Five Books That (Re) Shaped My Spirituality

I don’t know if you’re looking for something to read (I know I always am), but I thought I’d share some reads that have been pretty foundational in my life.

These five books really were responsible for some “left turns” in my life. They marked pretty large “sea changes” in my spirituality and belief. If you’re looking for something to challenge (and maybe even change) you, maybe pick them up and give them a read. Let me know what you think.

  1. Signature of Jesus. This book really changed the whole game for me. I’ve written about this before, but I just can’t begin to describe how much this book impacted me when I first read it. It called me deeper, beyond merely nodding “yes” (or shaking my head “no”) on a Sunday to a life of pursuing the rabbi from Nazareth. (Note: I’m still stumbling along.)
  2. Adam’s Return. I actually just read this a couple years back, but this was one of my initial exposures to Richard Rohr. More significantly, however, this was a powerful description of mature, Biblical masculinity. Though I read a lot of the popular evangelical attempts at this (Wild at Heart being the most popular), there was something in them that didn’t ring true to me. I could understand the barbarian/warrior metaphors but I also felt like they had a tendency to be destructive in my life. Rohr takes masculinity to the place where it most needs to go: to the cross and into the baptismal waters with Christ, and shows how our masculinity needs to be transformed—particularly in the vein of ego surrender and death to self—so that we can grow (old?) gracefully.
  3. The Illumined Heart. This little book was my introduction to the Eastern Orthodoxy. It was also a pretty significant step forward in my quest for a practical spirituality, an approach to faith that can be lived out in every day life.
  4. Surprised by Hope. Though I’d read a couple NT Wright books before, this was really the first one that catalyzed my understanding of his theology and started to re-shape my own. To be brief, Wright refutes the “practical gnosticism” in the church today that states that our ultimate destination is some kind of disembodied heaven. Wright reminds us that the Biblical view is that of resurrection. Our bodies matter; this world matters. When you understand that the point is not for us to be burned up, or that God’s just not going to throw the earth onto a trash heap, you realize that what you do now—whether it’s justice or art, discipleship, or service—has implications into eternity.
  5. The Divine Conspiracy. This book is a bit deep, and not always the easiest read, but this book planted inside me the revolutionary truth that Jesus wants to live his life through me. Spirituality is not “out there”, and Christianity is not something that is only lived through “special people” or “holy lives.” Rather, my life, right now, is where God wishes to take up residence.

So there they are. If you’re looking to open yourself up to some new ideas and/or new approaches to God and spirituality, I challenge you to dig into one (or more) of these.

Let me know how that works out for you…

My Reading Universe, Pt. 1: Eugene Peterson

The other night at church, someone asked, “Hey Eric, what are you reading?” This is always a very complicated question for me to answer, because I’m using churning through 6 or 7 books at a time, but I thought I’d take a few minutes here and outline the major “pillars” of my reading universe. These are the people that simultaneously, form, shake, and enhance my ministry, my world view, and my creative spirit. There are numerous other authors, of course, but these are my “mainstays”.

So over the next few days/weeks, I’ll outline who these folks are — to me, at least — and why they matter. In short, they are:

  • Eugene Peterson
  • NT Wright
  • Brennan Manning
  • Flannery O’Connor
  • Cormac McCarthy

Let’s start with Eugene Peterson. He’s the guy who wrote The Message. When I began my vocational ministry “career” someone — quite randomly — threw his book called Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Ministry at me, and I through myself into the book with the enthusiasm of someone who’d thought they had the whole world figured out (I was soon to find otherwise). I suppose the next thing I read by him was his translation/paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, then after that I devoured 5 or 6 more of his, including Five Smooth Stones and Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places.

I’ll be honest: sometimes, I have no idea what Peterson is trying to say, and even when I do “get” him, the result can at times be a bit, “meh.” But what sings through, much of the time, is the voice of a poet and pastor, who at times just nails the balance of rigorous intellectual pursuit with the gentle voice of an artist-pastor. Peterson was the guy who showed me that you did not have to be a “Type A”, CEO-type in order to be a leader in the contemporary USAmerican church. He also reminds me that “pastoring” comes from a long tradition, with deep wells. We don’t need to “invent” discipleship for people. In so many ways, the same words and disciplines that worked for people in the 13th century still work today.

This Needs No Further Explanation

“The point about Jesus’ resurrection is not ‘He’s alive again, therefore there is a life after death,’… It’s not, ‘Jesus is alive again, therefore we’re all going to go to heaven,’ … The point about the resurrection is, ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead, therefore God’s new creation has begun, and therefore we have a job to do… We don’t need to worry (about our sin) any more… but you do need to work.” -NT Wright

Reflections on Catalyst 2009

I just got back from the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta; it was my first time attending the live event, though I’ve watched DVDs from the past 2 years. I thought I’d throw out a few reflections from the event.

  1. The Justification Wars Are Hot. Though speakers from different perspectives were there, any anticipated public denouncing or “zingers” didn’t occur. What didhappen, however were a few decidedly public shots into the debate on justification, most typically represented by NT Wright and John Piper. One speaker, in the middle of a talk about something else, decided to clarify the definition of the gospel as the appropriating of the righteousness of Jesus to cover our sins (this to many shouts of approval from the crowd). Note: curiously, this same speaker immediately used — as an example of this gospel — the story of Peter converting Cornelius in Acts 10:31-43 in which Peter never references the “atoning blood of Jesus”.

  2. Resurrection Isn’t So Hot. In all the talks, there was very little discussion of the mind-blowing event of resurrection. People are still more intrigued by Jesus’ death than they are the inauguration of the new age.
  3. Please Stop Shouting At Me. Nothing personal, but by the middle of the second day I really just wanted the music to be turned down, and wanted a speaker to whisper the love and beauty of God over me. We (those?) evangelicals really like it loud and pumping, both their music and their teaching. Curiously, never in two days did 12,000 leaders pray, read scripture, or recite a creed in one voice. We could hear each other sing, but I sat thinking how powerful it would be to recite the Lord’s Prayer, or the Nicene Creed, or a prayer of confession.

There were other, more personal revelations, but I think that from an observational standpoint, those were my takeaways.

meh.