This year’s “top five” (technically six) are near and dear to my heart. I always attempt to read broadly. This year I’ve especially seemed to have read from a broad spectrum of books. Most all of the ones that I read this year could have made this list. However, these were particularly engaging (and renewing)….
The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen is a book of hope. It reveals not only our capacity for ministering out of the healing the Gospel of Jesus provides, but the design of God as we minister out of that God-ordained healing. In a world defined by it’s brokenness, believers are defined by the healing that only those of the Kingdom embrace. If you are familiar with Nouwen then you know that every word of his writings centers upon spiritual formation and spiritual renewal. The Wounded Healer is no exception. If you are not familiar with Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer is an excellent place to begin.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading two books designed to work in tandem with one another: For Calvinism written by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger Olson. Horton is professor of theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. Olson is professor of theology at Truett Seminary at Baylor University. Both men are friends, and wrote the forwards for one another’s book, each being fully respectful of the other’s theological perspective, all the while making a concise case for their own systematic theology and belief system (note the tulips full of life on the left and wilted to the right). Whether Protestant or Catholic, Reformed or Arminian, Hyper-Calvinist or Remonstrant to the core, one of the brilliant aspects of these two works is the call to fully understand and respect where one another’s beliefs are founded, even, and especially, when we do not agree with the conclusions drawn.
Simply Christian, Simply Jesus, and How God Became King are some of my favorite books by NT Wright. Wright’s hardwired academic posture and intentional pastoral heart are evident in his writing and ministry (I listen to Wright’s podcast constantly in the car). Surprised by Hope has possibly edged out How God Became King for my all time favorite book from my friend Tom’s pen. Surprised by Hope (a play on CS Lewis’ Surprised by Joy) is not only extremely readable (Wright can tend to be unashamedly very academic) but also super applicable and engaging for today’s postmodern/postChristian culture. Don’t allow the subheading “Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church” deter you. You won’t agree with everything in the book (if I only read those I full agreed with I’d only read me), I don’t, but you will indeed be challenged to think more critically in regard to the Kingdom of God and our role as those who are so blessed dwell within it.
When I propose these books each year I will often acknowledge that they have not all been written within the previous year or even previous several years. The Interior Castle is 427 years old. That’s probably a record for this venue. In The Interior Castle (El Castillo Interior), Teresa of Avila describes how, upon entering the “castle” (sense the concept of protection, safety, peace) through prayer and meditation, the human spirit experiences humility, detachment, suffering, and, ultimately, self-knowledge, as it roams from room to room. As we progress further toward the center of the castle, we come closer to achieving indefinable and perfect peace, and, finally, divine communion with God. Like her contemporary John of the Cross (cf. Dark Night of the Soul) Teresa is a Renaissance mystic. Out of the ancient mystic worldview we catch a glimpse of the contemporary call to spiritual discipline, humility, and to be overwhelmed by God.
I’ve intentionally read much over the last number of years in pursuit of better understanding of, and better practice of, spiritual disciplines. My first book Renaissance: The End of Religion and Beginning of Something New focused on spiritual formation. My current work, Fortress: Timeless Spiritual Disciplines for Contemporary Christian Life, centers on spiritual disciplines (I’m only about a year into writing and still have several more before it’ll be released into the wild). I say all of that because much of my reading is bent in the direction of spiritual practices. Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Richard Rohr portrays the “alternative way” of following Jesus as revealed in the life of Francis of Assisi: one that disregarded power and privilege and held fast to the narrow path of the Gospel of Jesus. Rohr helps us look “beyond the birdbath image of the saint” to remind us of the long tradition founded upon his revolutionary, radical, and life-changing embrace of the teachings of Jesus. Rohr draws upon Scripture, insights from psychology, and literary and artistic references, to weave together an understanding of the tradition as practiced by Francis of Assisi. Rohr, a Franciscan priest, depicts how his own worldview and theology are firmly grounded in this way of life and teaching, and provides a perspective on how this “alternative way” to God can deepen and enrich our spiritual lives.
Well, there you have it. This year’s top five.
I read more than a dozen other books this year.
But if you ask me, these five are a perfect place to start.
Glory to God!