Recently I was asked a few times to explain my “evolution.” These are the books that have probably been the most influential on me over the course of my short life.
10. Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands and Tom Landry’s Autobiography
I think my now flourishing love of the American South was formed between these two books. My mom used to bring stacks of books home from the Faith Academy library. Most of them I ignored, but the ones I actually read turned out to be awesome. These two especially made a deep impression on me. I read Carson in elementary and he’s been a hero of mine ever since, forever shaping the way I view black America as a tragic but beautiful people capable of anything. And of course my tragic love of lost causes and the Dallas Cowboys comes from Landry. But in both cases it was the men with hearts of flesh hiding behind cerebral exteriors that truly impacted me. Carson revolutionized neuro surgery through his actions and his race, Landry changed American sports forever by everything he did. But both were men that loved Jesus first and foremost. To me that was all that really mattered. Giants in their respective realms because of their humility before God.
I’ll never forget the day I stood over Coach Landry’s humble grave and read the words “Well done my good and faithful servant.” My prayer is that some day another confused young man may find the same wisdom and strength from my example.
9. America Aflame by David Goldfield
This book really pushed me down a path I wasn’t expecting. I never thought I would become a real Conservative because I didn’t know there was such a thing…I just thought Conservative meant like pro Jesus or something. But this book opened my eyes to just how dangerous progressivism is and how easy it is for unbridled religion to turn violent when paired with politics. It turned me towards becoming anti war, anti politics, and pro localism. I don’t think any of that was Goldfield’s intent, he’s also written a book about how awesome the new deal was. But this book very honestly portrays how Evangelicalism paired with politics led to the folly of Lincoln’s War.
It’s a massive tome that’s not easy to take in but the story he tells is a vibrant account that makes you feel present for the events. It’s absolutely essential reading for any and all Americans, and especially Evangelicals. It will change the way you view everything so read with caution.
8. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
This book is about writing…and how miserable it is.
Writing isn’t magic, it’s like everything else. It just requires work. Which also requires time and not everyone has time. The wisdom here can be applied to anything but it’s honest and horrific take on writing made me realize I had always been a writer living in denial.
7. Tribe by Sebastian Junger
It’s short and hard to explain, but there’s so much unexpected wisdom about healthy human psychology in this book. I recommend it to any and everyone.
6. How Great Generals Win by Bevin Alexander
Alexander’s analysis of strategy and tactics based on the principles of Sun Tzu completely rocked my world. It caused me to see everything differently and was the first step in my journey towards a harsh anti war stance. Most wars are fought so poorly and resolved so stupidly that it would be better to avoid them as much as possible. This seems like common sense but Americans especially have become very comfortable with War, to a shocking degree. But this book also has informed all my thinking. I’m far more open to new ideas and far less attracted to ideological thinking because of this book.
5. The Princess Bride by William Goldman.
This is my favorite piece of fiction. I adore every word. It’s humor is dark. It’s heroism is ironic. Every page bleeds with humanity. It’s beautiful.
The film is one of the best adaptations of a novel ever, with pretty much everything included. But what’s missing is of course your imagination. Until you’ve seen your own private version of Goldman’s masterwork you haven’t really seen it.
“Life is pain, anyone who says differently is selling something.”
That’s how I know Jesus wasn’t selling anything. And why I respect thinkers like Buddha but also realize that his answers were helpful but far from complete. If you’ve never read this book you simply must at some point.
4. Celtic Daily Prayer by the Northumbria Community.
Redeemer Church (not Tim Keller’s) turned out to have Ichabod written upon it, mostly because the elders were manipulative man children, but despite the clownish abuse I experienced there I have to admit that I probably would not have encountered liturgical prayer without that den of codependent vipers. God works in all things. This prayer book may have actually saved my life, it certainly saved my mind from the ideology of my evangelical youth by teaching me how to pray. I’m an Evangelical. I think I always will be. But my tradition did not have mechanisms in place to teach people like me how to pray. It usually presents something like an ideology of virtue and bible reading then just assumes that you’ll either get with the program or you won’t. I needed this book. I try to use it every day. It teaches me how to pray.
3. To Change the World by James Davison Hunter
I have Professor Scott Rae to thank for this one. This was the only required text at Talbot that I could not put down. This book gave my fledgling Conservatism the vision and fuel it needed to begin to coalesce into a meaningful life ethic. This book freed my mind from ideology and selfish idolatry. Jesus didn’t call us to Change the World, he called us to faithfulness in our spheres of influence. He calls us to follow him first, foremost and always.
2. Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card
Recommended by a friend during one of my lowest moments. This book taught me what biblical worship really is, and thankfully it’s sadness. We worship a god who died, a messiah who was rejected by his own people, and promised us we would be hated…how could it have taken me so long to understand that sadness was the key to unlocking hope and worship? The most common genre of the Psalms is Lament.
I wrote about this for The Federalist.
Number One by far is Tree of Salvation: Yggdrasil and the Cross in the North by G. Ronald Murphy
This book showed me that the good news of Yeshua Messiah could be made sense of in a language I spoke. There is not a single piece of my life that has remained untainted by this book since I read it. For every ethnoi to receive the good news it must be made manifest in their language. This book shattered my idols and helped me break free of ideological thinking, it incarnated Jesus into my world and made his priesthood real to me for the first time.
I wrote about this for The Federalist.