Today, I’m sharing the 10 books that changed my faith. These aren’t necessarily my favourites, or the classics, or the best written, or even my most beloved books about living life in Christ’s ways.
But I wanted to share these ten books because they actually changed how I experience and understand God, and then, how I live my life in response.
These books messed with me, man.
The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning. If I could tell anyone to read one book about the Christian faith, this would be it. Hands down. Brennan Manning changed everything for me with this book, I have walked out my life as deeply loved ever since reading it. The truth that he revealed to me in these pages helped set me free from crippling people pleasing and approval addiction, and I fell head over heels in Love. I’d hand it out on street corners.
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, … anabaptist/anglican, metho (emergentYS) by Brian McLaren – Brian McLaren has, obviously, been influential in my life through his work and writings. But this is probably my favourite book of us (runner up: Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel, written with Tony Campolo). I am a rag-tag Christian myself, I borrow heavily from other traditions than my own, I learn and appreciate and welcome many expressions of faith, and Brian McLaren writes about the big gorgeous wide-open tent of Christian spirituality, and how we can cross these boundaries and false demarcations boldly, with grace. I’ve been committed to keeping my orthodoxy “generous” ever since.
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller – The book that is likely on the short list for 90% of evangelicals my age, Donald Miller made me feel a little less crazy. I was already drawn towards the early emerging-church conversations in the United States (where I lived at the time), and this book was just so different. Donald Miller was one of the first to “go there” and I will always appreciate how he articulated much of my own youthful experience and questions.
Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Custis James. I had read (and cried my way through) Half the Sky earlier in the year. But when I came across James’ book, I had a big old EXHALE. Even-handed, scholarly, well-written, and compelling, this is the book for the Church I’ve been wanting to read for a while. It is empowering without being divisive.
The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne – This book ruined my life. And I mean that in the nicest way. Shane has been telling stories and living as an “ordinary radical” for years now, and this book is his invitation to a cluttered and divided church to truly begin to live in The Way of Jesus. This book helped me put legs and feet and arms and a voice to the stirrings towards social justice, intentional community, contemplative practices, and activism in my own life. Shane helped me to move past nationalism towards a Jesus-shaped spirituality that puts people before countries, that gives me first and only allegiance to the Kingdom of God, never The Empire. I was already against the Iraq war by this time, and beginning to investigate the Christian paths for peace, when this book came along, and helped to start me on the path towards the “uneasy pacifism” that I now affirm in my own life. But be warned – it might wreck your life, too.
The Shack by William P. Young – There may be controversy (what? God is represented as an African-American woman? Pass the smelling salts!) but this book changed me, changed how I viewed the Trinity, and began a devout curiosity in me to find out what I thought about God and why.
He Loves Me! Learning to Live in the Father’s Affection by Wayne Jacobsen – During my years of self-imposed exile from the Church, particularly the institutions of church, I leaned heavily on Lifestream Ministries, in particular The God Journey podcasts. I still listen occasionally, but that was how I was introduced to this deceptively slim volume. Jacobsen packs a tremendous amount of theology and age-old questions in there, I particularly benefitted from the discussions about what really happened on the Cross, as it presents an alternative to the oft-memorized penal substituionary (Google doesn’t think that is a word apparently…) atonement theories.
The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God by Dallas Willard. This was one of the first books on Christian spirituality and theology which I remember truly devouring. I have always been more of a literature and poetry kind of girl, and I abhorred self-help-y books (still do, in fact). But Divine Conspiracy is brilliant, insightful, wise, and above all, changed how I viewed discipleship in the Christian faith. His passionate defence of Jesus as the ultimate example and true teacher of our life, as well as his discussions on the “smart” Jesus, and introduction of God’s kingdom theology, stay with me still. It’s my favourite book on what it means to live life in the way of Christ.
The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” (Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality) by Kathleen Norris. This tiny booklet of a book gave me back my joy. That sounds a bit extreme, but it’s true. I was in a season of sadness, perhaps depression, particularly worn down by the physical and spiritual demands of my small family and the near-constant “needs” of everyone around me. I felt stifled, like my work didn’t matter, I was futile, and this made me angry in a simmering sort of way, all the time. I found my joy again through her words, because she helped to sanctify and bless and make holy these daily rhythms of a life and a family. I’ve never looked at my laundry pile the same way since. I underlined almost the entire book. And I cried with relief, prayed a lot, and began to change.
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (Wheaton Literary Series) by Madeline L’Engle. I often refer to L’Engle as my “patron saint” because I simply love to sit at her feet, and learn. I love everything she writes (watch for her in my upcoming post about my favourite memoirs. But this book changed how I saw myself as an artist, and a creative soul. L’Engle’s words seemed to free some part of me, a connection was made between my faith and my art, I didn’t need to be a “Christian writer” (which, as we all know, I’m a bit out of that box by now), I could, instead, be a woman of faith AND a writer. It sounds rather bald when I write it down, but the book was a catalyst, a game-changer for me, as a writer. It felt like a big old permission slip from the hereafter.
I can’t write about books that changed my faith without including something from the emerging Church discussions. There were many books during that season of my life that resonated with me, but one that I often refer back to for those new to the concept is Phyllis Tickle’s Great Emergence, The: How Christianity Is Changing and Why. This book is about the future of the Church as we undergo a massive rummage sale of our beliefs and practices. It gathers together much of the work and writing and interest in the movement.
Runner Up: An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor. I read this book recently but it’s influenced how I see the world, almost every day, little altars everywhere. And, watch for a few others that impacted my faith but found their way into other categories of the week, such as daily life or fiction or memoirs. (After all, I find Jesus everywhere.)
Your turn, friends:What books have changed your faith?
Sunday: 10 books that changed my faith
Thursday: 10 books I read over and over (and over)
Friday: 10 spiritual memoirs
Saturday: My daily books + 10 books of poetry
(Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links are used. I might earn 23 cents this way.)