Lo and behold, I’m reading “The Pastor” – the memoir of Eugene Peterson – and I come across a quote by Franz Kafka:


 “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? …we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”


No wonder Kafka is synonymous with obsessive morbidity and the dark side of modernity. I mean, just look at the dude.


I don’t think we have to take it as far as he did; surely, a diet of death-prose is good for nobody’s soul. Be that as it may, I lean strongly to the melancholic side of the personality scale so I kinda get what the Gloomy Gus is saying.


It got me thinking: what books have I read that have truly hammered my skull? When have I been wounded or stabbed to my soul?

What has challenged my thinking? Which has brought about dialectic  sea-change?

Spoiler alert: the list is painfully short.

Oh, there’ve been many – MANY – that have moved and shaped me. I could go on and on and on with the titles. Unfortunately, this little exercise has shown me how many books I choose based on how I’m already thinking. I’ve pretty much played it safe, and you know what?

So. Have. You.

(I’m thinking.)

But once or twice I’ve ventured wayyyy outside my borders of comfort – and wouldn’t you know it? I found the Holy Spirit in those places – in a BIG way.

Eugene Peterson tells of the time he wrote a seminary paper on a man who was the antithesis of conservative evangelicalism, though a pastor and best-selling author. Harry Emerson Fosdick had been painted as the antichrist to many Protestants but Peterson had read his book The Meaning of Prayer and was taken aback by its heavenly and profoundly spiritual tone. When he interviewed a very welcoming Fosdick for his paper, he found a man of humble and kind nature, one who obviously loved his Lord and Master.

I had a loosely similar experience when, years ago, I read a book far afield from my own theology, written by an Episcopal priest who’d had a lively encounter with the Holy Spirit. It’s influence remains with me to this day.

So, then, my list.

[Aside: I wish there were more that ‘hammered’ my mind and heart. I think this post – if it accomplishes nothing else – lays a gauntlet for me to look for CHALLENGE as well as INSPIRATION. Books that rock my world, not the best-sellers that merely stir evangelicals but do little more]

(which is MUCH of the publications of today in the Christian market, if you ask me.)

The books, Scott?

Oh yes. There are four.

(Told ya.) 

In order, they are:

  1. The Normal Christian Life
    (Watchman Nee)
    – nothing has forged my understanding of the spiritual nature of my conversion better, and that the victorious life found in ‘Christ in me’
  2. They Found The Secret
    (V. Raymond Edman)
    – this set my life on the course of learning the secret of Hudson Taylor, John Bunyan, Oswald Chambers, Amy Carmichael, Ian Thomas, and others – the secret being the joy found in the real and tangible indwelling Presence of Christ and His power and love radiating outwardly
  3. The Normal Christian Birth
    (David Pawson)
    – when a pastor, this book dawned in me the notion that our churches are weak because there are many in our pews who are not being carried to full term; Pawson helped bring light to Peter’s meaning in Acts 2:38
  4. Where Do We Go From Here?
    (Ralph Neighbour)
    – the revelatory idea that disciples are better birthed and formed in circles rather than rows has made me more passionate and comfortable with living room settings

I gotta know. What books have awakened you? Which have left you so dumbstruck as to change your path, your theology, your prior understanding?

(Remember to use the filter of: reformation, upending previous understanding, etc. That’s how I determined my list)

Go on, give ‘er a go…

Post Author: Pasturescott

4 Replies to “Good Books Should Wake Us Up Or Knock Us Down”

  1. At the end of 2002, I was facing a major career decision. The maintenance base in Atlanta was being closed and I was not offered a job in Minneapolis. I interviewed at a couple of companies but had no clear direction.

    We took a trip to San Diego, I took two books with me; Wild at Heart by John Eldredge and Painted House by John Grisham.

    Wild at Heart reignited by heart and showed me what a Christian man really should be – a protector and provider for his family. In Painted House, the son decides he needs to go to Detroit to work and take care of his family.

    When I returned from the trip, I had an offer for a temporary job in Detroit. I was able to stay there until God provided me a choice between 2 jobs back home in Atlanta.

    It’s always amazing to look back and see how God guides your life, even if it’s thru a work of fiction.

    1. Now THAT’S what I’m talking about, Sam. Thank you for splendidly sharing the backstory and those incredible books!

      And, I’m grateful the Lord eventually got you down to these parts. 🙂

  2. Loved….

    They Found the Secret
    The Normal Christian Life
    Secrets of the Secret Place
    Touching the Invisible
    Rees Howells Intercessor
    Practicing the Presence
    The Search for Significance

    Pretty much anything by…
    Andrew Murray
    Brennan Manning
    Ed Corley

    Most recently…
    Found Faithful

    By the way, I just ordered and received 3 books way out of the comfort zone. Thanks for being used by the Lord to confirm I should approach without fear.

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