1) The 60 Second Christian – Gary R Collins
My friend Phil Steer bought me a copy from a Christian book shop in Bristol UK in 1986. His aspiration to simplicity in thought, communication and understanding of the Gospel has been a perpetual force in shaping my own faith. For the academic to be able to communicate at a child’s level is a wonderful gift and a personal challenge! I hope I can say Gary has been a powerful influence in my preaching from that day to this.
2) The Dark Night – St John of the Cross
I sat down and read for what I thought was an hour. Six hours had passed. I read for a further 30 minutes – or so I imagined. another 3 hours had passed. It was 3am. I was transfixed. From another world and four centuries away this writer was looking at me, forensically examining me and showing me my deepest secrets. Small wonder that Spain counts this book as a Classic of Spanish literature, and that the Roman Catholic Church, four centuries after persecuting him, regards the book’s author as a “Doctor of the Church”!
3) The Way of a Pilgrim – Anon. tr. R.M. French
Teaching through story. A timeless method. A timeless tale. warm, simple profound. A book to come back to time after time. The mystery of its authorship adds another layer of fascination. It is practical and life-changing in providing ways of prayer that have carried believers through times of richness and desert times too. Incidentally a wonderful glimpse into the world of the genuine believer in C19th Russia.
4) Russian Mystics – Sergius Bolshakoff
Wow! This book opened up a whole new world to me and introduced me to one of my great spiritual “companions” from the Great Cloud of Witnesses – St Seraphim of Sarov – a Russian Orthodox Hermit – an amazing “staretz” (spiritual coach) who incarnated the hesychast tradition of prayer within himself and brought healing and conversion of life to many in 18th/19th century Russia.
5) Pythagoras’ Trousers, God, Physics & the Gender Wars – Margaret Wertheim
Christian thought has many times been at the cutting edge of significant paradigm shifts in the past. For a fascinating view of the historic interplay between faith and science, theology and cosmology, let me highly recommend Margaret Wertheim’s scholarly and illuminating offering.
6) School for Prayer – Metropolitan Anthony!
After years of struggling to get going in prayer, the profound simplicity of this book was a revelation. Somehow, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh seemed to embody the whole Russian Orthodox tradition within himself. His approach to Scripture, and the realness of his ways of prayer absolutely inspired me. Fr Anthony introduced me to the Eastern tradition and many of its great teachers. And I am forever grateful to him for his personal encouragement and for making available to me his private archive of materials on Seraphim of Sarov (since lost – so especially precious.) In many ways my own writing in Christian mysticism and spirituality would have been impossible without his.
7) Chariots of the Gods – Erich von Daniken
Despite the title, this famous book is not about God with a capital G. It is about untold stories of human origins, highlighting evidences of ancient technology and ancient contact with ET peoples. Pioneeringly, the book highlighted vital questions about the nature of our story as human beings. This book kicked off my life-long spiritual quest. It lit a flame in me that is all about pursuing the truth – beyond the often unconvincing canons of official fact!
I was a convinced atheist at the time and felt initially that Erich’s book supported an atheist view concerning life on Earth. Ultimately it didn’t. In fact the discussions and explorations Erich’s book catalyzed for me in the 1970s led eventually to my discovering Jesus Christ.
Erich was a pioneer. The evidences that support his thesis have multiplied innumerable times in the decades since in the work of scholars and researchers such as Graham Hancock, Michael Tellinger and Professor James Hertek. When the Psalmist says, “What are humans that you think of them? What are human offspring that you care for them?” or when the book of Hebrews states that God has made humans just a little below the “heavenly beings” or when Jesus quotes the Psalmist’s claim that we humans are “heavenly beings” Erich sticks his neck out and proposes that there is evidence that makes sense of that language hidden in plain sight in the relics of our ancient history.
In the 1980s I moved away from Erich’s theory of interstellar contact, having taken at face value astronomer Carl Sagan’s pitiless mocking and debunking of the book. Some 20 years later I learned that, from the 60s until his death, Carl Sagan actually shared Von Daniken’s beliefs. Something persuaded him not to pursue that line of inquiry – very possibly the shibboleths of funding bodies(?)
In the end Carl Sagan’s parting shot to the world was his beautiful and subtle movie “Contact” which told as fiction what he had proposed as possibility back in the 60s. This little detour made me aware that public and private scientific consensus are two quite different things. Understanding Carl Sagan’s story sent my back to listen again to Erich, this time to assess his claims from the perspective of Christian faith and a more open mind. His significant voice speaks into my own book, “ESCAPING FROM EDEN – Does Genesis teach that the human race was created by God or engineered by ET’s?”
I find uncle Erich’s book as challenging and as relevant today as it ever was.
8) Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership – Ruth Haley Barton
Ruth Haley-Barton (president of The Transforming Center) talks about how to stay alive and responsive to God’s calling. She does that by looking at the journey of Moses through the lens of leadership-development. And it as an eye-opening read. (If you were blessed by Parker J Palmer’s paradigm shifting book about calling, “Let your life speak”, I have no doubt you will love this offering.)
9) Confessions of an Economic Hit-man – John Perkins
If you are unaware of what this book is on about then, to put it simply, nothing in world affairs – least of all the foreign policy of the USA – will make sense to you. This is one of those red pill books! John Perkins’ difficulty in getting this book published is a story that only amplifies the expose offered in its pages.
10) Zen and the Birds of Appetite – Thomas Merton
Until I read this book I thought that Zen was Buddhist esoterica. What Merton shows is that Zen is about a state of consciousness or spiritual awakeness. In the book Merton affirms the thesis of D.T.Suzuki – a Buddhist scholar – in identifying of Dominican priest Meister Eckhart’s mysticism in C13th Germany with the mysticism of Zen.
It was this literary exchange between an American Benedictine Christian and a Japanese Buddhist scholar that introduced me to the work of Meister Eckhart. Our ways of seeing, thinking, being and connecting with God are all, potentially, deeply enriched by Eckhart’s contribution – a contribution scarcely understood in his day. Merton’s book is a great entree to Eckhart’s way of seeing and being.
11) The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church – Vladimir Lossky
Holding faith in Jesus as if it were simply a canon of theological proposals and ethics is not sufficient on its own to inspire, embolden a lifetime or open the eyes of a heart to see God more truly as He is. Our souls too great to be satisfied that way! As the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 8, “The man who says he ‘knows’ does not yet know as he ought to know!”
In this volume Vladimir Lossky opens to the contemporary reader the apophatic way, an ancient way of thinking our theology; a way of knowing and unknowing; a way of speaking and holding faith that draws us ever more deeply into a relationship with the living God who calls us to follow him. Read my book “The New Monastic” and you will find out why this book was a lifeline to me!
12) Power Evangelism – John Wimber
This book encapsulates much of what I drank in from John Wimber, whose intersection with St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Chorleywood changed the course of the renewal among UK churches. His avoidance of hype and VIP culture, the reverence and intimacy of the Vineyard songs of worship, the theological thoughtfulness, the respect and gentleness of his approach, and his enormous generosity were a great gift to the churches. He gave a sane, evangelical footing for taking hold of the paradigm of the Kingdom of God, and the present work of the Holy Spirit.
13) Spiritual Combat – Dom Lorenzo Scupoli
There are reasons too numerous to mention why this little tome, by an otherwise unknown Theatine monk has been continually in print for more than four hundred years…
14) Let Your Life Speak – Parker J Palmer
I remember this rather expensive hardback being read, given, begged and borrowed from pastor to pastor in my early days in Canberra. Why? Let me simply say that this is a book everyone should read!
15) His Life is Mine – Archimandrite Sophrony
This challenging book set me on a lifelong journey, deeply impacted by Sophrony’s writing and, later, by the community he founded and led. The unfamiliar theological terms sent me running to the dictionary more than once. But what emerges in its pages is more than worth the cross-cultural journey!! So glad that this amazing man put this little portion of what he had learned into print. Beautiful. It can only move the reader to greater love and worship!
16) Eternity in their hearts – Don Richardson
Full of mind-blowing testimony from around the world, this book makes sense of the Gospel and how it relates to God seekers in unreached people groups past and present. An eye-opener, a faith-builder and a paradigm-shifter. A must read for any believer with a heart for people and mission. You will come away loving God and loving people more truly.
17) The Waters of Silence – Thomas Merton
What does radical, holistic, slow church church-planting have to do with classic, Cistercian monasticism? Read this and find out! Timeless. And, as my homepage illustrates, I have lived with the image of the Cistercian cloister at Fontenay (above) ever since!
18) Spirituality and Pastoral Care – Kenneth Leech
If ever you need setting free from the temptation to impersonate rather than emulate, this book will show you the power of being yourself in ministry – just as God intended you to be! You are not a poor version of someone else! You have been created for works which God has prepared for you to walk in! This book is a courage-giver and includes some wonderful, layered, warts-and-all tableaux of life-changing priests and servants of the Gospel.
19) The Rest of God – Mark Buchanan
In a world of prosaic and didactic expertism, Mark’s offering is poetry, winsome and transformational. A warm and wonderful way to teach – and to learn! Gave me courage in my own journey as a writer.
20) The Practice of Evangelism – Bryan Green
Do we know less about evangelism than we did fifty years ago when Bryan green gave these lectures in Melbourne? Certainly, a lot of deconstruction and re-imagining has been done in the time since – rightly so – and we’re certainly in a different intellectual age. But certain things remain timeless. And for those things this book is an Australian gem!
21) The Song of the Bird – Anthony de Mello
Awareness and awakeness are human skills perpetually relevant to engaging with what we might call the spiritual life. I find this book still refreshing thirty years after reading it for the first time.