My Top 20 Theologically Influential Books

Here I am stealing Aric’s stolen idea, but I liked it and thought it was interesting to see what made the cut. These are definitely not all overtly theological, but that’s just honesty. A lot of things that influence my theology don’t come from that field at all, and a lot of theology I’ve read doesn’t influence my theology at all. I didn’t number them because I didn’t want to get bogged down in trying to compare.

Japanese Death Poems by Yoel Hoffman
-a Zen master can say in seventeen syllables what most theologians can’t say in seventeen volumes

The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
-I led a little contemplative worship service around the Tao Te Ching once and I thought what came of it was pretty profound

Blessing the Boats by Lucille Cliffton
-one of the best poets alive, period

Cleansing the Doors of Perception by Huston Smith
-an entre into the chemistry of religious experience

The Bhagavad Gita
also used in a contemplative service – its old school like the OT, yo

The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman
-he makes it seem effortless

J.B. by Archibald MacLeish
-a play in verse about Job, and MacLeish’s case for being an atheist. Precludes easy answers

God of the Oppressed by James H. Cone
-God is Black. Enough said

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
-not theology, you say? Wrong.

The Powers That Be by Walter Wink
-probably the most influential ‘real’ theologian in my life

The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
-for all those exclusivists out there

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
-at one point in my life, this book was a lifeline

Marked by Steve Ross
-a graphic novel of the Gospel of Mark that’s almost as good as the original

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts
-Alan Watts is amazing, and became moreso over time. He died before he could complete this

Quantum Theology by Diarmiud O’Murchu
-quantum mechanics as a metaphor for theological reflection, anyone?

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
-LeGuin can go deeper than Gaiman, and in fewer words. This was my first encounter with her

A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.
-I was told by one of my professors that every human being should read this once a year

Tales of Good and Evil, Help and Harm by Philip J. Hallie
-again, an antidote for easy answerism

The Dhammapada
the Gospel of Siddharta Gautama, aka the Buddha

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Actually writing about how you construct theology out of all that is beyond the scope of this post.

(These may be subject to change as I reflect more – case in point, I realized I couldn’t leave out Huston Smith’s book)

10 thoughts on “My Top 20 Theologically Influential Books

  1. it’s interesting I hadn’t thought to include other religious texts in this category, but I guess you’re right – at least about the Tao Te Ching. I didn’t find the bhagavad gita all that mind bending, but then I’ve never gotten into epic poetry very much. After a while I just want them to get to the point of the story.


  2. i like how it juxtaposes themese of, say, war and fratricide, with a sort of treatise on transcendence. it has that OT quality of mixing things you find ethically disturbing with things you find profound – at least for me


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