I read a lot of books for information. There are commentaries, atlases, lexicons, and many sources of information in my library. I also read for entertainment. I like suspense and fantasy novels and tend to fluctuate between the two.
But then there are the books I read for more than just information or entertainment. I read them to be moved, to experience some of what it means to be human and some of what it means to contemplate the divine.
If I were to list my favorite Christian books, I might include the following:
Confessions, Augustine. The whole book is a prayer. The theology is imperfect and limited by his time and place. Yet the image of a soul yearning toward God and expressing that yearning publicly without hiding intimate feelings is priceless. Only a great intellect can bare their soul like this and not make reader’s wince. My favorite is probably the line, “Grant what you command and command what you will.”
The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis. It’s not about divorce. It’s about a field trip to heaven undertaken by some residents of hell. It’s a short book. I recommend taking a day off and spending it with Lewis. The fewer interruptions the better.
There are others I might mention. The Silmarillion by Tolkien. Some of the poems of Amy Carmichael. Anything by Lewis. Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship. I’m probably leaving out a favorite or two.
My experience with Jewish books is different than with Christian writing. I began this journey with God under Christian teachers. They taught me well in many things, but sadly taught me to mistrust Judaism. My first professor of Jewish thought had me read nit-picky debates in Talmud to make the point that Talmud is esoteric argument with little substance. Other teachers presented Jewish thought to me as a false religion to be deconstructed and never to be appreciated on its own terms. This graceless (sic) religion was deceptive and dangerous, I was told.
But I remember sitting years later with Everyman’s Talmud by Abraham Cohen and thoroughly enjoying myself. In time I became a fan of the Passover Haggadah and its way of commemorating and inspiring thought and discussion. For a class at MJTI, I read Michael Wyschogrod’s Body of Faith and later Goldstein and Knobel’s Duties of the Soul.
If I were to list favorite Jewish books I’ve read since, I’d have to include Elie Wiesel’s Night, a powerful, firsthand story of the Holocaust. How could I leave out Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, also based on firsthand experience of the Holocaust. Heschel’s Sabbath is a good entry-level introduction to his thought and from there I moved on to his The Prophets. I have yet to dig into his famous books like Between God and Man or God in Search of Man.
I’ve found that Jewish books easily give Christian books a run for the money (not that it is a competition). Those suspicions I picked up from my early teachers dropped away quickly.
The Jewish Book of the Month Club for Messianics
Coming in March, I will be promoting the reading of good Jewish books. I hope that a number of other bloggers will participate with me.
My criteria for books for this list will include: availability new or used on amazon, accessibility of the thought of the book (not too academic), importance of the subject matter for understanding Jewish life and thought, and potential impact intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
I’m working with some other bloggers now on details and hope we can work together. I’d be thrilled if we saw hubdreds of people all over the world reading these books together and discussing them. I’d love to see Messianic bloggers collaborating and see each of us share audience and have synergy.
I’d love to see you, dear reader, stretched intellectually and emotionally, by the virtue of good books.
I’ll announce the March selection with plenty of time to order.
What are some of the best Christian and Jewish books you have read and why?