Just 25? Renovare’s Guide to Spiritual Reading

[Editor's Note: This post by Fred Schmidt is part of a conversation about the new book 25 Books Every Christian Should Read, featured now at the Patheos Book Club.]

Whenever an editor or a group of people (like the editorial board of Renovaré) makes the effort to identify a list of books that must be read, there are inevitable risks and easy criticisms that can be made:

In the case of this essential guide to spiritual classics, one might ask, just 25?

One could differ with the judgment that these books are “the best guides” to the spiritual life.

One could argue that being dead and the test of time is a tough case to make if C. S. Lewis (dead 48 years) makes the cut and John Wesley (dead 220 years) doesn’t.  (Wesley, by the way, had his own list.)

One could also quibble endlessly with the choices made.  As much as I value his work, why the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins before Gregory of Nyssa?  Or, for that matter, before John Cassian, Maximus the Confessor, Ignatius of Loyola, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Francis of Assisi, Desiderius Erasmus (who is too often characterized as the patron saint of skeptics), George Herbert (whose work warms the heart of every Anglican), Jeremy Taylor, Jeanne Guyon, John and Charles Wesley (sure to please every true Methodist) —- I should stop.  You get the point.

The editors know this and, for that reason, it might have been wise to call this compendium, 25 Books to Get Every Christian Started Reading.  When you finish here, compare what remains, for example, in John Tyson’s Invitation to Christian Spirituality, whose list includes 76 spiritual masters.  You’ve got a lot more to do — and with great benefit.  In spite of all that, I am grateful for what Renovaré offers here and what is worth noting is that the editors have 25 books that they want people to read.

As one who was reared in a mainline congregation and grazed the evangelical world for a time before settling down among Episcopalians, it is interesting to look back on attitudes toward reading spiritual masters.  It would be hard to document, but my general impression is that, on balance, mainline Protestants discovered these masterpieces through circuitous eastern routes — often arguing that Buddhism had meditative and spiritual resources that are completely missing in the Christian tradition.  Evangelicals, by contrast, showed almost no interest in finding those treasures, arguing that the Bible was all that they needed (all the while reading C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, Oswald Chambers, and E. Stanley Jones).

Over the last three decades all of that has changed and this volume, like Tyson’s, signals a recovery of spiritual reading that is both more public and more publicly catholic (read, universal).  The Holy Spirit, it seems, knows better than we do, what we should be reading.  And one can only hope that having drawn these treasures together, we won’t mislay them quite so easily, ever again.

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. is Director of Spiritual Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. An Episcopal priest, he also serves as the director of the Episcopal studies program. He is the author of several books, including Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of Luke (Morehouse, 2009) and What God Wants for Your Life (Harper One, 2005).

Schmidt’s column, “The Spiritual Landscape,” is published every Monday on the Progressive Christian portal.





About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.