Here is my own list of top ten writings every pastor should read. It reflects who I am and what has made me so. It is inevitably subjective and idiosyncratic. I assume the usual canon of biblical, theological and historical work that a seminary education provides. The writings below are those that resonate deeply with me and shape me by their imagery, insight, and analogies into a better pastor. I commend any and all of these to anyone interested as worthy reads.
1. Men at Work – George Will
George Will’s great book (and I don’t say that often about George Will) on the craft of playing baseball. Even if you are not a baseball fan, Will’s description of the dynamics involved in learning to play the game reveal the interplay of community, patience, practice, authority, and hope in ways analogous to the church’s mandate to help its people grow in faith.
2. The Last Western – Thomas Klise
This wonderful novel from the mid-seventies, my all-time favorite, narrates the triumphs and travails of Willie, a multi-racial athlete born into poverty who rises to triumph through an odd baseball skill. He moves from there to become a religious leader and an international peacemaker. Finally, eschewing the given institutional structures of government and religion, he founds a underground monastic order, “the Silent Servants of the Used, Abused, and Utterly Screwed Up.” The telling of this story you will not be able to put down or forget!
3. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever – Stephen Donaldson
Masterly and massive epic (10 vols.) treatment of the disfiguring “leprosy” of power in all its many dimensions and manifestations.
4. “The Weight of Glory” in The Weight of Glory – C. S. Lewis
The title sermon in this collection of Lewis’ sermons during World War II, is perhaps more important today than when first delivered. How we see one another crucially impacts how we treat each other. One can never look at or treat another human being in the same way after Lewis’ unforgettable exposition of the divine intention, love, and majesty God lavished and inscribed in each of his creatures.
5. The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis
This fictional exchange of letters between a senior tempter in hell and his apprentice over handling the spiritual seduction of the apprentice’s “patient” to make him fit for hell is a classic. In my judgment, there is still no better manual of pastoral care and wisdom.
6. The Violence of Love – Oscar Romero
A moving and powerful collection of Romero’s words during his time as Archbishop of El Salvador ended by his martyrdom at the hands of his government. If you need an introduction to this great figure, the film “Romero” starring Raul Julia is excellent.
7. The Neverending Story – Michael Ende
Ende’s now classic tale about a boy who belongs nowhere who finds himself called to participate in the struggle narrated in the story world of a book he was reading and thus discovers his true identity and calling leading to transformation that returns him to his daily life a new person is the best description I am aware of what a “doctrine of scripture” aims at.
8. A People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn
Zinn’s lively and engaging narrative of American history from the perspective of those who have not been the chief beneficiaries of this country’s resources and potential is our history NOT told its winners but by those who have struggled from its underside to help it live up to its ideals and promise. A necessary antidote to the standard histories’ narrative from the perspective of the movers and shakers, the winners in America.
9. When the Gods are Silent – Kornelius Miskotte
This Old Testament theology written by a Dutch Reformed scholar in the midst of the heyday of existentialism is due a fresh reading now some fifty years later. With wide learning and profound insight Miskotte offers incisive readings of the Old Testament story in conversation of the cultural trends of his time that both models a fruitful way to do biblical theology in any age and continue to resonate with much of best biblical work done today.
10. The Common English Bible
This is not a snarky jibe at pastors but an awareness that often a reading of scripture for one’s own growth and maturity gets squeezed out by other responsibilities and pressures. We have to read it for vocational reasons but seldom, I suspect, do many of us read it for personal reasons. We interrogate scripture for preaching and Bible studies. How often do we allow scripture to interrogate us? I recommend the new The Common English Bible for its fidelity and readability.