Chances are, between barbecues, beach trips and family gatherings, you’ll have some down time over this long weekend—or at least during the rest of the summer. While you’re sitting around, eating hotdogs and watching fireworks, it’s always worth setting aside time to read—especially for books that help you grow.
Although there are undoubtedly hundreds of excellent books that can serve as wise and formative guides to growing spiritually, these seven will unsettle many of the ways you think about life and faith and culture. But as they unsettle, they will stir your imagination with the hope of a deeper, more substantial and more joyful way of following Jesus in the 21st century.
By Parker Palmer
To be a disciple is to be a learner, and odds are that you will be called upon to teach something at some point in the home, church or workplace. This powerful little book challenges the ways we think about knowledge and about how we learn and mature in our churches. The first chapter alone, “Knowing is Loving,” is worth the price of the book.
By Ken Wytsma
This is the book that I wish I had when I went through a crisis of faith in my twenties. Acutely sensitive to all of the technological and philosophical challenges of our day, Wytsma wrestles with questions of faith and doubt, justice and happiness, love and vocation. Despite all his refreshingly honest questioning, Wytsma ultimately comes out on the side of faith, hope and love: faith that God is sovereign, hope that guides us through the darkness of doubt, and God’s love that ever sustains us and helps us to grow.
By Jonathan R. Wilson
In our age of increasing individualism, Why Church Matters is a vital book for understanding our calling to be the Church, a community of God’s people. Wilson examines worship, baptism, Eucharist and other shared practices of the church, helping us to understand their role in forming us into a body in the likeness of Christ. The chapter on “Discipleship as Human Flourishing” is perhaps the book’s most important.
By Erin Lane
A nice companion book to Wilson’s Why Church Matters, Erin Lane’s Lessons in Belonging chronicles her story of struggling to belong to a church. Not only this book a lively and honest memoir of Lane’s experiences with church, but along the way, she makes a compelling case for the virtues that make thriving church communities to which we want to belong. Lane paints for us a vibrant image of the wonderful brokenness that church can and should be.
By Joan Chittister
In this delightful and challenging book, Chittister uses the ancient Rule of St. Benedict as a launch pad for exploring what a deeper Christian faith might look like today. In Benedictine practices like humility, hospitality and stability, she finds powerfully transformative wisdom for shaping the shared life of our ordinary church communities, even if we have no aspirations of becoming monastics.
By Marilynne Robinson
This Pulitzer-prize winning novel is perhaps the most important novel of the 20th century for Christian readers. Told through the voice of a dying minister in rural Iowa, Gilead is a love song of sorts offered in gratitude for the wonder and beauty of life. And if that isn’t recommendation enough, Gilead offers a vibrant, realistic picture of faith unfolding over decades amidst a community of people in a particular place.
By Wendell Berry
Clearly the best collection of essays from a Kentucky farmer-philosopher, this book demonstrates the breadth of Wendell Berry’s work, as well as his status as one of the most important commentators of our time on matters of community, land and ecology. In addition to the provocative essay, “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer” and the superb title essay, we also have Berry’s keen reflection on “The Work of Local Culture.” Over the course of the book, Berry also introduces us to several important, but lesser-known writers, including Harry Caudill, Liberty Hyde Bailey and Wallace Stegner.
C. Christopher Smith lives and writes as part of the Englewood Christian Church community on the urban Near Eastside of Indianapolis, where he is the Senior Editor of The Englewood Review of Books. Chris is co-author of the award-winning book Slow Church (2014), author of Reading for the Common Good (2016), and is presently finishing a book manuscript with the working title, Conversational Bodies: A Field Guide for the Journey Toward Belonging.