15 Authors

This started as a Facebook meme. The “rules” were to make a list of 15 authors who have influenced you. The Facebook note I wrote just had the list of names, but I thought it would be fun to write an “expanded version” with some explanation about why I chose them and how they’ve influenced me.

This list was off the top of my head, and as a consequence, I think it’s a bit biased toward authors I’ve read more recently. The list might be a bit different if I made it while staring at my bookshelf. Even now, I”m realizing I should have included Jurgen Moltmann, GK Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, and maybe Paul Louis Metzger. But I also don’t know who would be removed from the present list to make room for them. At any rate, here it is:

1. St. Luke – OK,  I know that a pastor picking an author of Scripture as a writer who’s influenced him is about as cliché as a beauty queen using the phrase “world peace.” But the Bible is the one book I read from everyday, so it would seem almost dishonest not to include at least one of Scripture’s authors. Since the ‘rules’ limited me to 15 authors, I decided only to include one writer of Scripture. I chose Luke (who wrote Luke and Acts) because I’ve been very struck in recent years by how he portrays both Jesus and the Church in very similar ways.

2. St. Augustine – It’s rare that I read a book more than once. I’ve read The Confessions three times – first in college, then in my first year of seminary, and most recently in my first year as a pastor. I suspect I may read it again after another major life transition. Reading Augustine’s meditations on his past inspired me to do the same, and enabled me to see God’s presence in my life in ways I hadn’t before.

3. Gerard Manley Hopkins – Hopkins was a poet and a Jesuit priest. He struggled for quite a while about whether he was to pursue the priesthood or poetry. Finally, a friend said to him in a letter, “one vocation doesn’t cancel out the other.” In other words, Hopkins wasn’t to be just a priest or a poet, but a priest who writes poetry. The result was a priest with the creativity of a poet, and poetry with the faith and discipline of the priesthood. Hopkins’ own life example has taught me about doing ministry as a whole person, and that interests that I have “outside” of ministry are, in fact, a part of my vocation as a pastor.

4. Michael Frost and Alan HirschThe Shaping of Things to Come was, as I recall, the first book I read after seminary, and the first book The Upper Room’s initial leadership team read together. Their teaching about what it means to be “missional” has deeply influenced my work and the culture of the church that I’m planting.

5. Don Everts and Doug Schaupp – Their book, I Once Was Lost, is possibly the best book on evangelism that I’ve read, and is influencing the InterVarsity end of my ministry in big ways.

6. Neil Postman – I read Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death in college. It introduced me to the concept of unintended consequences, and that all that we call “progress” (television, internet, cell phones, etc.) can also cause just as much regress.

7. NT Wright – Wright makes the list in part because of how many books of his I’ve read (and probably will read in the future). More significantly, he’s introduced me to interpretations of the New Testament that, while faithful, are also outside of the box of what I’ve been taught in the past.

8. CS LewisMere Christianity was the book that helped me answer more clearly the question of why I believe. It probably aided my intellectual conversion more than any other book apart from the Bible.

9. Phillip Yancey – Like Wright, Yancey makes the list because of number of books I’ve read from him. Most of them were in college. It’s been a while, and I’m not sure if I would enjoy his stuff now as much as I did then. Nevertheless, it certainly shaped me in big ways.

10. John Calvin – For a Presbyterian, this is almost as cliché as including the Bible. But, I spent a good deal of time in the Institutes while in college, and then even more time in seminary. Reading them helped me better understand my own tradition.

11. Karl Barth – I was first introduced to Barth in college. We didn’t actually read Barth. We read about him, and listened to our professor talk about him. People in the class questioned his salvation. (Gotta love Grove City…) I finally read him for myself in seminary, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would doubt his faith. Most of what I’ve read from Barth has had to do with sanctification/holiness and mission. He’s had a great deal of influence on my thinking of both.

12. John Webster – I read Webster’s book Holiness in seminary. More than any other book, it made me realize how important the role of the Church is in one’s spiritual growth. Reading this book is what first made me think about a PhD that would focus on ecclesiology.

13. Anton Chekhov – Since I minored in theatre in college, I needed to include at least a couple of playwrights on this list. I enjoyed reading several of Chekhov’s dramas. But I really like his one-act comedies. I directed The Boar for one of the One Act Festivals at Grove City, and still have fond memories of that.

14. William Shakespeare – I remember struggling with Shakespeare in high school. We did several projects/workshops in our high school drama class of several Shakespeare scenes, and I felt completely lost as to what was going on. Finally in college, I presented a scene from the Taming of the Shrew for my Oral Interpretation class. It was the first time I actually understood Shakespeare, and it felt like a small victory.

15. Albert Hsu – Hsu’s Singles at the Crossroads has helped me understand my being single and place it within a sense of God’s purposes. It helped me to see how the church and our culture are both biased against singleness, but more importantly, it helped me see singleness as a gift to appreciated as much as marriage.

Catching Up On Blogging

It’s been a while since I last updated on here. I’ve been meaning to post for a while, now. The problem has been that the past two weeks have been a combination of being busy with not having immediate access to the internet, which has resulted in no new postings since mid-July. There are a number of things I’ve been wanting to write, and that list keeps growing. So, I’m going to catch up right now by covering everything in one fell swoop. Buckle your seatbelts, here we go….


New Wilmington Mission Conference


This is the third year I’ve worked on the conference staff, and in terms of speakers, this has to be the best of the three. If you have a chance, I strongly encourage you to check out the sermons from the conference by Jim Martin (of International Justice Mission) and Ken Bailey. The impact of Jim’s sermon was incredible. It felt as if he took the whole congregation through crucifixion and resurrection. Ken Bailey is always brilliant, but in this particular sermon, his intellect as a New Testament Scholar is combined with his passion as a missionary of Jesus Christ.


Thinking About Patience


I’ve been spending time lately reading the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (a Victorian-era poet and Jesuit Priest). I’m planning on writing a full post about him once I finish the volume I picked up. But for now, I just want to share a portion of a poem that stuck out to me:


Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,

But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks

Wants wars, wants wounds; weary his times, his task;

To do without, take tosses, and obey.


Reading this showed me that when I ask for patience, what I’m usually asking for isn’t patience at all, but simply relief of my hardship or discomfort. But asking for patience is a dangerous thing. Asking for patience means asking for wars and wounds. It means asking for contentment within hardship, not relief of hardship. Maybe we need to recover some of the earlier translations of scripture that, instead of using the word “patience,” use the term “long-suffering.”


From Fantasy to Imagination


I can’t remember now whether I read this recently or heard it in a sermon. (My best guess is that I read it either in Dangerous Act of  Worship or Shaping of Things to Come). Somewhere, though, someone talked about serving God with imagination. Something that stuck out to me is that a defining characteristic of imagination is practice. Having creative ideas about ministry (or serving God more generally) is useless if we don’t put those ideas to use. Imagination that stays in our heads isn’t imagination at all; it’s fantasy.


I’m noticing that I’m much better at fantasy than at imagination. Maybe it’s because fantasy is safer. If ideas stay in my head, they won’t be criticized by others, and more importantly, they won’t fail. Fantasy, though, is also useless.


As Chris and I continue with the church planting work, we’re beginning to grow restless. We’ve been spending a lot of time talking about plans and ideas with others, writing about them in a grant proposal, and praying about them. I think our restlessness, at least in part, comes from a strong desire for this new church not to be a fantasy, but a reality brought about by God’s Spirit gifting us with imaginative vision.


Church Basement Roadshow


The Church Basement Roadshow, a book tour featuring Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and Mark Scandrette, came through Pittsburgh last Saturday night. I appreciated what all three had to say. One thing that disappointed me, though was who attended, or perhaps it’s better to say who didn’t attend.


The event was hosted by Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community (with help from the Open Door and Emergent Pittsburgh). As much as I like Hot Metal, I’m not sure that was the best location for the event. This isn’t because I have anything against HMB. I think they’re one of the best examples in Pittsburgh of how to do church faithfully in a particular neighborhood. And that’s just it. Most of the people at Hot Metal Bridge (and the Open Door and other Emergent churches) already get it. The people who most needed to hear and learn from Jones, Pagitt and Scandrette are those in mainline churches who are struggling to do ministry faithfully and effectively in a 21st century context. It’s a shame most leaders from those churches didn’t come.