If you want to know God, there is no better way to get to know Him than by reading the Bible.
Even though I spent most of my teens rationally understanding this, I never learned how to actually read the Bible to gain understanding and revelation of God. Thankfully, that changed as I got older, and a lot of that had to do with being challenged in what I was reading overall. When I enrolled in Bible and Theology courses in college, I was introduced to the words of great theologians, their love of God, and the knowledge they gained from His Word. With that experience, I present to you five books that impacted my walk with God and how I received His word. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but a sampling.
It’s the guidance of the greats demonstrating how to wade into the deep waters of God’s knowledge that helps teach us how to navigate the Bible.
1) The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
“We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past.” Chapter 1, page 4.
A bit of a confession to start: I haven’t finished this book. As I sat down in the Old Testament course in college, my professor discussed this book. It was written in 1961 by A.W. Tozer. Length is a total of 117 pages, but it is meaty. I have been coming back to read and finish this book for years; longer than I wish to admit. The reason is because I’ll read a few pages, and then Tozer will drop a truth bomb so heavy that it takes me anywhere between a couple days to a few months to stop thinking about the point he made.
You can’t rush this book, but as you work through it, your mind will be opened to such simple, yet profound truths about who God is. Also, it is so easy to think that a book written 60 years ago wouldn’t be relevant to what we are facing today, but boy, oh boy, it is very relevant.
2) The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen
This is a very raw, transparent story shared by writer Henri Nouwen and his connection to the artwork, “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt. In his fascination with the painting, Nouwen focuses not just on the picture, but the parallel journey Rembrandt has with the prodigal son as well as Henri Nouwen himself. The book is divided by each major character and how Rembrandt, Nouwen, and the reader share the journey of all three within the parable.
It is so universal to identify with the prodigal son, but have you ever approached the story from the perspective of the older son? Or maybe a more difficult question, what about connecting to the father in the parable?
“For, indeed, I am the younger son; I am the elder son; and I am on my way to becoming the father. And for you who will make this spiritual journey with me, I hope and pray that you, too, will discover within yourselves not only the lost children of God, but also the compassionate mother and father that is God.” (pg. 23)
The reason, at least for me, this book was so impactful was the vulnerability that Henri Nouwen shares as he writes this book. When someone is vulnerable about their journey, it creates a safe space for me to be vulnerable and tap into what I am wrestling with. This book establishes a safe space to open yourself up and make the discoveries Henri Nouwen mentions in that quote. I highly recommend taking this journey and experiencing new aspects of God’s compassion, grace, and peace in your life.
3) Love Your God with All Your Mind by Dr. J.P. Moreland
One of the most profound things I learned in college was what Jesus added to the greatest commandment. In Deuteronomy, as Moses shares his final sermon before the children of Israel enter the Promised Land, he gives final charges to them, and according to Jesus, the most important was chapter 6, verse 5:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
But we see in Mark 12:31 Jesus makes an update to that call:
“Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”
Jesus added the word “mind” to that call. Our mind is so important to God that He desires us to love Him with it. What does that look like? (Putting on my best infomercial voice) Well, look no further, because I have the book for you! Written by modern day theologian and philosopher, Dr. J.P. Moreland in 1997, the book is approachable, at times very amusing, and makes strong points about the importance of building our minds to love God with all we are. I highly encourage you to find this book and work through everything Dr. Moreland shares in connection with Jesus and our intellects.
4) Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue by Robert Johnston
Not surprising, this is another book that was assigned to me while in college, but it was the quote in the first few pages that captivated me and kept me reading for my own personal benefit, in additional to getting a good grade.
“The spiritual experiences that he (Paul Woolf) has were more often the result of simple things. He remembers walking down the street when he was four, holding his mother’s hand, and realizing that he was in the presence of God. His consciousness seemed enlarged to the point that he could hear every bird singing and every leaf rustling.” (pg. 21)
The book not only covers the history of the Church and Hollywood, but also connecting films to theology, learning how to be a critic, and understanding how film is art and can be critiqued from a Christian perspective. The book was originally published in 2000, so the films discussed are a little “older,” mostly films that were released in the 1990s. I would suggest to read through the book, watch the films, but then approach recent releases to see how it impacts your viewing.
This book changed how I experience entertainment and art. We find God in all things, but sometimes it takes the wisdom gained by others to look at something in a new way to step closer to who God is.
5) Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
We’ve all heard of C.S. Lewis in regards to Christian authors, and for good reason. Beyond “The Chronicles of Narnia,” C.S. Lewis wrote books that touch on the common issues Christians face. If you’re going to start reading his works, start with “Mere Christianity.” Originally this wasn’t a book but a series of radio broadcasts where C.S. Lewis spoke to the British citizens about Christianity in a way that was personable and logical. Eventually, the broadcasts were edited and updated to work better as a book.
The collection of talks is filled with wisdom, and even though presented to an audience during the 1940s, it is still timely and relevant today. But be warned, similar to other books I have suggested, C.S. Lewis makes points that might require you to wrestle through the truths revealed. There are times that God desires to tell us something, or call us out, and our human reaction is to be defensive. (I speak from experience – a lot of experience.) I would challenge you to take the gut reaction of defensiveness as a warning signal that you might have something to work through to step closer to God and the person He ultimately made you to be.
A point of encouragement that C.S. Lewis makes is, “Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself, but just this power of always trying again” (pg. 101). As you read through this book or other Christian, Theological, or Spiritual books that teach challenging points that tighten your gut and find you defending your actions or perspectives, consider that God is challenging your ideas and perspectives to embolden you to try again at the virtues He calls us all to have.
Bonus Book Suggestions:
- God Speaks Your Love Languages by Gary Chapman
- The Pursuit of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
- Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
- Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, & Douglas Morrison
- The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
What I Know Now
It’s not just reading these books that brought me to a greater understanding of God and a passion for reading the Bible – it was having great mentors, friends, and leaders that loved the Bible. Similar to Paul’s call to follow Him as he followed Christ, those that I admired in their Christian faith naturally led me to follow them as they followed Christ, and that was getting into God’s Word. The authors of these great books also kept pointing me to Jesus and taught me how to follow Christ as they followed Christ. And that is always the goal of reading supplemental books and getting into a Godly community of believers – drawing closer to Jesus and becoming more like Him. They aren’t a replacement for the Bible, but an added resource to guide you in understanding and deeper revelation of what it means to know God and know who you are in Him.
So keep learning, keep growing, and keep pursuing more of God because there is always MORE!
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