Several people have approached me with a question like this: “Allen, I’ve been a Christian for many years, but still want to learn and grow. What books would you recommend for someone trying to reexamine things or expand their understanding of God?”
So my list today will be those books that opened my eyes — to a different way to read the Bible, to deal with belief/doubt or to interact with the world around me.
1. Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell
We talked a lot about Rob’s work on Monday in our Collective Favorites list. But if you want an introduction to Bell, you need to start here. The way he describes our beliefs about God as springs in a trampoline rather than bricks in a wall spoke some freedom into my life. It allowed me to go back and look at what I believe without fear that everything would come crashing down around me.
One of the most troubling things for many Christians is dealing with the blood and violence in the Old Testament. Namely, that God seems to command the obliteration of whole peoples – men, women, children and even animals. In a world where genocide is universally denounced, this can be a problem. While this book can be thick to read in places, Enns’ gives us a way to read the Old Testament and understand a movement, a progression that exists in Scripture.
3. Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty by Greg Boyd
We talk about the interplay of doubt and faith quite a bit here. Greg Boyd has been one of the writers/pastors that has helped me personally deal with how it all fits together. Boyd talks about faith not as a struggle for certainty, but a commitment in the midst of uncertainty. Although extremely intelligent, he writes in a very accessible and personal way that everyone can relate to. Another one of his to check out on the subject is Letters from a Skeptic, which is a series of letters written between Boyd and his unbelieving father.
4. Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions by Rachel Held Evans
When I read it, it was titled Evolving in Monkey Town. It was the first time I read a book from someone in my own generation addressing the problems I was struggling with myself. The book is a memoir of sorts, chronicling Evans’ move from a girl who had all of the religious answers down, through a time where she questioned everything she had ever been taught, and finally to a follower of Jesus who still has a lot of questions. This is an easy read and a captivating story.
5. Forgotten God by Frances Chan
We never talked much about the Holy Spirit in my faith tradition. It wasn’t that we denied her existence (at least not in my church), but it was not a subject that we broached often. For me there has always been so much mystery surrounding the Holy Spirit (and rightfully so). But Chan deals with it in such a straightforward manner — looking into the Bible about what it actually says about this force in our lives. And then asking the question, “Isn’t this the key to who we are actually called to be?” Studying this book with a group of teenagers was one of the best things I ever did in youth ministry.
6. The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scott McKnight
We talked about this book on Monday, so I won’t rehash that much here. But rest assured that this book helped me do exactly what the title suggests — rethink how I read the Bible. Additionally, if anyone who has struggled with the issue of women’s role in the church — which my faith tradition has mightily — you need to read this book. The way he examines the Scriptures is both intellectually sound and extremely heartfelt.
7. Adventures in Missing the Point by Brian D. McLaren & Tony Campolo
The title alone appealed to me as I habitually miss the point. This book challenged my thinking on a number of issues. And I love looking at things from a different point of view. Both authors take turns with essays responding to various topics in Christianity, from salvation and sin to worship and the end times. It covers a lot of ground and the 2 men often disagree. But this is a great introduction into a wider world of Christian thought that will help you think through some tough issues we face together.
8. Heaven on Earth: Realizing the Good Life Now by Chris Seidman & Joshua Graves
For you Church of Christ folk, this one is written by some of our own. Seidman and Graves work their way through the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 in an attempt to show us that salvation is as much about now as later. Eternal life is much more than forgiveness of sins or a ticket to heaven. It is about the life God wants us to live right here and right now. Excellent and life-changing stuff.
9. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright
In the same way that Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis helped me see that my brain had a place in my faith, this book helped me take another step. It is a walk through of what it means to be a Christian by one of the best theological thinkers of our time. This is one of the most accessible of Wright’s work, and perhaps the one I would recommend for anyone who has yet to read one of his books.