10 Books That Changed My Life and Ministry

A fellow pastor emailed me with some kind words, and a suggestion — blog about the 10 books that changed my life and ministry.  What a great idea, and here goes, Clay!  Of course, the Bible goes without saying, but I said it anyway to avoid unnecessary comments on its absence from this list.  And, I’m not including books that influenced me as a kid, like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Captains Courageous, and Call of the Wild.  These are all post-MDiv discoveries which provided fundamental transformation in aspects of my theology and ministry practice.  Okay, here’s my list in no particular order —

1.  The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter.  This book changed how I look at the whole process of evangelization.  The memorable phrase in Hunter’s book for me was that Celtic Christians encouraged people to belong before they believed.  In other words, they incorporated strangers into the community with hospitality and many gradually came to accept the Gospel.  Hunter’s book piqued my interest in reading more about Celtic Christianity, but there is no doubt this book changed my ministry.

2. Jesus Christ For Today’s World by Jurgen Moltmann.  This was the first book I read by Jurgen Moltmann, and tears came to my eyes reading this phrase: “The Bible is the book of remembered hopes.”  What a wonderful description and Moltmann moved me then, and still does several volumes later.  One of his latest books, Son of Righteousness, ARISE, is spectacular.  Moltmann’s conversion story captures the hope of the Gospel, and his theology of hope is the result.

3. The World’s Religions by Huston Smith.  This is one of those classic texts that should be in every library, minister or not.  Smith’s reputation and sympathetic treatment of the world’s great religions is unsurpassed.  I have new appreciations for other faith expressions.  When read along with Veli-Matti Karkkainen’s An Introduction to the Theology of Religions, one can appreciate how Christian theologians through the ages have dealt with the issue of world religions.  Get the illustrated edition of Smith’s book if you can because the graphics add much to the telling of these ancient stories.

4. Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh.  If you have not read Thich Nhat Hanh, please do so.  Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a Zen master, a peace activist nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize, and a gentle soul.  His books are short, often repetitive, but his writing has a calm and reassuring affect.  Nhat Hanh also talks a great deal about practice, primarily the practice of mindfulness.  I have used his breathing technique many times to “calm body and mind” as he teaches.  One of the renown Buddhist scholars and teachers today, Thich Nhat Hanh is perhaps second only to the Dalai Lama in worldwide influence.

5. Dissident Discipleship by David Augsburger.  I read this book for a class I took from David Augsburger, but I was captivated by his Mennonite witness and his multi-faceted approach to discipleship.  Augsburger writes about “tripolar spirituality” which includes God, self, and others as foundational to following Jesus.  If you don’t know David Augsburger, this is the book to start with.

6. Night by Elie Wiesel.  The Holocaust is an inexplicable horror and Wiesel writes his first-person account of his experience in Nazi concentration camps.  The tone is understated for the tragedy speaks for itself.  Wiesel presents the question of evil and suffering in graphic detail and comes away with no answers, only memories.  A classic that should be read by anyone concerned with evil, suffering, and the presence of God in its midst.

7. Covenant of Peace by Willard Swartley.  Swartley’s subtitle for this book is “The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics.”  His contention is that peace has been neglected, and that God’s shalom is the heart of our theology.  Written from a Mennonite appreciation for peace as a practice, this book convinced me that peace with God, man, and creation is what God is ultimately up to.  Swartley makes his case compellingly, and he changed my perspective on peace.  If you like John Howard Yoder, you’ll love Swartley.

8. ______________ by N. T. Wright.  Okay, I’m cheating here, but N. T. Wright has been a tremendous influence on me.  His books on Jesus, Paul, the Bible, and eschatology (Surprised by Hope) are amazing. Wright gave me a new perspective on the “new perspectives” on Jesus and Paul, and with it a firm connection to the contexts in which Jesus and Paul ministered.  I believe Wright calls his approach “biblical realism” or “historical realism” or something like that which I have not taken the time to look up and footnote.  Whether you agree with Wright or not (John Piper does not), Wright is a force to be reckoned with in theological insight.

9.  Gandhi: An Autobiography by M. K. Gandhi.  I have a Buddhist, so why not a Hindu on my list?  Of course, Gandhi transcends categories, both cultural and religious.  Martin Luther King took his nonviolent approach to civil rights from Gandhi.  Gandhi changed the British empire, liberated his people, and left his mark on the world by demonstrating that nonviolent resistance in love is an irresistible force.  See the movie, read the book, Gandhi’s life is one you must know.

10. The Friends of God by Meister Eckhart and company.  Of course, this is not a real book, but I have been more influenced by Meister Eckhart and the gottes freunde in the 14th century than I can attribute to one book.  I’m reading Dorothee Soelle’s book, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, and she quotes extensively from Eckhart.  Of course, Eckhart and the friends of God were mystics in that German sort of way that gets your head spinning when you read their stuff.  But they were, and continue to be, a tremendous influence in the arena of the immediate experience of God.

I also could have added Thomas Merton, the Dalai Lama, Taitetsu Unno (Buddhist), Marcus Borg (no, I do not agree with everything Borg says), Stanley Hauerwas, William Willimon, and Leonardo Boff.  Plus, Thomas More, Richard Foster, Piero Ferruci (The Power of Kindness) and Cynthia Bourgeault.  Plus, I am sure, many others whose books have affected my life and ministry by providing new information, insight, inspiration, and challenge.

What are the top 10 books that have changed your life and ministry?

8 thoughts on “10 Books That Changed My Life and Ministry”

  1. There are 66 books that not only changed, but transformed my life.

    You might have mentioned them at least…

  2. Sherwood, did you read the article? Because here’s what I said —

    “Of course, the Bible goes without saying, but I said it anyway to avoid unnecessary comments on its absence from this list.”

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. This was tough!

    Yes, of course the Bible! Esp.: RSV, NIV, NRSV, and the great-great-great-grandfather of them all, KJV.

    1. “Pastor” by William Willimon. Read it at a time of struggle and confusion. Read it over and over again. Deepened my pastoral identity. Still pick it up now and then and read.

    2. “Classic Christianity” by Tom Oden. When I read this it was in three volumes, now it is one. Wonderful adventure through the Christian faith.

    3. “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster. I read this so fast the first time I remember wondering if I read it too fast. Fed my soul and still does.

    4. “Prayer” by Richard Foster. Took my time with this. The best book on prayer I’ve read except for a few others.

    5. “Eat This Book” by Eugene Peterson. I read the Bible differently now after reading Peterson’s book. I read it to live, not to merely gain information. Might be the best of the set he’s done for Eerdmans. Duke Div. had their first year students read this book two years ago.

    6. “Preaching Sermons that Connect” by Craig Loscalzo. The best book I’ve read on preaching that bridges the gap between the Bible and where people are living without becoming silly or trite. I suppose I’ve read this book 5-6 times. It has been a few years; I think I’ll pull it off the shelf and read it again.

    7. “Essentials of Evangelical Theology” by Donald Bloesch. Dr. Bloesch became a friend after I wrote him as a theological student. Essentials introduced me to theology and made it spiritually and intellectually satisfying. His catholic evangelicalism appealed to me deeply and still does.

    8. “The Challenge of Jesus” by N. T. Wright. The first of many books I’ve read by Bishop Tom. That in itself is reason enough to list it.

    9. “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” by Philip Yancey. Grace, grace, grace. Simply marvelous.

    10. “Bonhoeffer” by Eric Metaxas. I suppose I should list Bonhoeffer’s “Discipleship” here, but Metaxas’ book is stupendous. It stirred me, made me think, deepened my respect and admiration for Bonhoeffer, and
    captivated me.

    Again, only 10 was tough. I should list all of Eugene Peterson’s pastor books. Or “Resident Aliens” by Willimon and Hauerwas or even Hauerwas’ “Hannah’s Child” one of the best books I’ve read this year. But here are my 10.

    1. Clay, good list. You have some titles I haven’t read and I might need to. So many books, so little time! Thanks for sharing, and for sparking this little exercise.

  4. I tried to make a point – you cannot call yourself a Christian Pastor without first relying on the Bible. All others are merely after thoughts.

    Thie first time I stepped into a Pulpit with my finely tuned sermon in mind, I was stopped cold by a worn 3×5 card that read, simply, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”

    It has been 35+ years that I have walked with Him, trusting Him every step of the way and it is to Him I give all the glory. And I write this, sitting next to 150 books on theology, many of whom have been mentioned, but they all pale by comparison to the incomparaable Word of God, in particular, the words and works of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    1. Sherwood, I am happy for you to make your point, but I take exception to your critique when I intentionally noted the Bible prior to the list. But that said, I don’t disagree with your point at all.

  5. Great idea for a post Pastor Warnock!

    1. Classic Christianity by Thomas Oden. Personally, I view this as the best systematic theology reflecting classical Christian teaching out there.

    2. God in the Wasteland by David Wells. Great book challenging the evangelical church to not capitulate to modernity.

    3. The Gagging of God, D.A. Carson. Probably one of the best books in describing how we got to where we are in terms of the western world’s view of God. A bit dry in places…

    4. Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, Marva Dawn. One of the best books on the state of church worship, Dawn is sometimes associated with the “paleo-orthodox” movement that Oden is an advocate of.

    5. The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky. Amazing novel that portrays the Christian faith (eastern variety)in a positive light while still asking great philosophical questions (the grand inquisitor scene is quite unsettling!).

    6. The Orthodox Church, Timothy Ware. This book opened my eyes to the church fathers and the idea of apostolic authority. Even though I am not Orthodoxy, this book helped spark my interest in church history and patristics.

    7. The Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, Patrick Kavanaugh. Great book demonstrating how the western art music tradition is steeped in the Juedo-Christian worldview, with little meditations or lessons on each spiritual biography.

    8. Mozart, Maynard Solomon. This was the first academic historical work on any figure I ever read. Solomon is great in terms of providing details on issues such as finances, but bad in that he’s a bit of a Freudian and takes liberties in this regard when assessing behavior. Still a good read though.

    9. Shakespeare, The Complete Works. After the Bible, I cannot think of anyone that captures human nature in such an accurate yet poetic way. King Lear is my favorite.

    10.Creative Bible Teaching, Richards and Bredefeldt. This is an evangelical seminary standard, but it really does do a good job in keeping one “grounded” in regards to who the teacher really is in the grand scheme of things.

  6. Wow. Great post. I love thinking about books. Here are some of mine:

    1. Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue by Edwin Friedman. This was an epochal book for me and I went to study with Friedman as a result. Changed my ministry and my personal life.

    2. The Other Side of Silence, by Morton Kelsey. Started me thinking about the contemplative tradition of prayer, very different from my evangelical roots.

    3. Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones. A critical book in my journey as a writer.

    4. Tony Buzan, The Mind Map Book. This book got me away from manuscript preaching and into a new way of being present in the pulpit and other settings where I speak.

    5. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Another big creativity-boosting and life-impacting book.

    6. First and Second Samuel, by Walter Brueggemann (Interpretation series). Simply fantastic Bible commentary, the kind that really helps in the pulpit.

    7. Woven Together in Prayer, by Angela Ashwin. A daily prayer guide which I used for about eight years.

    8. Seeking God, by Esther de Waal. Introduced me to the Benedictine tradition, and her other writing introduced me to Celtic Christianity.

    9. Getting Things Done by David Allen. This book led me to a clean desk.

    10. The Bible –OK, OK, I know. But it never fails to amaze me how many times I can go back to a text and see something new for preaching or personal growth.

    Thanks for asking the question!

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