July 11, 2008 by

Books that Have Shaped My Journey Lately…


Categories: books, Meanderings (look it up)

…besides the Bible, I mean. 🙂 (That one’s always in the picture.)

I have probably read more books in the past 18 months than I have in the previous 10 years. It has been a real season for reading, thinking, and processing for me. Amazon.com should give me an award or something. 🙂

Anywho, I’ve been thinking about my journey over the past couple of years, and pondering about how much change I’ve undergone in my thinking during that time–how God has de-constructed so many mindsets and expanded my perspectives in so many other areas. For anyone who has been reading this blog and thinking, What the HECK is going on in his head???…I figured I’d offer a sort of reading list to trace my journey.

Now, I’m not one who is easily convinced; I’m a natural skeptic, and I have to go over information and really own it before I repeat it. I tried purposely to veer away from streams of thought that I was familiar with (like Word-Faith and spiritual warfare); I wanted to see what was going on outside the normal streams. Some of these books sparked my thinking; some of them verbalized things I’d felt for a long time; some of them irritated me. Some things made me want to throw the book across the room; some things made me want to dance. (Be glad I didn’t. It wouldn’t be purty.) But pretty much all of these had some sort of part to play in where I am today.

  • Revolution by George Barna. In this insightful book, pollster and researcher George Barna reveals current trends in the church and where he feels they will take us in the upcoming decades. This was the first book I ever read that openly talked about taking the practice of one’s faith beyond institutional Christianity. Very inspiring.
  • Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 by Steve Stockman. I’ve mentioned this one before. I mention it now, not because you particularly need to follow U2’s spiritual journey, but because reading it painted a picture for me of what it might look like to follow Jesus without ever having been immersed in in the institutional church. Raw and messy, perhaps; but focused more on the works of Jesus than the proper church etiquette.
  • Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. Some very good spiritual insights couched in very non-spiritual language. And very, very funny.
  • Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli. A simple but encouraging read about Christians who don’t “measure up”–which is basically all of us.
  • The Gospel According to Starbucks by Leonard Sweet. A good analogy between the experience-oriented mission of Starbucks and having a passionate, experiential faith in Christ. Some good insights on our current culture along the way.
  • Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. A bit rough for my taste (lots of profanity) and questionable theology in spots; but reading the reflections of a believer who obviously sees the world very differently than I do added depth to my own journey and made me think about what I believe.
  • Dear Church by Sarah Cunningham. Written as a series of letters to the church, these are insightful thoughts by a twenty-something preacher’s kid on the status of the church and how twenty-somethings view it.
  • This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley. Written by Donald Miller’s pastor, this is a great look at seeing and participating in the Kingdom of God here on earth. (A bit different than some of the other “kingdom” stuff that has been written.)
  • They Like Jesus But Not the Church by Dan Kimball. I loved the insights in this book; the title pretty much speaks for itself. The Emerging Church, also by Kimball, is also a good read.
  • The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch. Took me a long time to work through this one because it’s so rich; but this is probably the book that has most affected my thinking about church in the 21st century. Highly recommended.
  • Jim and Casper Go to Church by, um, “Jim and Casper.” (aka Jim Henderson and Matt Casper) What an eye-opener. Jim and Casper (a long-time minister and an open-minded atheist) visited a wide range of churches across America (the churches are named within), and shares their insights. It is particularly interesting (and devastating) to see our church practices through the eyes of a non-believer.
  • Divine Nobodies by Jim Palmer. The reflections of a former career minister on the unlikely people in his path who have taught him more about God.
  • Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. Having been forewarned about some questionable theology, I had some reservations going into this one; but with all the talk about it, I felt I needed to be at least conversant about it. It turned out to be one of my favorites. Bell does make some shocking statements that, taken alone, could seem like gate-openers to heresy (perhaps some unfortunate wording?). But putting those few statements in context with the entire book, I don’t think he was really going that way. It will make you think, anyhow.
  • The End of Religion by Bruxy Cavey. Written primarily for seekers and skeptics, this is a great look at how Jesus came not to establish a new religion, but to do away with religion as we understand it.
  • And…as much as I hate to admit it…Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna has shaped my thinking as well. My critique of the preachy tone of the book can be found in this review. As an argumentative piece, I think it falls short, and I certainly don’t agree with many of its conclusions; but reading the origins and history of many of our common church practices was eye-opening and helpful overall. So in all fairness, I have to include it in the list. 🙂
There are numerous other titles I’ve been reading, but these are among the standouts. As a bit of a postscript–some of you emergent-church thinkers might notice that there are no titles by Brian McLaren on my list. Interestingly, McLaren is one author I have felt I needed to stay away from at this time. (Call it an inner witness, maybe.) Even before I heard about some of his more permissive theology in the opinions of some…I guess I felt that if one guy had written that many books about something that’s supposed to be new, it was already being turned into its own “camp”, and camps are something I’m trying to stay away from just now. Obviously, not having read him, I can’t form an opinion either way; just saying what my line of thinking has been.

So…any books on this list that you’ve read? What did you think? Any books you’d like to recommend?


Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

13 Responses to Books that Have Shaped My Journey Lately…

  1. Tim Williston

    Thanks for the list… several of those are on my list of books to read. One book that I really was challenged through is “When Necessary Use Words – Changing Lives Through Worship, Justice, and Evangelism”, by Mike Pilavachi

  2. Larry Eiss

    Thanks for this list! Another great place to check out is Xenos Christian Fellowship out of Ohio. http://www.xenos.org/

    They have some really great stuff there under “Books and Essays”. I am particularly taken by “Walking in Victory” by Dennis McCallum, founder of the fellowship.

  3. Mork

    I’m reading my first Brian McLaren book now – and I am enjoying it muchly. I’m using the chew and spew method – I chew in what I like and spew out what I don’t – he has a lot to offer the debate I feel. That’s the neat thing about being eclectic.

    Others I would add
    Rich Christian In An Age Of Hunger
    The Irresisitble Revolution

  4. lyn

    I’ve read several of those books – good list! Other books you might enjoy are The Forgotten Ways – Alan Hirsh, Exiles – Michael Frost, The New Conspirators – Tom sine, Post Charismatic – Rob MacAlpine and Justice in the Burbs – Will and Lisa Samson

  5. Chuck

    If you liked Velvet Elvis, you should definitely read Sex God. The needlessly provocative title aside, I have read few books that include so many, “Gee, I never thought of it that way,” moments.

    I also highly recommend his The Gods Aren’t Angry DVD–though I haven’t seen the DVD, I saw the program live at Lisner Auditorium in Washington D.C.

    In my transition from heavy involvement with the institutional church to virtually no involvement at all, his message has kept me feeling as though I am still on track (though the smoke is thickening).

  6. Daniel Partin

    I’m interested in reading the Rob Bell book since a friend of mine has recommended it, as well. I would recommend The Shack which wasn’t really new insight for me, but I loved the way he talked about the Trinity. Also, So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore? by Wayne Jacobsen got me started on this phase of my journey, and I’m currently reading Wayne’s He Loves Me!. Finally, I’ve just read a couple of great essays by C. Baxter Kruger entitled Bearing our Scorn: Jesus and the Way of Trinitarian Love and The Parable of the Dancing God.

  7. Sarah

    I’ve only read two of the books on your list (Revolution and PC – actually a much older version of PC before it was allegedly ‘tempered’ and made more palatable). Two books about this current shift in the Body of Christ that I most thoroughly enjoyed: Houses that Change the World by Wolfgang Simpson (or is it Simson?) And The Forgotten Ways. Of the two, I liked Wolgang’s book best, and I think you would love it. I’ve also enjoyed articles written by David Orton (out of Australia). A lot of the books on your list are on my to-read-when-I-get-around-to-it list. 🙂

  8. Jeff McQ

    Thanks, all, for your suggestions. I, too, have read some of the ones you have mentioned, and I’ll look into the others.

    Welcome, new (or newer) commentors Larry, Mimou, Chuck & Daniel. Tim…good to hear from you again.

  9. Chuck

    As we have this conversation about reading various perspectives on the Church, perspectives on the many institutional expressions of Christianity, and how the two are intertwined, I think it is worth noting that when God came to earth in the form of a man, that he did not write down his message. It was so simple, compelling, and timeless that you can communicate the essence of it a few sentences.

    At times I wonder if half our problem is that we try to read complexity into clarity.

    If an illiterate beggar could receive Him so profoundly as to be saved, have I somehow missed the point? > Chuck

  10. Bino M.

    I followed some links and landed on your blog. Great list of books! Some of them I have read and some of them are in my list to read. I think I am in a very similar journey as you are – from Institutionalized church to authentic relationship with living Jesus…
    Grace and Peace,

  11. Messy Christian

    It looks like you and I have very similliar tastes :)The name of my blog was inspired by Yanconelli’s book, Messy Spirituality. Those I’ve not read, I want to read, like Blue Like Jazz. If I did not live half a world I would’ve raided your library! 😉

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