A Reading List: Books by or about Old Mostly Dead Christians

Why read books by old Christians?  Eugene Petersons says, “That means they have been tested by more than one generation and given passing marks.  That means that what these Christians have written has been validated by something deeper than fashion or fad.”  As I get older I find that I read fewer books that were written recently, and instead am spending more time with books and authors from 75 or 100 years ago, and many much older than that.  Don’t misunderstand me. I do not mean to say that I can’t learn anything from young, current thinkers and writers.   I often read them and I do have a few favorites.  But in a fast changing world where it seems like our theology and faith practices are being redefined every week, I am finding surer footing on the bedrocks expressed by the old authors.  

The list below consists of the books I find myself returning to again and again. These are the books that have shaped me and continue to strengthen my faith.  This is not an exhaustive list.  I have probably forgotten a few.  I may add others later.  I have included only books that I have actually read and benefitted from, rather than books I know I should read but haven’t gotten around to yet.  Who are your favorite “old” authors?    


Abandoned to God, about the Life of Oswald Chambers

The Autobiography of George Mueller

Borden of Yale, by Mrs. Howard Taylor (about the short life of William Borden, who died en route to the mission field, 1913)

A Chance to Die, by Elisabeth Elliott, about the life of Amy Carmichael, missionary to India

Daws:  The Story of Dawson Trotman, Founder of the Navigators, by Betty Lee Skinner

Evidence Not Seen:  A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II, by Darlene Deibler Rose

The Five Silent Years of Corrie ten Boom, by Pamela Rosewell Moore

The Hiding Place:  The Triumphant True Story of Corrie ten Boom, by John Sherrill

Life Lessons from the Hiding Place: Discovering the Heart of Corrie ten Boom, by Pamela Rosewell Moore

Letters to an American Lady, by C. S. Lewis

Safer than a Known Way, by Pamela Rosewell Moore

The Shadow of the Almighty, by Elisabeth Elliott

The Small Woman, by Alan Burgess, about the life of Gladys Aylward, missionary to China

Surprised by Joy, autobiography of C. S. Lewis

These Strange Ashes, by Elisabeth Elliott, about her first year in Ecuador

Through Gates of Splendor, by Elisabeth Elliott, about the death of Jim Elliott in Ecuador


George MacDonald: An Anthology, 365 Readings, by C. S. Lewis

A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baillie

Joy and Strength, compiled by Mary Tileston Wilder

My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers


The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis

Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry

Hinds Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo (Seriously, try reading the book.  Full disclosure:  I skipped/skimmed most of the lengthy chapter about the sewer system in Paris.) 

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan

Spiritual Growth

Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster

Of the Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis

Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A Resilient Life, by Gordon MacDonald

The Restoration of the Heart, by Dallas Willard

The Return of the Prodigal, by Henri Nouwen

The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis


The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard

The Knowledge of the Holy, by A. W. Tozer

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis


A Hymnal (You know, a book with old hymns in it:  Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, etc.)

The Christian Book of Mystical Verse, by A.W. Tozer

Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, by C. S. Lewis

Prayer: Finding the Hearts True Home, by Richard Foster

Toward Jerusalem, by Amy Carmichael

With Open Hands, Henri Nouwen 

If you want an additional list of books by someone smarter than me:    Take and Read, by Eugene Peterson


God is Not Your Boss

I don’t remember where I first heard the phrase, “make Jesus the boss of your life.”  I do know that I have never been entirely comfortable with it.   Even so, I have used it myself from time to time. Whoever first coined the phrase meant well, I’m sure.  It is an attempt to translate the concept of “Lord” into contemporary language.  Since we no longer live in an age of feudalism and those of us in the United States have little exposure to or understanding of royalty, the term “lord” can sound a bit archaic.  So, someone came up with the idea of expressing the concept of lordship as, “God is our boss.”  In other words, he is in charge.  He calls the shots and we answer to him.  On the face of it, this makes sense.  However, it has increasingly seemed to me that rather than being a helpful translation, it takes a powerful reality and makes it a puny shadow of its former self.  

If God is my boss, then when I work hard, he owes me something.
— Mark Vance (The Salt Co.)

This past September I attended the Kansas/Nebraska Collegiate Fall Conference.  Mark Vance, who is the director of the SALT Company in Ames Iowa, spoke on the theme, “Sons and Daughters.”  Along the way he exposed some inaccurate concepts of God.  At one point he said, “If God is my boss, then when I work hard, he owes me something.”   Like a lightning bolt it occurred to me in that moment that “boss” is much worse than a puny translation.  The term “boss” actually injects faulty theology into a person’s heart, often right at the beginning of their walk with Christ.  

There are many Biblical ways to think of God and each one sheds light on him and his character and our relationship with him from a different perspective.  He is creator, savior, judge, friend, etc.  But Vance said that “Father” is the New Testament name for God.  The most important concept God wants us to have is that of a Father to his children.  We have repeated the Lord’s prayer so many times that it is less than startling to us that it begins with the words “our Father.”  Vance suggested that to those first century Jews it must have sounded utterly explosive.  Surely their jaws dropped all the way to the ground to hear someone address God – and suggest that they too address God - as “our Father.”  This was brand new language to them.  I wholeheartedly agree that the primary relationship we have with God, the one we see unfold in the gospel, is that of a father and child. 

Of course, Jesus is also our Lord and this is an important aspect of our relationship with him.  But let’s not call him “boss.”  We are not working to earn anything from him.  He has already freely given us his forgiveness, his love and acceptance.  We are spiritually rich, not because of our hard work but because of his grace.  The truth is (to introduce another Biblical description of our relationship) we are his bond-slaves (or servants) and he is our master.  (Colossians 4:12)  He owes us nothing.  We owe him everything.   I realize that to our modern ears “bond-slave” is perhaps a farther stretch than “lord.”  It is uncomfortable language.  And it is much more accurate than “boss.”  

I think we must try to better communicate what these rich terms mean rather than merely replace them.  God is my father and I gladly declare that he is also my master.  But he is not my boss.    

God is my father and I gladly declare that he is also my master. But he is not my boss.