Today we are going through the influential books the three of us have in common. Since so much of our growth as happened together, we have a lot different books either two of us or all of us have found compelling. But we each have our own perspectives on why they were meaningful, so we have some comments from each of us on these favorites we share.
1. Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps
Allen: From the printing press to radio to television and now social media, this book connected so many dots for me. Hipps does an amazing job of showing how technology’s affect on our brains changes the way we perceive and interact with the world. Sure, it made me want to toss my TV out the window at one point. But the larger point he makes is that our spiritual lives and how we talk about God is affect by the technology with which we interact. I think this book is essential for ministers, church leaders and anyone who wants to engage the way people think.
Trevor: This is the one that started it all! Shane’s ideas about how technology influences our spirituality was a major launching point for our blog. He does an amazing job of helping you see the connections between technology and spirituality and this book can be plumbed for a long time. Specifically, I return frequently to the idea about how technology when it is over extended reverts back on itself. The book also engages some topics like conversion and modern/postmodern thinking which I think are important.
Chris: I had never considered the effects of technology on people, especially spiritually before reading this book. This was the first time I had encountered the work cited by Hipps of Marshal McCluhan and his early work regarding the pitfalls of a technological society. Understanding tech as an extension of our senses really helped me understand how to properly use it, and not abuse it. This is a pretty obscure book in the Christian realm, but highly impactful.
Allen: Blue Like Jazz was the anthem of my early adult life. I read it for the first time when we were living in Austin. At a time when I was trying to understand my place in the world and in the church, Miller spoke the words I didn’t even know I wanted to say. He writes such honest and descriptive prose that gives faith and doubt equal weight. Don recently wrote a blog post titled “I’m Glad I’m Not the Same Guy Who Wrote Blue Like Jazz.” He continues to grow and bless people. Thanks, Don.
Trevor: Both of these have been a major influence on my life, but Searching for God Knows What was probably more significant for me. He writes so well about the journey of discovering your faith for yourself, specifically when you go through the stage of questioning everything and the disenchantment you often experience as you enter adulthood. This book was one of the first books I ever read which told me it was ok to doubt and ok to think about Christianity in different ways. He also began to flesh out the idea of Christianity being relational at its core.
Chris: “Blue” was my initial introduction to the post-modern mindset as pertaining to Christianity. I had never before that considered it was okay to question the faith system you grew up on. One of the key scenes in the book told a story of Miller and some of his friends creating a “confession booth” were they apologized for the sins of Christianity. This blew me away because it always seems like Christians were asking the world to apologize for their behavior without ever looking at their own. This was a book that really changed things for me.
3. Anything by Rob Bell
Allen: Rob drives a certain part of the Christian population batty. I love that about him. I could sit here and tell you how Jesus Wants to Save Christians made me see the sweep of Scripture more clearly or how Sex God deepened my understanding of what sexuality really is. Or how What We Talk About When We Talk About God is a book I read in a day and then immediately began reading again. Or how Velvet Elvis gave me permission to let go of some views I really wanted to put down. But more than anything, I will tell you that Rob Bell has shown me a lot about myself — how I love to ask questions more than give answers and how I love to help people view God and Scripture from a different angle.
Trevor: I could go on and on and on. I will limit mine to four: Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save Christians and The Gods Aren’t Angry Tour. Velvet Elvis was one of the first books I ever read which allowed me to think in new ways about faith. One of the things I love about Rob is he puts fresh words and a fresh spirit on things which become too routine, lost in Christian jargon, or have become too rigid and dogmatic. Sex God is a really practical example of this. Rather than say: Don’t have sex before marriage, Rob explores the depths of sexuality and spirituality. Jesus Wants to Save Christians is one that introduced me to the the idea of empire and the scary ways it has worked itself into Christianity. I also love his idea that Christians are the Eucharist to the world – broken and poured out. I picked these first three books because going through the footnotes is as good or better than reading the book. I got to see Gods Aren’t Angry in person. I doubt any one collected thought has influenced my thinking/writing/ministry as this one has. Watch it. Now.
Chris (Velvet Elvis & Sex God): Like “Blue Like Jazz”, I didn’t know we were allowed to reexamine the way we looked at God. I guess I never knew it was necessary. It has been a while since I interacted with this book, but as I as reading it, I know it was a beginning of a time where I was changing my thinking about faith. Sex God was a book that dared to connect sexuality with spirituality. When I saw the title of the book I thought it seemed a little provocative, but for the first time in my life I understood there is a spiritual connection with everything. We can’t draw lines and say certain things are spiritual and certain things are “secular”. One of the best boos on sex and faith I have ever read.
4. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
Allen: This was not a book that I tore through. It’s not a “great read.” But this book opened my eyes to spiritual practices I barely heard about growing up. It helped me fall in love with a side of my spiritual life I’m still trying to cultivate. And it’s one I continue to refer back to as I continually try to be a more contemplative person.
Trevor: I worked through this book for the first time in college. It is an amazing introduction to spiritual disciplines, and it is also extremely pragmatic. Any time I do a spiritual discipline, I go back and read the chapter for it in this book. It never gets old or stops being practical.
Chris: I first read this book during the summer of my first youth ministry internship. It became the basis for the first retreat I ever planned as well as provided a basis for teaching students practical ways of connecting with God. Being from faith background valuing knowledge over emotion, the idea of connecting with God on an emotional level seemed pretty fluffy. But the simple ways Foster explained to engage in these practices made the experiences meaningful without having to search for hidden meaning. A must read for anyone seeking new ways to connect with God.
5. Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli
Allen: Mark Yaconelli changed the world for me. He changed the way I wanted to minister to teenagers, giving me permission to slow them down rather than wind them up. He changed the way I pray and the minister I want to be in one day at a prayer retreat. He opened my eyes in many ways. I know this is a youth ministry book, so not everyone will be immediately drawn to it. But it has implications beyond teenagers and is one I still refer back to the reawaken passion and spiritual discipline.
Trevor: While the title says youth ministry, this book introduced me to the contemplative practices. The three of us did a retreat with Mark a few years ago that was absolutely life changing, and afterward I got to have coffee with him and talk about this blog. He is an incredible guy and this book is a great introduction to not only contemplative practices, but how those practices help us be present to God and others in daily life.
Chris: This book served as a traveling companion as I spent 10 days in the mountains of Colorado searching for myself. I was living in a small town doing youth ministry as a single man and I had reached my limits. I asked for a large chunk of time off and set out. This book, my bible, and a few podcasts were my only travel mates as I sought something new.
And, the Yack (which we affectionately refer to him as) delivered. I had always assumed youth ministry was about the flash and show when really, students wanted to connect with God like anyone else. A slow and deliberate read through this book shows the reader a way of connecting with God in new way. This is a book that has stuck with me for a long time.
6. Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me by Ian Morgan Cron
Allen: While I related to Donald Miller in his memoirs, the story of Ian Morgan Cron’s journey is way outside my experience. But it’s so easy to get lost in the narrative, one of a boy, his father and finding meaning and faith. Cron’s story is beautiful and dark and scary and ultimately uplifting. It’s the book on this list that will grab you at page one and not let you go until the end.
Trevor: I love this book. It is an amazing journey of faith and how God is present with us and pursuing us at all times, and was a big impact on me because his story connected so deeply with parts of my own. A few highlights for me: He has a quote that says an addict is just a frustrated mystic. You see this played out in his life, but I found the same to be true in my own. Secondly, he talks about people in his life tying ropes around his waist to find his way back home in the storm. It is a beautiful metaphor and one that communicates much of what has happened in my own life.
Chris: This was deeply theological book wrapped in a narrative of a distant father and a son searching for answers. This was a book that came out of nowhere for me yet I couldn’t put down. Ian Cron is a masterful storyteller who can make you both laugh and cry in the same chapter. For anyone seeking spiritual answers in the middle of their own story, this is the book for you.
7. The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight
Allen: There are reasons why this book was so huge for me: 1. It changed the way I read the Bible and 2. It finally helped me understand some passages in the Bible that really bothered me. McKnight is a great thinker, yet distills difficult concepts and history down in understandable ways. This book is a vital one for anyone who wants to study about “women’s roles” or who just needs a fresh way to approach the Bible.
Trevor: This book found me at just the right moment. I originally read it because the last third of the book is about women’s roles. There are not too many resources out there as good as this one. But then I went back and read his thoughts on how to approach the Bible and my view of Scripture was forever changed. Of particular impact to me was his metaphor of the Bible as a Wiki entry.
8. Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
Allen: This book bothers me. And I think that’s the point. In some ways, Shane is the Christian that I really don’t want to be. He says things that get under my skin and I push back against. He’s a radical and calls others to be the same. But his love for those in poverty or on the outskirts of society is deeply moving. God’s grace to Shane is not some theological assertion or intellectual exercise, but a way of life. It’s a message that sticks with me still.
Chris: I never knew you could be a hippie liberal and still be a Christian. Shane Claiborne takes the social conventions of middle America and calls them to the carpet. This book was my first exposure to social justice as a ministry. Understanding that God calls his followers to live radically, not in a way radically opposed to sin, but engaging the hurting and disenfranchised in a complete and unashamed fashion. This is a book that can have ripple effects on the reader, not allowing you to leave unchanged. However, this is done in a direct but humble way that is accessible to the reader. Read this book expecting to be challenged and changed.
Don’t forget, we want to hear your top ten(ish) as well!