Great preachers are also great readers. It's not just about the learning: the sound and rhythm of our preaching is affected by poetry and music. Our imagination is shaped by the stories we read. And yes, our minds grow deeper in discussion with the great men of God from centuries past.
Let's start a discussion among ourselves: what books do you recommend to improve your pulpit presence? I'm not talking about "how-to" books on preaching, I'm talking about books that feed our souls and lift our spirits.
Here's my list: why not read one a month and change your ministry? Or suggest a few in the comments below.
God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis—I had been a high-school evangelical for three years when someone handed me this collection of essays. They changed my life, and Lewis became my first teacher. If you have never read C.S. Lewis, you have missed one of God’s great gifts to the church in the last hundred years. God in the Dock is the most formative work in my life because it was the first to capture my heart and my mind. Thirty-plus years later, Lewis is my constant companion.
The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard—This book put into words the things I knew, but didn’t know that I knew. Willard was a Southern Baptist with a PhD in Philosophy who teaches at USC. He cracks open our narrow ideas of “the gospel” and re-introduces us to “the gospel of the Kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God was the message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul. It should be the message of every student of Jesus--and everyone who takes to the pulpit.
The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen—This book taught me what it means to reflect upon the scripture. Nouwen is an exegete of the soul. Return of the Prodigal was not the first of his books I read, but it moved me more than any other. It taught me by example how to meditate on the scriptures and how to place myself into the Biblical narrative. When anyone asks me what it means to go deep in the scripture, I give them this book. Let me know if you want a copy.
The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence—This little collection of letters and thoughts from a centuries-gone Carmelite brother is disarmingly—and dangerously—simple. Far from retreating from the world, Brother Lawrence opens the possibility of being with God every moment. His message is sacramental in the most universal sense. I discovered the secret of not just a daily life with Him, but life that is available moment-by-moment. The Creator of the universe is not far from any one of us: all we need to do is “turn.”
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro—No amount of explaining will convey the impact this book had on me, but I would be dishonest if I left it off. Perhaps it would mean nothing to you, but it taught me that a life of selfless service is not enough. We are responsible for whom and what we serve. This book gloriously wrecked my life. I wept for weeks after reading it, and everything I’ve done since 1994 is a result of its impact. You may read it and think, “That’s it?” But if I ever meet Mr. Ishiguro, I will thank him profusely!
Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury—Bradbury passed away recently, so call this an homage to him. His work, especially the stuff set in small town mid-America and mixed with the Fantastic, transports me. Bradbury is in touch with the everyday—and the mystery behind the everyday.
The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person, E. Stanley Jones—You need to meet E. Stanley Jones. Bombastic, non-linear, at times nearly impossible to follow, Jones holds forth on the King and his Kingdom. I’m sure it’s out of print because he wrote it in 1972 and passed away a year later. His passion is infectious, and I hope you catch it and never recover.
The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. He broke every mold there was. Hopkins is William Blake without the drugs. Hopkins invented his own meter, made up words on the spot and lavished love on Jesus like perfume at his feet. I’ve returned to Hopkins again and again over three decades, and learned that the river is always fresh, always new, always life-giving. Take the plunge.
Following Jesus, N.T. Wright—Whatever N.T. Wright writes next it will be in my top ten. And then the one after that. If you need a place to start, I recommend Following Jesus, a collection of essays about discipleship: six essays on New Testament books and six on topics such as resurrection or the renewed mind. It’s an inexpensive paperback that will serve as a great introduction, or your money back (send receipts directly to Tom Wright).
Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard—Transcendent. She defends the indefensible. I trembled when I finished it. You should read this indescribable masterwork (trembling not optional).
OK, then. That’s it. Oprah no longer runs a book club, so what’s stopping you? Check out these ten. What books make your list?