1) Eternity in their hearts – Don Richardson
Full of phenomenal case studies from around the world, this book relates to isolated people groups around the world past and present, telling the mind-stretching stories behind their cultural readiness for the message of the Gospel of Jesus. This book is likely to be a paradigm-shifter for any reader and a definite must-read for any person of faith. You will come away with a bigger vision of the world, a warmer heart for humanity and a far greater vision of Divine Love.
2) 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, and the historicity of its narrative add extra layers of fascination. A wonderful model of teaching and exegesis of the Philokalia’s timeless wisdom regarding prayer and consciousness. Practical and life-changing it provides ways of being that have carried seekers through times of richness and desert times too. Incidentally a wonderful glimpse into the world of the faith in C19th Russia.
3) 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.
4) The Russian Tradition -Tibor Szamuely
As a child of the West I grew up in a world of discontinuities – reformations, revolutions, invasions and conquests; a succession of cultural extinctions. This backdrop teaches us to view ourselves as if standing outside of history, separate to what has gone before, and to see today as the only day of clear sight and freedom. This view of history fosters an illusion of complete autonomy – the notion that I have created myself!
Tibor Szamuely is an epic narrative of the evolution of Russia, her people and her world. It reframed my whole understanding of history and our place within it. Today did not create itself. It has been birthed out of all the forces, continuums, polarities and identities of the past. This insight has shaped my learning and my teaching to this day.
5) 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.
6) 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.
7) Iron John – Robert Bly
For me this was a paradigm-shifting book. For me the shift was firstly about the importance of a healthy and self-conscious model of masculinity – something that was very live to me as a pastoral worker among young men, suffering for the lack of such a model. Secondly the book opened my eyes to ways of approaching world mythologies and ancestral narratives in a way that has eyes open to the many, and diverse layers of meaning they carry. Without Iron John there would be no “Men Behaving Boldly” and no “Escaping from Eden.” So you can blame Robert Bly 😉
8) Confessions of an Economic Hit-man – John Perkins
If you are unaware of the patterns of debt-selling and foreign interference named by this book then, to put it simply, nothing in world affairs – least of all the foreign policy of China and the USA – will make any 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.
20) The Works of Plato
How I missed the greatness and importance of Plato when I first read him in my twenties is a total mystery to me – other than I think I was only looking for quotes for theological essays. Re-discovering him in later life has been a revelation and a life-changer. Paleocontact, interdimensinal communication, near death experiences, previous civilizations, astrophysics, genetic modification and altered states of consciousness all figure in the worlds of Plato and Socrates. I will be reading and re-reading Plato for a long time.
My entree into the works of Plato was Phaedo and Timaeus & Critias. When I wrote My Dinner with Anton as a dialogue between two fictionalised versions of myself as a way of expressing the heart and mind of a real historical person I thought I was a genius. I thought I had invented a new genre of literature. I hadn’t! Plato had got there two and half millennia before me and aced it! I love his works and feel deeply indebted to him at a very personal level. Realising his place in the history of Christianity helped me more than anything to reframe for a lifetime of learning.
10) Zen and the Birds of Appetite – Thomas Merton
Until I read this book I thought that Zen was esoterica for Buddhists. 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 – who identified the western mysticism of 13th century German Dominican priest Meister Eckhart with the eastern mysticism of Zen.
It was this literary exchange between an American Benedictine Christian and a Japanese Buddhist scholar that first 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 – a way I am forever entering!
11) 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? A book not only for people with a religious or spiritual bent it holds relevance for any reader looking for a sense of personal meaning and focus. Let me simply say that this is a book everyone should read!
12) Adaptation (Screenplay) – Charlie Kaufman
Charlie Kaufman’s bold, and creative interpretation of Susan Orleans’ “The Orchid Thief” both honors and trancends the original . When Susan Orleans saw the movie she was horrified and berated herself for allowing permission to toy with her creative work. However, after reflection she realised that Kaufman had totally understood its vital themes and had re-dramatised them in a postmodern pastiche of fact and fiction.
Its power for me was counterplaying the obsessive commitment inspired by a man with a cause against the vital force of another truth – namely that adaptation is vital. It is the ability to thrive in a changing environment.
When we tjink og integrity and authenticity we concive of them as having to do with being true to self, or not being fake. We often measure integrity and authenticity by sameness – same in public as in private. Same today as you were yesterday. However, to live is to change. Our environment changes. The needs of the hour change. If we cannot adapt to change, we can find ourselves gradually becoming irrelevant – to ourselves, to those around us and to the world at large.
Adaptation, framed as a virtue, calls on us to “get over ourselves” and bring what is needed, making a contribution that is both true to our identity and true to the moment. That was the insight gifted to me by Charlie Kaufman in this incredible screenplay. Suffice it to say, when I watched Adaptation in 2009 it was an epiphany for me.
13) 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. It was a life-changing realisation for me that this body of teaching was not given originally to a religious audience but to a secular audience of university students of all kinds of belief and background.
And I am forever grateful to Fr Anthony for his generous personal encouragement and for making available to me his private archive of materials on Seraphim of Sarov (since lost – so especially precious.) Without that help there would have been no “My Dinner with Anton.” In many ways my own writing in Christian mysticism and spirituality would have been impossible without his.
14) The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church – Vladimir Lossky
Holding faith as if it were simply a canon of propositions and ethics is hardly sufficient on its own to inspire, embolden a lifetime. Neither can such a faith open the eyes of a heart to see God more truly. Our souls are too great to be satisfied that way! I think this is why 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 great gift of the apophatic way. It is an ancient way of holding beliefs. It holds together the confidence of knowing alongside the mystery and humility of unknowing. The Apophatic way speaks and holds faith in a way that draws us ever more deeply into a journey with and within the living God who “will be who and whatever he will be.” (For that is the meaning of his Holy Name YHWH.) Read my book “The New Monastic” and you will find out why this book’s insight was a lifeline to me!
15) Power Evangelism – John Wimber
This book encapsulates much of what I drank in from John Wimber and the early Vineyard fellowships from the USA, whose intersection with St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Chorleywood changed the course of the renewal among UK churches. Wimber’s avoidance of hype and VIP culture, the reverence and intimacy of the Vineyard songs of worship, the theological thoughtfulness, the respect and gentleness of their approach, and their 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. So many of my theological roots are in his work.
16) 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.
17) 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!
18) The Dark Night – St John of the Cross
I sat down and read this classic of Spanish literature 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 pillar of its national literature, and that the Roman Catholic Church, four centuries after persecuting him, regards the book’s author as a “Doctor of the Church”!
19) The Waters of Silence – Thomas Merton
What does radical, holistic, organic church-planting have to do with classic, Cistercian monasticism? Read this and find out! Timeless. I first read this beautiful piece of reflective history when I was 23 and, as my homepage illustrates, I have lived with the cover’s image of the Cistercian cloister at Fontenay (above) ever since!
20) 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.)
21) 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 personal journey as a writer. It was Phyllis Tickle’s love of this book that won me to her, and Phyllis to my own writing.
22) 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.