Culture At Large

What novels are on your pastor's bookshelf?

Andy Rau

I admit it: I judge people based on the contents of their bookshelves. Well, maybe judge is too strong a word—but I love looking at people's bookshelves and trying to glean from them hints about their owners. I especially enjoy any opportunity to scan through the bookshelves of a professor or a pastor, because they tend to be bowed down beneath the weight of wonderfully musty old reference tomes and many-volume theology collections.

Well, maybe I'm not the only one. Brandon O'Brien of Off the Agenda apparently pays attention to pastoral book collections, and he has an interesting question: why are there so few works of fiction on your typical church leader's bookshelves?

There are obvious reasons why reference works, commentaries, and books about leadership would be more common than fiction on a pastor's bookshelf, but it's still a good question. Fiction has long been a place for authors to take the lofty ideas found in scholarship and theology and explore them through the lens of real (or at least believable) people and events.

So let me turn some questions over to you:

  • If you're a pastor or church leader, what (if any) works of fiction have earned a place on your bookshelf? Why those books?
  • What novels (again, if any) have taught you something you didn't already know about leadership, ministry, or relationships?

In his post, O'Brien lists four novels that he thinks every pastor should read—and they're good ones, so definitely check them out. Here are a few additional novels I might suggest adding to your pastoral bookshelf, if you haven't done so already:

  • The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, for its powerful message about brokenness. The protagonist is a weak, cowardly priest whose tortured acknowledgment of his own unworthiness paradoxically brings him closer to the heart of the Gospel than his more "righteous" peers.
  • The Samurai by Shusaku Endo. Endo's Silence is already on O'Brien's list, but The Samurai looks at the process of conversion from a very non-Western viewpoint, and really challenged my understanding of what it means to become a Christian.
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy, the classic look at life and mortality, and the desire we all feel to find a deeper meaning behind our existence. I read this along with everybody else back in college, but it really left me spiritually stunned, and it's on my bookshelf to this day.

I could go on, but I'm not a pastor or a church leader, and what I'd really like is to hear from those of you involved in ministry about what fiction you've used in the course of your work. Are there novels on your pastor's bookshelves? Which ones, and why? And what others might you suggest?

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Books, Art