I’m a book geek. I won’t hide it, nor will I apologize for it.
Over the last few years, reading has played an indispensable role in helping me discover a richer, deeper, more satisfying life with Christ.
But it’s not just reading, per se. It’s learning what to read and who to read. Like digging for gold, you’ve got to know where to look.
So I figured I’d share some of the books and authors that have impacted me the most. There are many, many really good books that I could recommend, to be sure. But for me, these are in a separate category.
So here goes, in no particular order…
The Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd
I’ll never forget the moment. I was walking the aisles of Books-a-Million in Lafayette, Louisiana, holding my infant son. This was probably around 2007 (so I’m stretching the definition of “decade” a bit). The cover of this book caught my eye. I had no clue who “Gregory A. Boyd” was, but the provocative title reeled me in.
This book was life-altering for me not simply because of its content (which is outstanding), but because it led to an incredibly significant turn in my spiritual journey.
This book introduced me to the theological genius of Greg Boyd. Greg is not only a prolific author, but a respected scholar, and also the founding pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.
For the next several years I began immersing myself in Greg’s sermons and books. “It was like I had struck gold and couldn’t pull it out of the ground fast enough” (to quote someone else on this list).
Without question, Greg has influenced my theology more than just about anyone I can think of. It was a great thrill to finally meet him at The Apprentice Gathering last October.
The Patient Ferment of the Early Church by Alan Kreider
I’ve already written about this book several times, most extensively here. So I won’t say much here. Of the books on this list, it’s the one I’ve read most recently. It’s extremely well-researched. From cover to cover, author Alan Kreider paints a captivating portrait of the early Christian movement, and the phenomenon of how it spread.
When considered in contrast with the current context of American Christianity, the lessons packed into this book are stunning and disorienting (I mean that in the best way). Without a doubt, Patient Ferment will stick with me for the rest of my life.
This book probably wouldn’t be a “page-turner” for most people simply because it’s packed with so much information. But I really wish every Christian leader would take the time to read this one.
Water to Wine by Brian Zahnd
If Greg Boyd has been the most influential American pastor upon my life when it comes to my theology and walk with Christ, Brian Zahnd is quickly catching up with him.
I discovered BZ around 2011 through Twitter. He’s maybe the biggest Bob Dylan fanatic on the planet. I can’t get past Dylan’s strange voice. But I have major respect for his poetry. He’s a Nobel Prize winner, after all.
And Dylan’s poetic influence on Zahnd (both his writing and preaching) is unmistakable. As of now, I’ve read six of his seven books (I’ve not yet read this one). Each one of them is a work of art.
Boyd and Zahnd are very similar in terms of their theological framework. But the main difference, for me, is the effect. Boyd appeals mostly to my thinking. For me, Zahnd primarily stirs the emotions.
Though I could have included any of his books here, I’ve chosen Water to Wine, because it’s a great introduction to Zahnd and his story. Reading BZ will definitely stretch you. He’s not into ear-massaging. He is relentlessly honest and bold. And you may not always agree with him. But if you only read from those who see everything from your point-of-view already, well, what’s the point?
Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright
If you’re a vocational minister, and you don’t know who N.T. Wright is, you really should. He will probably go down as the greatest scholar of this generation. And Surprised by Hope is his most famous work thus far.
While I’ve not read much of his scholarly work, I have read almost all of his popular books. And there are some really good ones. Simply Jesus, Simply Christian, How God Became King, and The Day the Revolution Began are all fantastic.
But Surprised by Hope was the first Wright book I ever read, and it helped expose some of the false ideas I had regarding the nature of heaven and the afterlife that were severely limiting my view of God’s mission right here and right now. In Surprised by Hope, Wright helps us recover a theology of heaven and of the Kingdom of God that is faithful to the teaching of the Apostles and the New Testament.
The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Pete Scazzero
You might have noticed that none of the other five books are “leadership books.” If by “leadership books” we mean books about how to get more people to do what you want them to do, then this one isn’t either. Take this however you want, but I have no interest in reading those types of books right now. I don’t mean to suggest that “leadership books” have no value.
But it is possible for a pastor to master the art of leadership and utterly fail at forming people in the way of Christ. In fact, not only is it possible, I think it’s exactly what’s been happening all over the place. And building/reproducing leaders does not equal being/making apprentices of Jesus Christ.
And that’s what makes Scazzero’s book so important. It’s a painfully honest and blunt work that will cause you to dig deep beneath the veneer of consumeristic pragmatism and quantifiable “success” to discover what truly matters – the inner self.
Scazzero has also written Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, which is similar, but very much a separate book. I’d recommend either. But for pastors and leaders, try EHL first. I’ve read it four times. I wish I could buy a copy for every fellow leader/pastor I know and force them to read it.
The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
I couldn’t NOT include a Dallas Willard book. He’s been too impactful on my life. There isn’t any one Willard book that stands out above the others. Each one of them is so rich in thought and content.
In addition to The Divine Conspiracy, I highly recommend Renovation of the Heart, which I’ve read twice. Both of these books are chock full of amazing insights. I had a hard time choosing which of these two books to include in this list. But The Divine Conspiracy is a masterwork.