Book Review:

Indelible Ink: 22 Prominent Christian Leaders Discuss Books That Shape Their Faith edited by Scott Larsen with foreword by Philip Yancey

I thoroughly enjoyed this book…and for different reasons than I expected. I ordered it because the foreword is by one of my favorite Christian authors, Philip Yancey, and because the title and premise (ask several well known Christian writers what books have most influenced them other than the Bible) were appealing. I expected to mostly get some ideas for a few more spiritual books to read.

When I actually opened and perused the book, I was concerned. The authors tended to be more of the fundamentalist persuasion than I usually prefer, so I was afraid that their recommendations might not be as meaningful or helpful to me. Two big surprises:

1) With a couple of exceptions, their writing about reading (all kinds of reading) was delightful and compelling to someone like me who is an avid reader and who enjoys reading about others who also appreciate the value of a rich reading life. Some of the authors wrote so beautifully and eloquently about the books they were sharing that I felt I had extracted enough value out of their descriptions that I didn't need to go and read the book they were discussing.

2) Many of the books that impacted these authors were not what I would call Christian or even primarily spiritual. These included works of Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Shusaku Endo, Alexandre Dumas, and Annie Dillard. Calvin Miller's essay was particularly delightful in expressing his joy of reading: “Why am I so narcolibric (a word of my contriving, meaning ‘print addicted')? Because every book I see says to me ‘come hither and I will make you wise.'”

Don't you just know exactly what he means? I do.

Walter Wangerin, Jr. also spoke about the importance of choosing books wisely: “Books open our eyes to the complex truths that simple, mindless stories simply have no name for.  So why not pick the best?…That's the influence of great books; they teach us how to see the world that is.” “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” (Franz Kafka)

Not surprisingly, the works of C.S. Lewis figured prominently in several selections.

It's very important to remember in a book like this — as was noted by Michael Card in his essay — “For almost as important as the content of the book itself is the timing of the moment when it first comes into your life.” In spite of this, I added quite a few books to my “check it out” list.

I made lots of notes and highlighted many passages:

The editor commented, in his introduction, on the importance of the books we choose to read (much like the importance of the people with whom we choose to associate). Any one book might have a negligible influence, but taken together, they can shape us. “One drop of red paint in a bucket of white will make no perceptible difference; one drop every day for fifty years will result in a bucket of red paint…books shape us, dynamically molding our minds and souls.”

One of the authors who was inspired by Calvin's teaching, found it helpful to remember the verse from Psalm 119:105: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” found that this image (as of a flashlight in the dark) is helpful to think about how we shouldn't expect to see much ahead of us, but trusting in God's light will be sufficient for the next step. The dark is the mystery.

Donald G. Bloesch says, “[Kierkegaard, Nygren, and Heiler] have all expanded my spiritual and intellectual horizons and have helped me recognize the way to reach outsiders for the faith is not by apologetic argument, but by sharing the gospel and demonstrating its truth in daily life.”

Donald G. Bloesch again: “I have found in my own theological reflection that the truth of God is not accessible to me unless I am in a right relationship with Jesus Christ. But paradoxically I cannot be rightly related to Christ unless I see myself as a sinner saved only by grace…” “A faith that will renew the church is one that respects mystery even while trying to find meaning within mystery.”

Gary R. Collins reflected on the book Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus about a caterpillar named Stripe who was told by a butterfly that he could fly too, but only if he would stop striving and become what he was meant to be. “Looking back, however, said Collins, “I wonder if I have spent too much of my life climbing and encouraging others to do the same. Climbing won't accomplish our goal. To get to the top in this world, to have the greatest impact, we need to fly. And according to Stripe, ‘you must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.'”

A lovely description of the Anglican Church by Luci N. Shaw : “…where mystery is sanctioned and celebrated, where the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, that pointer to the unseen real, brought me into Christ's real presence, and where incarnational reality–the recognition of God's fingerprints in human lives and Scripture and the created universe — supplied me, not with watertight proofs, but with a willingness to wait and listen for God, and to leave ultimate answers to him in that realm of mystery.” She says later, “…and what is faith, if not belief that persists in the face of paradox and mystery?”

John R. W. Stott, writing about books by Bishop J. C. Ryle, said, “Bishop Ryle clarified for me the differences between justification and sanctification. One of them is that, although we are justified by faith alone WITHOUT works, we are sanctified by faith AND works. And he showed that whereas justification is a crisis, sanctification is a process, in which there may be many deeper experiences.”

Walter Wangerin, Jr.: “When goodness confronts evil and does not pay evil back with evil, suddenly evil is made so apparent that even the evil one must recognize it.”

Ravi Zacharias: “Modern-day evangelicalism particularly has sacrificed language at the altar of ecstasy.”

Josh McDowell on what he learned from Changes That Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud: “It is biblical and honoring to God to set limits on your life — to set boundaries on what you do, how much you help, what you get involved in…I began to give myself permission to say no and still be a loving person.”

Larry Crab: “So often our relationship with God is not abut knowing Him, but using Him. As a psychologist, I have felt for years that most of us in American Christianity use God to solve our problems. In contrast, John of the Cross used his problems to find God…there is much more to the life of a Christian than making life work.” Elsewhere he says, “Sin is not just rule breaking; it is wrongly-directed passion. It's as if you looked at God and said, ‘Big Deal, I want something else!'”

There were a few places where I put question marks or “No, no, no!” but this book was a treasure of thought-provoking essays from interesting writers, and I'm sure many of the recommended books are treasures too.

What books have made the most difference in YOUR life? Please comment below. You can buy Indelible Ink today from Amazon by clicking on the button below.

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