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.
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.
In order, they are:
- The Normal Christian Life
– nothing has forged my understanding of the spiritual nature of my conversion better, and that the victorious life found in ‘Christ in me’
- 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
- The Normal Christian Birth
– 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
- Where Do We Go From Here?
– 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…