Top Ten Books Pastors Should Read
This post was originally published at the Becoming Human blog. You can read the entirety of the post here.
Every time I see a list of the “Top Ten Books for Pastors” I can almost always guess what they’ll be. I may be wrong on which specific books will be suggested, but I’m always right on what kind of books will be suggested: non-fiction. Allow me to diverge from the regular fare of book suggestions.
1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I am suggesting all seven books as one, but I’d be happy to hear that pastors have read any combination of them. The Narnia books are filled with examples and analogies of everything from various virtues that pastors desire to bestow upon their flock to examples of faith and faithlessness. These stories will make your sermons come alive.
2. The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy. Death is one of the most difficult things to discuss, especially when you are trying to open a young, vibrant congregation’s eyes to the reality, unexpectedness, and finality of it. Tolstoy does a masterful job of making these things real, and thereby provides numerous examples of the language and analogies needed to do so yourself.
3. The Iliad by Homer. One of my favorite books, the hero, Achilles, struggles for what it means to strive after glory and honor, duty and love. Homer provides an example for pastors to talk to their congregations about all of these subjects. In some cases, he will have examples to contrast with the Bible, in others, he will have examples to compare to the Bible.
4. The Odyssey by Homer. This is my favorite book. The Odyssey, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, teaches us what it means to have the mind of Christ, what it means for love to beget beauty, what it means to remember, to forgive, to show mercy, to love home, to be faithful, to show hospitality, and a host of other topics. All of these come alive in the story and language of Homer, and therefore become wonderful examples for the pastor.
5. The Aeneid by Virgil. Another favorite, The Aeneid is a story about duty. Aeneas has to choose between love and duty, and duty–to our great misfortune–is a dirty word among Americans. Martin Luther quoted this classic more than any other classic in his Table Talks precisely because of the analogies and metaphors it provided his theology. It was also a favorite of C.S. Lewis’s.
6. Fairy Tales by Grimm. The Grimm brothers were raised on Luther’s Bible. Their theology seeps through their fairy tales–don’t be distracted by the Disney-fication of them. Fairy tales are already great because the moral of the story is so easy to see, especially for children. Grimm fairy tales are especially good because their Christianity shines through so well. Stories like “Cinderella” are over-flowing with themes of humility, love, transcendance, justice, redemption, and more.
7. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. This comedy of Shakespeare’s is a wonderful one. Shakespeare weaves throughout the story lies and deception, but shows how love can or should rightly interpret words. A man like Claudio should never have believed the lie he was told because love should have seen through it, while Beatrice and Benedick rightly believed the lies they were told because love told them to. Shakespeare cleverly shows the power of love over lies and deception and how it leads to forgiveness and how it acts as a covering for “a multitude of sins.” The only problem with suggesting this play is that I’ve picked on Shakespeare play over a multitude of others that could just as easily made the list.
8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien masterfully tells the story balancing the tension between love for home and love for adventure–similarly to Homer’s The Odyssey. The Hobbit is filled with episodic adventures that easily lend themselves to analogies and stories for the teaching pastor.
9. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Anyone who has read these, especially more than once, can offer suggestion after suggestion on why these stories are so important for pastors to read. Let me offer one: the loyalty and friendship of Samwise Gamgee. He is to Frodo Baggins what Jonathan was to David.
10. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. A great book and a relatively short read. The Old Man is a type of Christ, and Hemingway shows the disdain a community will have for its Christ-figure. A beautiful story.
A Warning. Don’t be deceived by this list or my descriptions. The reasons pastors should read works of fiction have little to do with their value as sermon illustrations. The authors of these stories (and others like them) are masters of observing people and the human condition. As a result, they help us to see the virtues and flaws, the victories and struggles that humans face and concern themselves with. These can be things we overlook as we face our own struggles and distractions. In other words, they help to center us on the most important things rather than the tyranny of the practical.
Another Warning. These authors are also masters of beauty. They help us to see beauty in people and a world that can often make it difficult for us to do so. As a result they form us in who we are and how we perceive this world. They change us, and that’s important.