Two Spiritual Books You Ought to Read
Occasionally here I recommend what I consider really good books that I hope others will read because they fill a gap in many Christians’ knowledge and are therapeutic in the good sense—helping with spiritual formation.
Here are two I highly recommend; please look at them on line and read what others are saying about them and consider adding them to your “wish list” if not buying one or both outright.
The first is Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by my good friend and former student Austin Fischer (InterVarsity Press, 2018). Austin is lead pastor at The Vista Community Church in Temple/Belton Texas where around two thousand people gather for worship every weekend. Austin is also the author of one previous book Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed (Wipf & Stock). The latter book caused quite a stir and led to some public “conversations” between Austin, an irenic and articulate critic of Calvinism, and some Calvinist authors and speakers.
Faith in the Shadows comes highly recommended by yours truly, Scot McKnight, Carlos Rodriguez, Todd Still, and Bruxy Cavey. Here I will quote Still’s recommendation: “As I was completing my PhD studies, I found myself living in liminal spiritual space and walking on the shoals of skepticism. What is more, my recognition that any number of Christian pilgrims had walked a similar rough-hewn path before me did little to buoy my sagging spirits and to buttress my nagging doubts. Would that Austin Fischer’s Faith in the Shadows had appeared twenty years earlier! Be that as it may, Fischer’s book is both a barb and a balm—it calls us to be honest before God and assures us that skeptical saints do not scare God. My hope is that this timely, lively book will be widely disseminated and thoroughly digested, as it will help us hear and join a swelling chorus declaring ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief’.”
Faith in the Shadows is written for the numerous especially (but not only) young Christians who have been taught that doubt is a sign of spiritual immaturity or even sin. It is brutally honest about the human condition—including Christians’ human condition. Absolute, impossible to question certainty is not part of the human condition yet.
Please read and then adopt Faith in the Shadows for you book discussion group, class on spiritual formation, or just recommend it to Christians you know who feel condemned just because they struggle with believing what they think they are supposed to believe.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
The second is Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me—A Memoir of Sorts by well-known and influential Christian spiritual director Ian Morgan Cron (Thomas Nelson, 2011). It comes highly recommended by (get this): Rowan Williams, Richard Rohr, Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, and others. Rowan Williams? When I saw that I had to read this book. I was not disappointed. It’s the story of a boy who grew up without his father’s love but eventually (mostly) overcame his unhappy childhood. It’s also a story about Jesus and the CIA. Well, you need to read the book to understand that! I simply couldn’t put it down. But, then, I like stories about fathers and sons; I happen to believe that is one of the most complicated relationships (if not the most complicated one). If you’re not intrigued yet, get this: The book includes accounts of a traditional Catholic childhood in New York City, a childhood mystical experience of Jesus, Young Life and a charismatic Episcopal church, and alcoholism and depression. Extremely well written and positive without being sappy. Something rare in contemporary Christian autobiographies and memoirs.
Not to take anything away from these excellent books, I would still like to end with a bit of my own autobiography. I don’t remember very many clichés preached by the numerous evangelists I heard as a boy and young man growing up in a spiritual “hothouse” (fundamentalist Pentecostalism). But one stands out in my memory: “Doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs!” It wasn’t said as encouragement; it was said (loudly) as a kind of command. From the time I was a teenager I have always been somewhat skeptical about spiritual and theological pronouncements of evangelists, Sunday School teachers, youth pastors, and other would-be masters of true spirituality.
I can honestly say that I have never doubted 1) God’s existence, 2) God’s goodness and power, 3) Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, 4) miracles such as the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, 5) that God has been involved in my life supernaturally opening doors for me. (In fact, were I to write my own memoirs many people would find the course of my life almost unbelievable. To my own way of thinking it’s unexplainable without God. Someday I’ll tell it all.)
However, I can also honestly say that I have a mental habit of questioning almost everything else I’m told I have to believe—in order to be a good, spiritual Christian. Especially if it’s not provable from the Bible. Trouble began for me when, in Bible college, I dared to question two doctrines that I was being told not to doubt or question but only to believe: 1) the pre-tribulation rapture, and 2) speaking in tongues as necessary for being Spirit-filled. I simply couldn’t find them in the Bible. I read numerous books that attempted to prove them and was unconvinced. I thought and said (in classes) that they can only be opinions, not doctrines, because they are not clearly taught in the Bible. Eventually I was ostracized by my mentors and peers for daring to doubt and question “settled doctrines” of our tradition. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for students (and others) who honestly question beliefs that are not clearly taught in Scripture itself.
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