With the summer officially in full mode, now is when many people finally get some time to read that book – or pile of books – staring at them from the end table. Many of them are probably directly connected to becoming a better Christian or understanding God better. However, we can miss the benefit of reading books not explicitly “Christian” in their message, yet providing a strong lesson about Christ.
While “Mere Christianity” has its place on everyone’s bookshelf, here are five favorites of mine Christians should check as well.
“A Walk Across America” by Peter Jenkins. In the early 1970s Jenkins was a disillusioned young man complaining about America to a veteran. The old man firmly told Jenkins that if he took the time to actually get to know the country, he’d think differently about it.
Jenkins took up the challenge and began a walk that headed south through Appalachia and eventually to Mobile, Alabama. At that point the book takes a turn I, honestly, didn’t expect. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary becomes a key point at the end. The remainder of Jenkins’ walk continues with “The Walk West,” which I also enjoyed.
“All Over But the Shoutin’” by Rick Bragg. One of my favorite authors, Bragg’s writing style has always appealed to me. So, this would be high on my list even if the events described within didn’t take place mere miles from where I grew up in northeast Alabama.
Bragg communicates what it’s like to be the kind of poor that makes you feel like a different creature, one not accepted in dignified society. His recollections contained here remind Christians of the mountains others have no choice but to climb when, by comparison, we’re coasting along on a level, newly-paved path.
“Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. When I was a kid in the 80s I first heard of Louis Zamperini courtesy of a blooper video tape I received with my Sports Illustrated subscription. It was a clip lasting, maybe, 30 seconds, and told in a goofy style by Tim McCarver. Zamperini had been declared dead in World War II, then after coming back from the war fired the starting pistol for a race in his memory, since he had been declared dead.
When I finally read “Unbroken” I was legitimately mad at how his experience had been so under-told in that blooper reel. Zamperini’s story is mind-bending: his rise from a problem kid to running champion, surviving a plane crash in the Pacific and 47 days adrift at sea, enduring horrific abuse in several Japanese prison camps.
But while Zamperini’s story seems it would end with his return to America, it doesn’t. He continues to struggle. The redemption he experiences at a Billy Graham crusade and how he extends forgiveness to his former tormentors is something truly remarkable.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. There’s a very good chance you were required to read this in high school, as well you should have. Over the course of my 2 ½ years as a teacher, I guess I taught around 250 freshman Lee’s story centered around young Scout Finch.
Atticus, her father, serves as a role model for doing what’s right, even if it’s going to cost you. A key moment is the scene outside the Maycomb jail when Atticus talks down a lynch mob. He knows them as neighbors, even friends, but isn’t afraid to call out the sin they’re intent on committing. His defense of Tom Robinson also reveals the town’s collective sin of racism, something we can compare to Christ being the standard of right and wrong, not a community’s collective consciousness.
“They Call Me Coach” by John Wooden. It’s not only required reading for basketball coaches. Wooden was an Indiana boy who played for Purdue. But in 1960s-70s Los Angeles he became known for his Christian convictions as well as being the wizard behind UCLA’s never-before-never-again basketball dominance. Wooden’s Bruins won ten of 12 national championships from 1964-75, including an 88-game winning streak that’s still a record.
Coaching was always more than just winning, though. From his book:
“No coach should be trusted with the tremendous responsibility of handling young men under the great mental, emotional, and physical strain to which they are subjected unless he is spiritually strong.”
“The coach who is committed to the Christlike life will be helping youngsters under his supervision to develop wholesome disciplines of body, mind, and spirit that will build character worthy of his Master’s calling. He must set the proper example by work and by deed. It is not easy.”
Of course, not every player took Wooden’s advice to heart on living the Christlike life. But read their comments on his impact and it’s easy to see the impression he left.
Spiritually-focused books are important, of course, but we can also find inspiration from sources not explicitly Christian. Redeeming a culture originates from seeing it, and working through it, as Jesus did.