Monday, June 22, 2009

5 books that influenced me

I've been tagged by Clayboy with an interesting challenge:
  1. Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting
    influence on how you read the Bible. Note that these need not be your five
    favorite books, or even the five with which you most strongly agree. Instead, I
    want to know what five books have permenantly changed the way you think.
  2. Tag five others.
credit to Ken Brown for originally kicking this one off. He's compiled many of the responses here. Most of the lists look far too learned for me! (update: Ken has also compiled the 10 most popular authors from these lists. I've got one of them below, see if you can guess which before visiting)

Had to do quite a bit of thinking, and I'll probably work out as I type which the 5 are....

1. Fee & Stuart 'How To Read the Bible for All It's Worth'
One of the few specialist books about the Bible that I can actually remember reading, and getting excited about. The authors go into the different genres of Bible literature in a way which really made the Bible come alive, and make me want to take it more seriously and in more depth.

2. Francis Schaeffer 'The Church at the End of the 20th Century'
During my year out, at age 18-19, I had access to a whole load of taped talks from Schaeffers L'Abri community. The root conviction was that the Biblical worldview could address everything that modern culture struggled with, everything from nuclear disarmament to psychology to politics. It was a fantastic exercise in applied theology, and for an impressionable teenager, a great confidence boost. Here were timeless scriptures coming alive in conversation with modern technological society, and still hitting the bullseye. Schaeffer's whole approach of a Biblical worldview lived out in community, and critique of society from a Biblical standpoint, have stayed in my DNA.

3. Matthew Fox 'Original Blessing'
An absolutely dreadful book in many ways. Fox's 'creation spirituality' was adopted by the Nine O Clock Service in Sheffield as it put cultural and theological distance between itself and the mainstream. Though Fox's theology wasn't the reason for its subsequent collapse, I've often found that if people are falling apart morally, they'll tend to adapt their theology accordingly. Worse, very few people in the CofE seemed to be bothered that NOS was getting into Fox, indeed the then Archdeacon of Sheffield (now a Bishop), seemed to be a Fox fan, and wasn't alone among CofE clergy in this.

The upshot was that I decided to do an MPhil on Fox's 'theology', reading about 13 of his books, plus a whole host of other stuff on science, creation, feminism, politics, economics, spirituality, mysticism etc. There were two major challenges in Fox's work:
a) He argues that Christianity is run by a 'fall-redemption' paradigm, in which we're all cast as miserable sinners. Fox argues that we are more of an 'original blessing', and its by recovering this attitude that we'll be 'saved'. So debating with Fox involved revisiting much of the theological framework I'd adopted as an evangelical, and working out why I believed it.
b) Fox was one of the only theologians I'd encountered who translated their theology into everyday life. Most 'systematic theology' seemed to stay in the rareified clouds of doctrine, without ever encountering real life. Not so with Matthew Fox. His 'creation spirituality' offers a systematic theology of life - work, fun, sexuality, creation, food, science, history, war, politics, you name it. It made me realise how pathetic most evangelical theology was in terms of application - thousands of tomes on the atonment, but hardly any on living.

As it turned out, Fox's theology was neopaganism dressed in Christian language, but for 2 years he was a fascinating conversation partner.

4. David Watson 'Discipleship'/Richard Foster 'Celebration of Discipline'
I could probably add a whole family of books here, including Dallas Willard and Eugene Peterson. An approach to scripture which sees it as a life-shaping, dynamic book which doesn't just tell the story of redemption, but teaches us how to live transformed lives which reflect Christ.

5. Cray et al Mission Shaped Church
At heart mission is what makes me tick, and this is one of several mission books I could have chosen. God is a missionary God, who sends both his Son and his church to redeem a lost creation, and to spread the news of his love. MSC reminds us that, first and foremost, the church exists for mission. If it has ceased to be and to spread good news, it has ceased to be the church and become something else.

I'm conscious that, apart from the first one, none of these are directly about the Bible, they are about something else. Perhaps that's my pragmatism coming through. But ultimately I don't believe the Bible is supposed to sit there in glorious isolation, if it hasn't anything to say at 0am on a Monday morning in Soweto, Seoul and Somerset, then we've been reading it the wrong way.

Ok, I'll tag Mark Meynell, Rachel at Revise Reform, Jonny Baker, John and Olive Drane (2churchmice), and Archbishop Cranmer. Why? Because I'm really curious.


  1. Interestingly your choices at no.4 were required reading if you wanted to be a part of a NOS discipleship group.

    Great ideas but dire reading.

  2. RevEv I would have tagged you if you'd had a blog...

    I won't hear a word said against Celebration of Discipline, and having done philosophy and political theory Schaeffer was good fun too. I'm guessing your list would be a bit different! You're welcome to a guest post if you want to have a crack at your 5 faves.

  3. Willco - does Thomas the Tank Engine count?