5 Pivotal Books That Enlarged My Faith
Despite the belief that we’re open minded and informed, the way we interpret the information around us is critically tied to our social environment and history. The worlds we inhabit inform the way we define terms, confirm biases, and make generalizations.
This isn’t good or bad—it just is. It takes more work than we realize to ensure that our thoughts aren’t limited by our context.
Sometimes in evangelicalism we intentionally create a gated community to protect ourselves from dangerous outside ideas and perspectives. When you believe that Christianity is all about subscribing to certain presuppositions, and that the devil is trying to trick you with contrary ideas, it becomes important to protect yourself other other influences.
This isn’t a post about my favorite books, it’s a post about books that provided a stepping stone from my narrow, rigid perspective into a larger, broader horizon.
5. Seeking the Face of God: The Path To A More Intimate Relationship
“The first thing to remember is that devotional reading is not solely an intellectual exercise, its aim is the active transformation of the heart.”—Gary Thomas
It’s sort of ironic that I spent so many years in Pentecostalism where I was encouraged to follow promptings and internalize sometimes questionable hermeneutics, while reading those Catholic mystics would have been frowned upon.
Thanks to Seeking the Face of God, I was introduced to a world of divines that placed a huge priority on experiencing and responding to Christ. Through this introduction to writers like Climacus, Thomas à Kempis, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Ávila, I discovered a transcendent new world.
From here it was a small step to the amazing Renovaré resources and to the writers themselves. (Incidentally, my interest in the mystics came up negatively during my ordination.)
If it wasn’t for Gary Thomas, I wouldn’t have discovered Francis de Sales’s Introduction to the Devout Life. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
4. The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity
“An irenic approach to expounding Christian beliefs is one that attempts always to understand opposing viewpoints before disagreeing, and when it is necessary to disagree does so respectfully and in love. An irenic approach to doctrine seeks common ground and values unity within diversity and diversity within unity. An irenic approach does not imply relativism or disregard for truth, but it does seek to live by the motto ‘in essentials unity.’”—Roger E. Olson
Dr. Olson’s book is a thoughtful overview of major theological subjects that focuses on the width of orthodoxy and embraces belief from more of a “both/and” perspective and less of the “either/or” approach we’re all so accustomed to.
In the evangelicalism of my youth, we were encouraged to focus on our differences and to define orthodoxy as narrowly as possible. If we didn’t, we were leaving the door open to heresy. The Mosiac of Christian Belief did a good job of affirming the fact that we can value both orthodoxy and common ground.
I was more than excited to discover that Christianity might be more of a river than a creek.
Another great book in this vein is Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy’s Across the Spectrum.
3. The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth
“Since [narcissists] deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world’s fault. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad. They project their own evil onto the world. They never think of themselves as evil, on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others.”—M. Scott Peck
This M. Scott Peck work put him on the map in the late seventies. If you read it now, many of the concepts seem so pedestrian and obvious. But when it was released, there was something revolutionary between its covers.
The book’s first section on discipline is worth the price of admission, but when I saw the quote above a light went on for me. The way that the church engages the culture is often in keeping with the narcissism that Peck addresses.
We’re God’s chosen people and everything revolves around us. Sure, we may not perfect, but at least we’re forgiven. It’s all the evil out there that’s a problem. What if we have an ecclesiology that is excessively narcissistic?
The moment I came across these four sentences from Peck, I jumped in my chair flipped back to the front of the book and started reading it again from the perspective of the church. It was profound.
2. God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It
“‘Oh, then you must be the religious Left.’ No, not at all, and the very question is the problem. Just because a religious Right has fashioned itself for political power in one utterly predictable ideological guise does not mean that those who question this political seduction must be their opposite political counterpart.”—Jim Wallis
When I met Jesus in the early 90s, I was immediately ushered into the Christian coalition, a right-wing movement put together by Pat Robertson. Like many Americans, I was convinced that the recognition of Republican ideology was one of the most important indicators of Christian orthodoxy.
God’s Politics helped me realize how important it is for Christians to rise above partisanism and quit letting anyone use us as a demographic for maintaining political power. Our prophetic identity requires that we speak into institutions of power instead of aligning with them.
This book confirms the importance of God’s people to be politically involved while earnestly desiring to be sheep amongst the goats in every party.
1. God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict
“If we further consider this divine panoramic view within which all evil is supposedly a “secret good” is held by a God who, according to Scripture, has a passionate hatred toward all evil, the “solution” becomes more problematic still. For it is certainly not clear how God could hate what he himself wills and sees as a contributing ingredient in the good of the whole. If all things play themselves out according to a divine plan, how can God genuinely hate anything?”—Greg Boyd
No book has ever affected me on the level of this one. In a theological world where you can get “farewelled” by the gatekeepers of orthodoxy for asking sincere questions, Boyd’s courage alone is inspiring.
There is no shortage of books dealing with Christian responses to the problem of suffering and evil, but in the end, most of them answer the questions by eroding the actual input, say-so, and partnership that the church shares with God. Beyond that, spiritual warfare in the cosmos is often explained in a way that strips away any risk or real conflict.
God at War proffers a biblical look at a universe where prayer is more than a pro forma activity without any real impact. There is genuine conflict and potential jeopardy—not because God isn’t “sovereign,” but because he has created a universe where the free-will actions of its inhabitants can have a dramatic and powerful influence—for good or evil.
His follow up, Satan and the Problem of Evil is a wonderful companion to this book. We’re still waiting for the final book in the trilogy (and I bug Boyd on Twitter about it every six months or so).
What books enlarged your heart? I am dying to hear about them!