I have written in a few of our posts about the power of a collection of great books and the impact that they have had throughout my faith journey.
I’ve broken these 9 books across 3 phases of my faith journey so far: discovering my faith, diving deeper, and learning to live it out. I am very much still in the midst of each of these steps, so if you have any recommendations please send them my way by commenting below or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1.Doing The Truth In Love by Michael J. Himes. This book was recommended to me by one of the most intelligent Christians I know as a simple, yet thoughtful way to understand what it is that Christianity really believes. It’s short, sweet, and a phenomenal intro to the theology of Christianity. It really helped me to discover that the Christian God was not some old man sitting up in the sky judging all of us, but that at His core is Love.
“What the Christian tradition maintains is the least inadequate expression for God finds its clearest, sharpest, simplest statement in one of the last-written documents of the collection of the early Christian documents which we call the New Testament, the first letter of John. There we read that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8 and 16). But the love which is offered as the least wrong way to think and speak about God is of a very peculiar sort: agape. Agape is a Greek word meaning love which is purely other directed, love which seeks no return, love which does not want anything back. Perhaps so as not to confuse it with the many other meanings which we attach to the word “love” in English, we might translate agape as “pure self-gift”
2. The second book is by one of my favorite authors of all time: C.S. Lewis. He argues with beautiful logic and clarity for what we all believe in as Christians. He has many books (even two more on this list), but the one I started with was Mere Christianity. I credit this book with helping to re-introduce me to Jesus.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
3. The last on my list of discovery is the book The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton. He does a great job of deciphering between different religious belief systems and helping us to understand the relationship between science and Christianity.
“Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something. Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something could turn into something else. It is really far more logical to start by saying ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth’ even if you only mean ‘In the beginning some unthinkable power began some unthinkable process.’ For God is by its nature a name of mystery, and nobody ever supposed that man could imagine how a world was created any more than he could create one. But evolution really is mistaken for explanation. It has the fatal quality of leaving on many minds the impression that they do understand it and everything else.”
4. Now as we dig deeper we’ll move to one of the classics: Dostoevsky’sThe Brothers Karamazov. This is beautiful novel about family, spirituality and about God. It’s dense, full of meaning, and to be honest with you, I’m not sure I even understand half of what he is trying to say. I’ll just keep re-reading it till I do.
“Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.”
“There is only one way to salvation, and that is to make yourself responsible for all men’s sins. As soon as you make yourself responsible in all sincerity for everything and for everyone, you will see at once that this is really so, and that you are in fact to blame for everyone and for all things.
5. Another fantastic book is Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. It does a phenomenal job of re-introducing us to the radicalness of the Christian faith and dares us to live as our Christian faith calls us to.
“Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.”
“When it’s hard and you are doubtful, give more.”
6. Time to add another C.S. Lewis to the list! The Great Divorce is a beautifully written visualization of heaven and hell.
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
Learning to live it out
7. Have you had enough of C.S. Lewis yet? Too bad! This is one of the more difficult books I’ve ever read. Screwtape Letters is written from the perspective of a demon who is actively trying to win over a man’s soul. Before reading this book, I probably would have described myself as a pretty good guy. Needless to say, after reading this book and Lewis’ perfect articulations of our day to day sins, my perspective of myself quickly changed.
“It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
“When He [God] talks of their losing their-selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”
8. And now arguably my favorite book on this list (except for the last): Fr. Gregory Boyle’s Tattoos On The Heart This is the best example of how to live out Catholic Social Teaching that I’ve ever read. I honestly cried at every chapter of this book.
“Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”
“If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives.”
“Success and failure, ultimately, have little to do with living the gospel. Jesus just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed or until he was crucified — whichever came first.”
9. Lastly, the Bible. I couldn’t in good conscious put it on a list with any other book. Those books are great, but they are all written by people talking about God. The Bible is something different. After re-discovering my faith, I began to make my way through the New Testament (am now still working through the Old), and it changed my life. I felt power and meaning in words that I was only beginning to understand. It began a conversation with God that I know will continue for the rest of my life.
One of my favorite ways to engage with Scripture is through the ancient prayer method Lectio Divina, a beautiful way of reading scripture slowly and meditatively, letting God speak to you directly through the words. It is one of my favorite prayer methods in Hallow’s guided meditation and prayer app. There are no quotes that would do this justice, but because I couldn’t resist I pulled a few from Hallow’s first introductory Lectio Divina sessions:
“Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
‘A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. [Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you afraid?’’ (Mark 4:37-40)
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:14-16)
As I said at the beginning: I am still very much at the start of this journey and would love to hear your comments and any book recommendations you have – please comment below!