The Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill — The Jesus story examined from the perspective of what the culture looked like at the time. At the time I read it (over a decade ago), it really shattered my beliefs about Christianity and what it meant to be a “Christian” (especially in context of growing up Greek Orthodox, and then being exposed to evangelical church in Arizona). The historical backdrop and its relevance explained, illustrating how upside down the kingdom Jesus advanced. Considered in the context, Jesus was more radical than is commonly conceived. Down is up, rich is poor, poverty is luxurious, triumph is gained by losing. Love replaces hate, shalom overcomes revenge, enemies are to be loved, a basin replaces the sword, etc…. This book was a big force in how I was transformed from Christian in word to Christian in deed.
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster — I am due for a reread of this classic. A compendium of inner practice “disciplines” for the practicing Christian.
Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright — It blew my mind and I was compelled to read chapters and passages repeatedly, as it shattered my views of heaven and the afterlife. I found myself going back to scripture and other sources (and even to the point of learning Koine Greek) to puzzle out what Wright is espousing in this truly transformative text. And I am now convinced that most people (including most Christians) hold gnostic and unscriptural viewpoints on heaven.
The Great Turning by David Korten — Not a spiritual, religious or faith book by any stretch, but one that has profoundly influenced my faith. A volume I have read at least a half-dozen times too. Korten sketches out the true 21st century civilization conflict — a struggle of Empire v. Earth Community. One that pits those of an advanced level of “other oriented” consciousness against more fear minded, reciprocity driven folk, with those in the middle tipping the scale. Or to strive to lift the level of consciousness of all. And as I age, no barometer is a better gauge than how many sources from the bibliography I follow up and explore to learn more.
The Powers That Be by Walter Wink — Walter Wink, recently passed away, in this accessible volume (by all means, also explore the entire three volume trilogy — Engaging the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Naming the Powers — though the further you go back in time, the more theological nerdy the reading gets) captures and defines “principalities and powers” and serves up a brilliant nonviolent sketch of Jesus and the Kingdom Jesus pronounces. It is absolutely, as the tagline on the book proclaims, theology for the new millennium (originally written in late 1990s). It gave me moorings and language in seeing the Gospel in the light of nonviolence and power under v. power over.
The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight — Scot McKnight distills Jesus down to a simple “commandment” — to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, but also to love others as themselves.
Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne — Written during the 2008 election cycle, and presented in an edgy, wonderful publication package (though some of the page backgrounds might be a tad too dark), it offers a journey, both historically and in present times, through the intersection politics of empire and followers of Jesus. As I stated earlier in this missive, I judge the merit of a book largely on the bibliography follow-up, and this volume shines in that respect. I believe I have traversed nearly all the volumes referenced and my faith has certainly been impacted in a positive fashion.
The Mystery of Christ by Robert Farrar Capon — I cannot believe I did not discover the fantabulous Robert Farrar Capon until I reached the end of a Rob Bell book (Love Wins, an OK book (do not see what all the fanfare, hoopla and controversy was about, seemed a bit timid) I had no intention of reading, that Mrs. Naum had left on the coffee table) where I was intrigued with this description “On Jesus in every square inch of creation” of Capon’s book. Over the past year, I have been leading a Bible study of parables of Jesus with Capon’s Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus and it has been faith-altering or faith-evolving. It is one of those things that once you see you cannot un-see. And I just finished Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace and can pronounce it just as amazing as The Mystery of Christ.
The Naked Now by Richard Rohr — Christian mysticism from a Franciscan monk, like Capon, also infused with total grace. Followup reads referenced in his notes and bibliography, however, were not as fruitful for me as other books in this list. Not all, mind you. Especially the discovery of historic saints and mystics.
How to Read the Bible by James Kugel — Mis-titled, not really “how to read the bible” but more an examination of the Hebrew Bible (“old testament” for Christians) and the contrast between ancient interpreters and modern biblical scholarship — which rifts against fundamentalist (and many conservative evangelicals I think too) literalism. An orthodox Jewish scholar elucidates the clashes of biblical scholarship against traditional biblical memes. Scholarly writing, but comprehensible to all. Faith reverberations in the sense that respected Bible scholars really do not line up on the stuff that most Christians believe are as plain as the nose on a face.
Some honorable mentions for some titles that just elude cracking this list: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (or just about any title by C.S. Lewis) squeezed off by newer titles; The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevski which all of faith (or non-believers too) should read; The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder but the writing style of Yoder is just so theologically dense for me; Christian Anarchism by Alexandre Christoyannopoulos offers a digest and survey of Christian anarchist thought; The Subversion of Christianity by Jacques Ellul (or any title by Ellul) where Ellul, in the anarchist vein, looks how the state tainted the church; Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics by Jonathan Dudley, a recent read that examines evangelicals and church history.
In composing this list, it is striking the preponderance of newer titles. It is not as if I am not acquainted with the classics — working my way through St. Vladimir’s popular patristics series now, even. But writing bridged by centuries (and often language translation, or idioms from centuries ago) has a hard time speaking to a me placed in 21st century America. When I read St. John of the Cross, or Jonathan Edwards, or Julian of Norwich, or John Calvin, or even G.K. Chesterton, I strain at extracting a cohesive narrative. Yes, there are sentences and passages that shine with brilliance, but on the whole, I seem so preoccupied with the toil of comprehending what exactly is being relayed.