A mentor once told me that I’d be the same person I was then in ten years, except for the people I met and the books I read. St. Paul was correct. Transformation happens to us through the renewing of our minds. And our minds are transformed by where we set them and what we feed them. I’ve enjoyed reading my entire life, and I draw from a wide array of voices. So, while writing my memoir for my kids, I compiled a partial list of especially influential books.
Regarding Theology, my habit of reading footnotes and bibliographies paid off, and writers in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Reformed, Evangelical, and Pentecostal traditions have blessed me.
If I had to choose just one theology book, it would be “The Mediation of Christ” by Thomas F. Torrance. That book began an avalanche of discovery and transformation that continues today. A word of warning… should you decide to read Torrance, ease into it like you would into a hot bath… slowly.
From necessity, I found drawing from some of the Torrance brothers’ students to be helpful and necessary because they had digested and metabolized their theology and found their own words to describe it. My friend Baxter Kruger translates Torrance well, and so does Paul Young. Torrance takes time to get used to, so stick with it; his theology is well worth the intellectual strain.
Torrance’s nephew, Robert Walker, compiled a two-volume set based on Torrance’s seminary classes on the Atonement and the Incarnation. Becky and I read selections aloud to one another, bringing us both to tears.
TF Torrance’s youngest brother, David Torrance, wrote an important book about Israel. “Israel, God’s Servant: God’s key to the redemption of the world.” It deftly discusses the error of replacement theology and Israel’s ongoing participation in the history of redemption.
“Theology in reconciliation: Essays towards Evangelical and Catholic unity in East and West” by TF Torrance
“Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace” by James Torrance will bless you.
“An Introduction to Torrance Theology: Discovering the Incarnate Saviour.” by Gerrit Scott Dawson is a collection of essays by students of the Torrances. Baxter wrote a chapter, but Alan Torrance’s article on his father’s theology, James Torrance, was incredible. Filthy rich with insights.
David Torrance’s “A Witness of the Jews to God” is a collection of essays by all three Torrance Brothers on the subject of Israel.
I’ve read just about everything Baxter Kruger has written. “The Shack Revisited” laid out the Trinitarian, Incarnational theology of the early Church fathers as a template for understanding Paul Young’s book “The Shack.” It’s Baxter’s best work.
“Movements of Grace: The Dynamic Christo-realism of Barth, Bonhoeffer, and the Torrances.” by Jeff McSwain is beautiful. I love Jeff, and we have exchanged several emails.
“Creation in Christ: Unspoken Sermons” by George MacDonald is dense but excellent.
“Orthodoxy” by GK Chesterton is a classic.
“Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hell, Hope, and the New Jerusalem” by Brad Jersak. He walks you right up to the edge of Universal Salvation without diving in.
“Grace Walk” by Steve McVey
“The Saving Life of Christ” by Major Ian Thomas
Greg Boyd is another author I highly recommend. I think he’s probably the best teaching Pastor I’ve heard. His academic credentials are first-rate and beyond dispute, and you can’t go wrong with any of his books. He deals with complex topics and offers great insights. “Escaping The Matrix” is an excellent place to start. His controversial “Crucifixion of the Warrior God” and “Cross Vision” were exceptional in making sense of the tension between the violent depictions of God in the Old Testament and the enemy-loving Prince of Peace found in the New Testament.
To me, that is an important subject. As some critics say, is the Abba of Jesus an angry, bloodthirsty tyrant? Are we to believe that, at his 2nd coming, Jesus will resort to killing his enemies? Boyd addresses these and other difficult topics. It’s important to find people who can help you think through things, whether you agree or not. Critical thinking skills are no longer taught in school, so they must be self-taught, and reading widely is an important part of that process.
The American Episcopal Priest Robert Farrar Capon’s book “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus” was refreshing and illuminating. I highly recommend Capon.
“The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming” by the Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen is outstanding and probably the last book your Grandpa Gerald read. I found this book to be like a devotional.
Roy Blizzard & David Biven’s book, “Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus: New Insights From a Hebrew Perspective,” and the followup by Bivin, “New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus Insights from His Jewish Context” are both essential to forming a solid biblical worldview.
Presbyterian theologian Kenneth Bailey is an author my brother, Eddie, recommended. Coincidentally, Bailey lived in Cyprus, and two of his books, to my mind, are essential to a solid theological library; “Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke” and “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels.” These books are in the same spirit as Bivin & Blizzard’s books. Bailey’s insights into the Prodigal Son are breathtaking.
“Worshipping Trinity” by Robin Parry and his book under a pseudonym, “The Evangelical Universalist,” are must-haves, as are Michael Heiser’s books, “The Unseen Realm,” and “Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ.” Robin and I have also exchanged several emails. He once told me I had, perhaps, the coolest name he’s come across. Obviously, he’d read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
David Bentley Hart is not the most accessible theologian, but his book, “The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?” provides solid answers to a complex question. He is very well-read and thorough, especially regarding Universal Salvation. Still, on the subject of orthodox or patristic universalism, I recommend reading Thomas Talbott’s “The Inescapable Love of God” first.
My good friend Dr. Kevin Newton recommended “The Last Days Are Here Again” by Richard Kyle. It offers a balanced look at the end-times hype from the tribe I grew up in.
“The Pursuit of God,” by A.W. Tozer, is recommended by most great men of God.
I also appreciated Steve Gregg’s book, “Four Views on Revelation.” It’s a balanced explanation of the 4 views held by the Church down through history.
In terms of professional development, there were quite a few.
In my 20s, I read most classics, like “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” “The Greatest Salesman in the World” by Og Mandino, and Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” were all good reads and impactful to my career.
Regarding sales and sales management, “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker and “How to Master The Art of Selling” by Tom Hopkins provided an excellent foundation for the mechanics and techniques of direct sales and business management.
I also enjoyed reading business stories like “Liars Poker” by Michael Lewis. It’s a hilarious inside story about the investment bank, Salomon Brothers. I laughed hard while reading this book.
Another good one was called “Barbarians at the Gate,” about the fall of RJR Nabisco. “The Bonfire of the Vanities” came out around the same time, which portrayed the culture of Wall Street.
Regarding reading for pleasure, I have always enjoyed biographies, history, counter-terrorism novels like Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy, and historical fiction.
I was fascinated by “The River of Doubt,” by Candice Millard, which chronicles the adventure of Theodore Roosevelt down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon River through the most treacherous jungle in the world.
Becky and I enjoyed a series of historical fiction by Susan Howatch called the “Starbridge series.” The books are set in the culture of the Anglican Church through the early and mid-20th century, featuring various recurring fictional characters that mirrored actual events. Howatch claims she was inspired by five of the great themes of Christianity: repentance, forgiveness, redemption, resurrection, and renewal.
Before the movie “Gettysburg” was released, I read the book it was based on, Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels.” I loved the film, but the book was much better.
“Radical Son: A Journey Through Our Times from Left to Right” by David Horowitz describes his conversion from liberalism to conservatism.
“Strategic Relocation: North American Guide to Safe Places” by Skousen is a good resource book. He’s a Mormon, and his father was a founder of the ultra-right-wing “John Birch Society.”
Historian Stephen Ambrose is one of my favorite History and Historical fiction authors. His book, “A Band of Brothers,” was an excellent read, even better than the HBO mini-series.
Another favorite was the biography of General Omar Bradley, “A General’s Life.” It followed his rise from a cadet at West Point through the ranks to 5 Star General during three wars.
“The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism” by Conor Cruise O’Brien. (The author who inspired my son Conor’s name)
Going back to ancient Greece, I’ve always been intrigued by the Great Wars, so I’d have to include Homer’s “The Iliad & The Odyssey.”
And Finally, because we’re Moriarty’s, I must include “The Complete Sherlock Holmes.” If you are fortunate to have boys, the complete set of 61 books in “The Hardy Boys” series will be fun for them to read. As a boy, I spent many summer nights with my face buried in these books, getting lost in my imagination.