There is a kind of enlightened vanity that comes with a list like this, like, yo check out the fact that, one, I read hella books, and two, please be sure to define me by these particular books, because I have refined intellectual tastes. But yknow what? I don’t really care. I’m just tired of the “Power Bible Book Review” being my most recent post, and I can’t seem to get myself to write anything of greater substance, so here we are. And maybe someone can tell me why, when I enthusiastically emailed the Power Bible people saying, “Hey guys! I finally wrote the book review y’all have been asking me for!” they freakin don’t even respond. Ridiculous.
Anyways, the following are some of my favorite and most influential books. This is also a hope that you all would share with me your top 5 most influential books so that we can all have great reading material for 2016! Here goes:
- I and Thou, by Martin Buber
There probably isn’t a book that changed the way I saw the world on such a fundamental level as I and Thou. It changed the way I walked down the street, the way I looked at people, the way I understood story. It made me breathe differently and smile more. What a weird, crazy, intense book… What keeps it from being, say, number one or two, is the fact that it’s so freaking dense and philosophical, that you just kinda sit there like, “I know I just read something that could potentially change my life, but I have no clue what it is.”
Inscrutably involved, we live in the currents of universal reciprocity
- God of the Oppressed, by James Cone
God of the Oppressed opened my imagination to consider the possibility of a Christianity outside of the context of white supremacy, or least one aware of the inconsistencies and hypocrisies we encounter when we speak of Jesus’ liberation as American Christians. Cone probes the Black Christian experience as a way of challenging our assumptions of what Christianity is and what it “should” look like.
The biggest takeaway I had from God of the Oppressed is that every single word we say about God comes out of a social context, out of a story, a history. And part of what it means for us to be faithful in our pursuit of and allegiance to Jesus is to honor that story while honoring the stories of others. No one group has a claim to “ultimate truth,” and when we speak of a “pure,” “objective,” or “unsolicited” gospel, we are fooling ourselves with the lie of white supremacy. Cone makes the case that an understanding of God from the Black perspective is just as true, real, and beautiful (and perhaps even more so) as the “objectivity” of a Eurocentric understanding of God. And there has been no other book that has given me greater permission or imagination for what it means to follow Jesus as an Asian American.
- The Irresistible Revolution, by Shane Claiborne
Reluctantly, I must include this book by the formerly dreadlocked white guy who changed my life.
In my sophomore year of undergrad, in the midst of a spiritual crisis, doubting God’s goodness, and distrusting everything that smelled of religion, I picked up this book. And things have never been the same. A big reason I am who I am today is because, from the rubble of my doubt, I rediscovered Jesus in these pages. And from there I began to lay the bricks that would ultimately send me to Chicago to see if God’s promises—that his presence was thickest along the margins and that the surrendering of my possessions was the truest way to freedom—were real.
I am aware that Irresistible has done this for a lot of folks, and my hipster proclivities are repulsed by the idea that I have been affected in such a mainstream way. Oh well. After reading Claiborne, the News was too Good to deny and Jesus was too real to refuse. I am still challenged by the ideas I read back then, and I’m still trying to figure out what it means to love God, neighbor, and self in the ways I first discovered in this book.
- Real Live Preacher, by Gordon Atkinson
Now that I’ve navigated through the basic-ness of Shane Claiborne’s fame and Zondervan-ity, I now feel a great sense of smugness to share about this obscure, small book by a random blogger named Gordon Atkinson. It’s hard to summarize the book, because it’s basically a collection of small essays, but I have never encountered more honest reflections on faith. I am a tension-filled, conflicted, and self-critical person, but this book has affirmed, again and again, God’s presence and faithfulness in my wanderings and contradictions.
Who am I? They call me preacher. I am a coarse and common man, a dreamer and a deep feeler. I have never found the sweet spot between raucous laughter and quiet devotion, and I hope I never do. It is good to be ever jugging these virtues.
I am constantly found guilty of the sin of words. Vulgarity is not my downfall, though I am vulgar. My sin is having words that are far more beautiful than my life. How graceful are those whose lives outshine their words.
Perhaps my life will catch up to my mouth someday. Perhaps my body will catch up to my heart, my hands to my eyes, my feet to my soul.
I have nothing to offer the creator but myself. Here I am. I have nothing to claim but grace. I want more from life than I deserve and have given back less than I should.
I cannot see the path. I know not the way. I have not avoided the obstacles. Blinded and uncertain, I have only this prayer: Be thou my vision.
- Between Noon and Three, by Robert Farrar Capon
I wonder if I read this book again today, if it would still resonate as deeply as it did when I first picked it up. Nonetheless, Between Noon and Three hammered the idea home so hard and so real and so powerfully: Jesus has set me free. When I read this book, it busted my heart wide open, and I’m still not sure if I ever truly recovered. Setting the stage with a parable about an adulterous relationship between a professor and his student, Capon illustrates God’s vulgar, stupid, offensive grace. Read at your own risk.
Let me lay aside my apologist’s bag of tricks for one paragraph and say, as a plain Christian man, what you quite rightly fear I am really saying. There is indeed no horror, no wickedness, no evil – no cruelty, no torture, no holocaust in the whole history of the world – that is not, under the sovereignty of grace, already reconciled in Jesus. And there is no perpetrator of any horror, wickedness, evil, et cetera (up to and including Hitler and your dreadful brother-in-law) who is not, in Jesus, forgiven. That is the Gospel, the Good News, without which we are all obviously dead ducks. But it is also, from where we sit, the most outrageous piece of bad news the world has ever heard because it says quite clearly that, on the basis of anything we can know or feel about the goodness of creation, God is bad. All I can say is that I know and feel that too, and that I can only believe in a God who asks me to trust his word to the contrary in Jesus crucified and risen. Even with a sunny disposition, I find that I can buy such an outrageous proposition only about half the time; if you cannot buy it at all, I understand completely. So much, then, for the total honesty of faith. Back to the comforts of theology.
Well, those are mine. What are your top 5 books???