10 (+2) Books That Formed My Faith

In Miscellaneous by Caris Adel12 Comments

I love thinking about how my faith has changed and evolved, and who the people were that led me along the way.  I’m linking up with Sarah Bessey, who has had the best idea in the history of blogging.  10 Book Week (all the numbered books are linked to Amazon, even though it doesn’t look like it.)

1.Velvet Elvis

(plus Sex God and Jesus Wants To Save Christians)

Hands down, the most influential book in my life.

I picked up VE at a bookstore 5 years ago, because I had heard of it, but didn’t know anything about it, and it looked interesting.  Both me and my husband had hit a point in our faith where what we were doing wasn’t working.  The whole way we had been taught and learned….it felt restricting and not helpful.  Our world was kind of crumbling, and we had serious issues to work through…and the God we had been given seemed very insufficient.  So I was looking for something new, and I picked this up on a whim.  And nothing has been the same since.

We also began to listen to Mars Hill podcasts. (I have 266 sermons saved on my computer, starting with Wine and Heaven early in 2007 , and the last one is Genesis, Stay in the Boat, July 1, 2012.  I’ve missed some sermons….I skipped the whole Philippians series a few summers ago, where Rob was in character and was eating during the sermon.  It might’ve worked in person, but was horrible in podcast.)

A few weeks into listening to the podcasts, I heard a visiting pastor preach, and he was the second person to rock my world.  Greg Boyd and Rob Bell have been the most formative people in my faith world. 

2. Myth of A Christian Nation

A lot of this book resonated with things my dad had said to me over the years.  Having it concisely stated in a book, combined with his teachings (and even his open theism, which I’ve believed since I was little without knowing it!) has made him a perfect fit to teach and inspire me about what it means to really love and follow Jesus. And, funny enough, he will be at Mars Hill in August and I can’t wait to go and see him preach in person.  (Extra bonus, I have a friend who knows him knows him…like is super good friends with him.  I’m hoping she can go with me and I can meet him….that would be amazing :D)

3. Celebration of Discipline

This was one of the first spiritual non-fiction books I had read, and I loved it.  I read this way before Velvet Elvis and Myth of a Christian Nation.  I still don’t do a lot of the disciplines, but I liked learning about them.  It gave me a love of church tradition, and I realized that liturgy and high church ways were not bad.  It showed me that there were many different ways to connect with God, and just because some of them weren’t practiced in church, didn’t make churches who did them, bad.  I also realized I had been missing out on a lot of ways to connect with God in a deeper, more intentional way.  I liked that I had options to grow deeper with God that didn’t just mean ‘reading my Bible and praying’.  (along with that, the book 3 Colors of Your Spirituality is a great book for discovering the ways that you best connect with God, and then what disciplines work best for you.)

4. Terrify No More

(plus Just Courage)

In a rare event 6 years ago, I had the radio on.  I happened to pass through the room when I heard a male voice say “I think the hardest thing for people in our world to believe about the Christian faith is the idea that God is good, because they are in so much pain.”

I had never heard anything so profound and true before.  I sat down, stunned, and listened.  I continued to listen to the entire week-long series on Family Life Today.  (The transcripts are still available on their website.)  A couple of months later I saw Terrify No More at the library, and a short sentence at the end of the book dug it’s claws into me and has not let go.  It has been the turning point in how I view the world.  “I no longer ask where is God, I ask where are God’s people?”  Those two sentences combined led me down a much different path than I ever envisioned.  Gary Haugen and IJM have made me a fierce advocate for freedom, cultural awareness, and fair trade.

5. The Blue Parakeet

(plus King Jesus Gospel)

When I first read this, I didn’t know what to think.  Through my years of listening to Mars Hill, I understood the concept of reading the Bible as a narrative, but I just couldn’t grasp how to do it.  Ingrained in me was the fact that the Bible was history, factual, and we just needed to glean insights from the various stories.  But reading Blue Parakeet, I finally got how to read the Bible as story.  (The Story of God, The Story of Us is another good read that puts this into practice.) And then, when he fleshed it out at the end, talking about women in ministry, I didn’t know what to think.  I had always thought women couldn’t do much in church.  So I wasn’t totally on board with that yet, but that was a very soft introduction to the topic for me.  Eventually I came across Evolving in Monkey Town and discovered RHE’s blog, and she’s gone the rest of the way in showing me how women truly do have a place everywhere in the church.  I have been a follower of Jesus Creed for years, and his version of the gospel has also been very transforming.  His trouble with a soterian model is exactly what I encountered 5 years ago, and was what initially drew me to a search for a new kind of faith.  So I have loved learning a precise explanation for a new way of understanding Jesus and the Gospel.

6. Searching for God Knows What

(plus A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, and then Blue Like Jazz)

I actually liked Searching a lot more than BLJ the first time I read them, but now I like BLJ just as much.  I don’t have a lot to say on this, and I’m already running at a very high word count.  I just love Donald Miller, and AMMIATY is amazing.  It was more of a life-changing book than a faith-changing book, but still amazingly excellent.

7. Crosswick Journals

I discovered these after reading Madeleine L’Engle’s book on creativity.  I never liked A Wrinkle in Time.  I’m just not a sci-fi girl.  But these are beautiful.  She has such a poetic way of writing, and her insights into life are profound.  She has influenced me greatly.

8. Fidelity of Betrayal

(plus Insurrection and Orthodox Heretic)

I first heard Peter Rollins when he preached at Mars Hill.  (Other people I discovered through Mars Hill: Dan Allender, Skye Jethani, Scot McKnight, Shane Claiborne, Phyllis Tickle, Lauren Winner, Ed Dobson, and Shane Hipps)  This deep Irish accent was fascinating, and I immediately went and looked up his books.  The way he thinks and talks about God, and what it means to really follow God, is very interesting and compelling.

9. Mere Discipleship

I read this book by Lee Camp after hearing Greg Boyd mention it, or seeing it in a footnote of a book.  At the time I was reading it, I was having a lot of conflict with a church we were in, and basically everything I was reading in the book was stuff that wasn’t happening at our church, making my issues with it even sharper.  We ended up leaving that church eventually.  This really motivated me to see that there is so much more to being a disciple of Jesus than just going to church and having quiet time and being moral, which is what I had always been taught.

10. Culture Making

I don’t even remember how I heard of Andy Crouch and this book.  I heard of it before it came out, and then I immediately borrowed it from the library.  (I love books, but I am poor.  This is actually towards the top of my to-buy list because it’s been so long since I’ve read it.)  This book showed me that who I am, this very creative part of me, is not an add-on to my faith, or secondary to following Jesus, but that it can actually be a prominent part of what it means to follow Jesus.  That was very freeing, and I also learned the importance of making culture.

2 extras that were also pretty influential/inspirational.

11. Introverts in the Church

Going along with Culture Making, this book helped show me that my personality is not wrong or bad, or a hindrance to what it means to be a christian.  This one was life-changing in a personal way, and that deeply impacted how I see myself in the church. (Quiet is also an excellent book about Introverts).

12. Irresistible Revolution

(plus Follow Me To Freedom)

By the time I read this, I kind of knew everything he was talking about.  But what I found fascinating was that Shane did it.  All of his stories are amazing, and he really lives out what he believes.  I found that so inspiring, motivating, and very challenging.  (I got to have lunch with Shane at the Festival of Faith and Writing and that was so awesome.)



So if you were keeping track, that was actually 28 books that have deeply shaped and formed me over the past 5 years.  Because of them, and countless other authors and books, (usually from footnotes in these books!), I have turned from a conservative fundamentalists to a moderately liberal christian….and I have found such freedom in accepting who I am and how God made me, and what it means to to follow Jesus authentically.

What about you?  What are some of the books that have influenced your faith?


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  • http://www.kfsullivan.wordpress.com/ kim

    cool list. loved Blue Parakeet and Crosswicks.

  • Lindsay

    Love this list, Caris, and after reading your comments on Velvet Elvis, it’s now the next one I’m picking up. And I’m going to have to check out some of Scot McKnight’s stuff too. :)

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

       Ok, so confession….I can’t actually get into a lot of Scot’s books.  He’s a professor, and I feel like I should be taking notes when I read.  Blue Parakeet is the only one I didn’t feel like that with….maybe it’s b/c the topic was more interesting, I don’t know.  But I read half of Jesus Creed and half of Mary, and his Atonement book.  That one I actually really wanted to read and it had to go back to the library.  Maybe I just need to buy them all and work slowly through them.  It’s the same thing with N.T. Wright.  I’ve tried to get them from the library and can never make it through them.  I love Scot’s blog though.   Such a great mix of stuff, and his commenters teach me just as much!

  • Andrew Carmichael

    I have read several of the books you have listed here and also found them to be significant. You’ve now added several more to my reading list. A couple that come to mind that you do not have listed here are N.T. Wrights “Surprised by Hope” and Mother Teresa’s “Come be my light” which tells of her struggle with not feeling the presence of God throughout most of her life and ministry years. Also Carolyn Custis James on “The Gospel of Ruth.”

    Waiting in the wings immediately for me is “Half the Church” by Carolyn Custis James.Thanks for sharing your list. I’m always looking for good books that come well recommended.

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

       Come Be My Light has been on my list to read since it came out….I don’t know why I haven’t.  I think I would really like it.   I’ve never actually read any Wright stuff, which is funny because I know he’s influenced almost everyone I’ve read, and that I would like his stuff.  But he’s so heavy to read, I need to just buy the books and read them.  I thought Half the Church was really good, too.

      • Andrew Carmichael

        I think you will find “Surprised by Hope” to be engaging and not as heavy as you may anticipate. Yes, it’s theology, but he presents it in a very accessible manner. At least I felt so. I’ve read plenty of theology that was a real slog (even some really good stuff) but this book didn’t feel that way.

        • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

           That’s what I’ve heard, and that’s why I want to try him….I need to just buy it and spend a few weeks with it.

  • http://www.emergingmummy.com/ Sarah Bessey

    I love that you did 28 instead of 10. THAT is a book lover! woo hoo! So many of these are on my ‘short list’ that didn’t quite make the cut. (But watch for the Crosswicks journals later this week…) So glad you’re joining in! xo

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

       Yay, can’t wait to hear what you have to say about Crosswicks.  I constantly dip into them.  Once you’ve read them once, they make for such great “I only have 2 minutes but want to read something deep” times.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=689557465 Sean Gladding

    Caris – I’m glad you found my book helpful. Thanks for the shout out. Most of your 10 (28) books are on my shelves. And I highly recommend “Surprised By Joy” – hard work, but well worth it!

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

       and this is why the Internet is awesome :)  We’re going to start reading through it with our kids in September and I can’t wait for that.  I’d love for them to grow up with a narrative view of the Bible :)

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