chronicles of Wasted Time and the slim volume three is the story of his late life Christian conversion. New understandings of the exciting ( and not to be taken for granted) birth of our country are many in the books by David McCullough. Read Paul Johnson. On church history there is Mark Noll and George Marsden. (to be continued)


  1. All excellent recommendations, indeed, Pastor. I would like to add a couple of texts that have helped me rethink the meaning of my faith:

    - Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together;

    - Walter Wangerin's Book of the Dun Cow and Book of Sorrows (next to Lewis and Bunyan, quite possible the best of Christian allegory).

    - Shusaku Endo - his short stories are remarkable

    - Religious Affectations by Jonathan Edwards

    - Interior Castle by St. Theresa of Avila

  2. Thanks Jared for those suggestions. I would agree completely. Bonhoeffer needs to be added to any list of recommended reading. Endo's Silence is one of the most haunting stories I have ever read. I was thinking of Edward's work as I preached last Sunday!