Each decade, a new book enters the Christian diaspora and makes news in the community whether because of commentary or controversy. These are books that challenge or expand what we often accept to be true by turning our faith like a prism, seeking to show us perspectives we may not have considered yet or introduce entirely new ideas. Take them or leave them, these are the books you should read to understand where you’re at.
“The Shack” by William P. Young
The Shack is a novel by Canadian author William P. Young exploring Christian themes like the sovereignty of God. The main character’s youngest daughter goes missing after he unintentionally leaves her alone at a campsite. He then receives a note from “Papa” who invites him to meet, turning into an encounter with the personifications of the Trinity.
Critics of the book called the descriptions of the Trinity heretical. At the center however is an intense unfolding of pain, God’s role throughout the course of events we don’t understand and the intimacy that is made possible through our suffering.
“Love Wins” by Rob Bell
Even the trailer for Rob Bell’s “book about heaven, hell and the fate of everyone who ever lives” caused a firestorm when it was released back in 2011.
Bell’s book asks big questions about the concept of eternal punishment, the extent of grace and how we read Scripture’s teachings on the afterlife. The backlash and criticism from many Christian leaders led Bell to become a controversial figure in some theologically conservative circles, but just because his approach to these questions concerned some critics, it doesn’t make the book less important.
Even if you don’t personally agree with everything in the book, Love Wins asks big, important questions and has led to new conversations about them in the five years since it was released.
“A New Kind of Christianity” by Brian D. McLaren
McLaren examines ten questions facing today’s church. Here, you’ll find a provocative and enticing introduction to the Christian faith of tomorrow. McLaren argues that not since the Reformation have Christians wrestled with whether the Church is representative of their deepest beliefs.
In this book, he deconstructs evangelicalism, calling everything about Western Christianity into question. Whether you agree with his points or not, his book is an essential dive into recognizing the criticisms against core tenets of Western faith and where the Church can respond with integrity in the face of them.
“Silence” by Shusaku Endo
This 1966 novel follows two Portugeuese Jesuit priests as they travel to a country hostile to their religion. Eventually captured, they watch their Christian peers lay down their lives for their faith and bear witness to unimaginable cruelties that test their own beliefs. The brutality and cruelty explored in the book is controversial and Sebastião Rodrigues (based on the historical Italian figure Giuseppe Chiara), one of the Jesuit priests, is challenged with the idea of recanting his faith for the sake of ending someone else’s suffering. This book explores the depths of humanity when we’re confronted with the most unimaginable circumstances.
The book was adapted into a film by Martin Scorsese starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver and will be released in theaters Dec. 23.
“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
The sci-fi fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time has been so controversial in some circles that it was once common to find it on lists of banned books. Its cast of characters that includes mediums, witches and magicians may have once been polarizing, but when read in the context of Madeleine L’Engle’s deep Christian faith, the book presents rich allegories about good, evil, higher powers and family.
Even beyond the book’s powerful spiritual undertones, the novel is an entertaining story, whose influence on sci-fi is still seen in Hollywood projects like Interstellar and Lost.