I was trying to think, the other day, of the 10 non-fiction books that I’d say have been the most influential, or that I love most, and so thought I’d list them here. It should really go without saying that the Bible is one of them, so I haven’t included that in the Top Ten. I’m so thankful I have access to scripture in my own language!
Interestingly, it’s not always the deeply theological tomes that stick as the really inspirational ones, but sometimes the seemingly insignificant books that God uses to speak into our lives. So, here goes with my Top Ten, in no particular order:
- My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. This is just a fantastic daily devotional book. I’ve used my copy for well over 20 years and, every time I come to it, it is still fresh, challenging and powerful. I appreciate Chambers direct and no-nonsense approach, along with his depth and concise spiritual insight. I really believe everyone should have a copy of this. It’s also available online alongside a ‘modernised’ version by the Oswald Chambers Society, who write ‘in the spirit of Chambers’.
- The Forgotten Ways, by Alan Hirsch. This book burst open my concept of mission and the church and focussed my mind on the needful rediscovery of some very central things in the church. In particular, the need to rediscover what Hirsch calls ‘the Apostolic genius’ – factors identifiable in every growing Jesus movement across the board. So much to learn. The book also has a few spin-offs developing some of the ideas.
- Surprised by Hope, by Tom Wright. This book was just full of ‘wow’s’ for me! He radically challenged my concept of heaven; what happens at the fulness of time regarding the way the new heaven/earth combine; how every act of mission counts on into eternity and the coming of the new heaven/earth; and, some provocative things about what it means to be a good news people. This book radically changed my preaching, living, and understanding of some theological/biblical ideas.
- You See Bones, by Floyd McClung. I add this simply because there were so many things here that were really instrumental in the change of understanding that moved me on from being stuck in a Salvation Army-centric, institutional model of leadership and discipleship. The missional challenges presented here helped me see that the gospel was fundamentally more important than any particular cultural/denominational expression of it. Just blew my world apart.
- Chasing the Dragon, by Jackie Pullinger. Just story after amazing story of God changing lives through the ministry of a slightly crazy but utterly God-reliant lady. Her work and example inspire me so much.
- Falling Upwards, by Richard Rohr. There are many ways in which I don’t sit side-by-side with Rohr when it comes to theology, but the insights he displays in this particular book have been so important for me in navigating life and the changes in faith perspective, particularly in regard to the messiness of life. Part theology, part classical literature reflection, part psychology, there are just some helpful ideas that have served me well.
- Post Christendom and Church After Christendom, by Stuart Murray Williams. Obviously two books here, but so closely linked. A combined exposure to these books accompanied by a personal acquaintance with the author meant these radically changed my understanding of the times in which we operate as missional people. His writings have brought my whole mindset round to a rather ‘anabaptist’ understanding of some things (eg clear separation of church and state, mission on the margins, non-violence, etc.).
- Becoming a Contagious Christian, by Bill Hybels. Now, I haven’t picked up this book in over a decade at least. I guess that some of my thinking and practise has probably moved on a lot since reading it, but I remember this being really significant in my earliest discipleship and in living a mission-focused life. Evangelism has always been a passion of mine, and this gave me some good basic framework as a young disciple.
- Organic Church, by Neil Cole. This book represents another huge shift in my understanding of evangelism, mission, church, and discipleship. There is something so intrinsically true about it and which has inspired ministry since reading it nearly 10 or so years ago. I’m only beginning to work through implications of what it means to favour the organic over the institutional…occupational hazard for a pastor! Liked to this are his other works in a similar vein, such as Organic Leadership, and Search and Rescue.
- Finally, I mention an author: Frank Viola. His books have had a significant impact, even although I wouldn’t fully agree with everything he says. They have, nevertheless, had an impact on my understanding of ministry, the shape of the church, the role of the pastor, and new possibilities for ministry in a new age which I’ve still to work out in reality. Books such as Finding Organic Church, Rethinking Church, and Pagan Christianity, all thoroughly knocked me out of my cosy church nest. They should come with a health warning.
Like I say, I realise that these aren’t necessarily the books that everyone should rush to read, but they are all books that had a radical effect on my life, ministry, and discipleship. I regularly read about non-fiction ministry/discipleship/mission books per year and they will all have their impact, but none so far as memorable/effectual as these!
What would your books be?