As a Man Thinketh – James Allen. Oldie and a shortie, but a goodie. Not super sure of the history, but this might have sparked the “positive psychology” wave. Allen’s basic premise is that if you want to change your character and your overall well-being for the better, you have to control your thoughts. Positive thoughts mean positive actions and, eventually, inner-peace. Allen wants us to believe that we are in control of our own well-being, not anyone else, or outside circumstances. Control your thoughts and control your life. See my review here.
The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus – Dale Allison Jr. This is a fantastic introduction to the debate regarding both “historical Jesus methodology” (i.e. how do we reconstruct a historical Jesus from our sources?) and the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. In my opinion, Allison gets both right. His conclusions will likely trouble both liberals and conservatives, but his arguments (laid out only in brief sketches in this short work) are persuasive. See my review.
The Luminous Dusk – Dale Allison Jr. Allison thinks aloud about spirituality and how to connect with God. Can’t get me enough Allison. Not his usual subject, but a great read.
Unclean – Richard Beck. Examining the psychology of “purity” in the church. Interested in the interplay between psychology and religion (specifically Christianity)? Read Beck. And then go to his outstanding blog at Experimental Theology.
Reading the Bible Again for the First Time – Marcus Borg. The first few chapters are the heart of this book and are helpful for categorizing a “conservative” vs. “liberal” understanding of Christianity and the Bible. The rest are his reflections on how to read other parts of the Christian Scriptures. Highly recommended for understanding the conservative vs. liberal debate. Borg is probably the author, and this is arguably the book, that liberals can rally around – especially his unique lens for understanding the Faith. See my review here.
Putting Away Childish Things – Marcus Borg. Borg delves into the world of fiction. A good read and we seemingly get a look into Borg’s experience in the Christian church – feeling attacked from various sides.
Satan and the Problem of Evil – Greg Boyd. Boyd is brilliant. From an Evangelical perspective it doesn’t get much better. In this book, Boyd sets forth his comprehensive theodicy, which, as the title suggests, has a healthy place for Satan and demonic forces. Broadly speaking, he would argue for a “free will” solution to evil – and I don’t think it is argued more persuasively anywhere else than here. Liberal or Conservative, you have to deal with the problem of evil; this densely philosophic work will at least get you thinking about it.
God of the Possible – Greg Boyd. A biblical defense of Open Theism. Boyd takes plenty of heat for this view. Philosophic thinkers will love this author and his arguments. Liberals might not be as concerned that the Bible backs any particular view, but can gain an understanding of the “Open” model of viewing God and His interaction with the world.
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury. Never met a dystopian future book I didn’t like. Fahrenheit, 1984, Brave New World. Take your pick on these gems.
Spirituality of the Psalms – Walter Brueggemann. The Bible isn’t all roses, daisies, and unicorns. The Psalms often express discontent with life and God. Brueggemann says it’s ok to express these things. The Bible itself does.
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess. Is a world in which people can turn themselves (or be turned) into monsters better than a world in which everyone is forced to be “good”? Is free will worth it? This perennial theological/philosophical question lies in the background of Clockwork.
The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains - Nicholas Carr. The Internet is re-wiring the heck out of our brains and changing the way we think. Say goodbye to your ability to concentrate for long periods of time and hello to multi-tasking and the art of distracting yourself constantly. Directly applicable to your spiritual life…because if you can’t still your mind, you aren’t going to have much of one. Check out my review.
How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie. Crass title, but piercing insight into human nature:) Read this for a marketing class…not explicitly theological by any means, but some interesting thoughts.
The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton. A short novel that serves as an allegory for the book of Job. Absolutely love it. Not long, and comes from a man that clearly wrestled with the problem of evil in his life. He certainly has a unique outlook on the message of Job and adds to the conversation about its meaning. For a little more background if you don’t mind spoilers, see Job, The Man Who Was Thursday, and Theodicy.
Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton. I just love Chesterton. At a very minimum, Orthodoxy gives interesting philosophic arguments for theism and against materialism.
The Bhagavad Gita – Translated by Eknath Easwaran. Classic mystical text from India. Maybe the most widely read book in Hinduism. Ghandi based his life on it, and he turned out pretty good.
Inspiration and Incarnation – Peter Enns. Like Kenton Sparks’ God’s Word in Human Words, Enns should be required reading for Evangelicals exposed to modern Biblical criticism. Enns and Sparks should be best pals if they aren’t yet. If either of you reads this, maybe you could just email me and let me know if you’re pals…
Evolving in Monkey Town – Rachel Held Evans. The faith journey of a “Fundamentalist” who is bombarded and incapacitated by her own questions. Lively author and those who grew up conservative, but have had their doubts, will find a partner in Evans.
The Fifth Dimension – John Hick. Hick, a stalwart in liberal Christian thought, argues that Spiritual Reality has ontological existence – our spiritual experiences are not simply illusions or projections. I like a lot of Hick’s work; he is another author that liberals can gravitate to as he tries to steer the church to the left. He is a very philosophic and clear headed writer. This work will also aid in understanding “mysticism.”
The Perennial Philosophy – Aldous Huxley. Huxley tries to synthesize “mystics both East and West” and present their thought as “the Perennial Philosophy” (i.e. the mystical philosophy that continues to come back regardless of historical time or culture). In Eastern terms – a spiritual Ground exists, your true identity is identical to the Ground, your destiny is immersion in the Ground. In Western terms – The Creator God exists, your soul is made in His Image, and your destiny is unity with and absorption in Him (my descriptions, not his). This is a great introduction to mystical works from all religious streams. See my review for more…
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley. If you didn’t read this in high school, read it now. If you did read it in high school read it again. Huxley’s critique of modern culture will have you looking at the world in new ways. At the risk of sounding like the high schooler I was when I first read this, Huxley is a beast.
The Doors of Perception – Aldous Huxley. Another great one from Aldous. “Doors” is essentially a recounting of his experience when using mescaline, and his theory as to how the experience relates to Spiritual Reality. Puts forth the idea that the brain is a “reducing valve on reality” and that mescaline (as well as states of mind reached by the mystics) “opens that valve”, allowing the user to experience reality more fully. Muy interesante…
Island – Aldous Huxley. A journalist travels to an Island. The Island is Huxley’s version of an Ideal Society. The journalist likes it. I think this was Huxley’s last novel. Lots and lots of themes from his other books come up again here, especially from the Perennial Philosophy.
The Varieties of Religious Experience – William James. Classic. Dense. Title says it all.
Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer – Thomas Keating. As the subtitle says, this is an introduction to Centering Prayer, a method of prayer that Keating is big on. This method is founded on the principles found in The Cloud of Unknowing (below). I am also big on this method of prayer and how it can facilitate your “relationship with God.” So I listed it here. I have a suspicion that Centering Prayer might be the key to everything.
The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness – Timothy Keller. Stop thinking about yourself. Lose the ego and acquire the freedom of self-forgetfulness.
The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis. C.S. delves into speculation on the nature of Heaven and Hell. Instead of the popular notion of humanity either being good enough for Heaven or bad enough to be thrown into Hell by an angry God, Lewis’ conception is dependent on our choice. Heaven is a state of being – the formation of a character that is in harmony with God, others, and self, that we choose with God’s help. In the end, the only ones not in Heaven will be those who, against God’s will, chose slavery to Self instead of service to God…those who said “better to reign in hell than to serve in Heaven.” Short and insightful.
What Does It All Mean? – Thomas Nagel. Great introduction to the questions of philosophy. Very readable. Philosophy 101.
Pensees – Blaise Pascal. Thoughts (literally, that’s what the title means) from a smart French dude.
God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship – Kenton Sparks. If you are an Evangelical and interacting with modern Biblical scholarship in any way, be it in a Seminary or not, you have to read Sparks. This book is very very dense; a good warmup to the issues can be found in Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation. Both Sparks and Enns are examples of self-professed Evangelicals who accept many of the “critical” positions of Biblical scholarship and re-frame their doctrines of Scripture accordingly.
The Cloud of Unknowing – Unkown / Edited by William Johnston. Classic Christian mystical text. Probably my favorite reading from any mystic. As with many older works, translation matters! I highly recommend the version edited by William Johnston. If there were one work that exemplified mystic thought in an easy to understand and straightforward way, this would be it!