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. 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 the Spanish count this book as a Classic of Spanish literature, and that the Roman Catholic Church, four centuries after persecuting him, regard the books 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 science and faith 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 simplicity and profound reality of this book was a revelation. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh somehow seemed to embody the whole Russian Orthodox tradition within himself. His approach to Scripture, and the real-ness of his ways of prayer absolutely inspired me. He introduced me to the Eastern tradition and many of its great teachers. And I am forever grateful to him for his making available to me his personal archive of materials on Seraphim of Sarov. In many ways my own writing would have been impossible without his.
7) Chariots of the Gods – Erich von Daniken
Despite the title the 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.
Erik was a pioneer. The evidences that support Erich’s thesis have multiplied innumerable times in the decades since in the work of scholars and researchers such as Klaus Dona, 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 Psalmists claim that we humans are “heavenly beings” Erich sticks his neck out and proposes that there is that makes sense of that language is hidden in plain sight in the relics of our ancient history.
In the 1980s I moved away from Erich Von Daniken’s theory of interstellar contact having taken more seriously astronomer Carl Sagan 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, and that while at Stanford University Sagan had written and published a paper arguing for the theory. Something persuaded him not to pursue that line of enquiry – very possibly the shibboleths of funding bodies(?)
I was disappointed by how disengenuous Carl Sagan had been in his public assertions post the 60s. It made me aware that public and private scientific consensus are two quite different things. The discovery sent my back to listen again to Erich, this time assessing his claims from the perspective Christian faith and a more open mind. A 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”, you will love this offering.)
9) 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 mystical consciousness or spiritual awakeness. Merton is affirming a Buddhist scholar’s affirmation of Meister Eckhart’s mystical writings in C13th Germany. So it was this book that introduced me to Meister Eckhart. Our ways of seeing, thinking, being and connecting with God are all enriched by Eckhart’s contribution – scarcely understood in his day. Merton’s book is a great entree to Eckart’s way of being.
10) 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 something to inspire, embolden a lifetime or open the eyes of our heart to see God more truly as He is. And 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!”
Vladimir Lossky illumines the apophatic way, an ancient way of thinking our theology; a way of knowing and unknowing; a way of speaking and holding faith that opens us up to journey 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 understand why this book was a lifeline to me!
11) 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.
12) 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…
13) Let Your Life Speak – Parker J Palmer
I remember this rather expensive hardback being read, given, begged and borrowed from pastor to pastor when I worked in Canberra. Why? Let me simply say that this is a book everyone should read!
14) His Life is Mine – Archimandrite Sophrony
Set me on a lifelong journey, deeply impacted by Sophrony’s writing and the community he founded and led. The unfamiliar theological terms sent me running to the dictionary more than once, but what emerges in the book 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 and can only move the reader to greater love and worship!
15) 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.
16) 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!
17) 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! For 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 tableaux of life-changing priests and servants of the Gospel.
18) 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!
19) 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? A lot of deconstruction and re-imagining has been done in the time since – and we’re certainly in a different intellectual age. But certain things remain timeless. And for those things this book is an Australian gem!
20) 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.