Fall Book Recommendations

faithcoop  •  November 03, 2023

Stack of books

A couple of years ago, we provided a five-part reading recommendation list for the summer. The hope was to share resources that would shape perspectives and keep a rhythm of gospel-centered reading in a season typically lacking in routine and consistency.

In the spirit of encouraging gospel-centered reading, the Faith Co-Op team is sharing our reading recommendations as we usher in the fall season and the close of the year. Some are rooted in the faith and work discussion, some focus on personal faith development, and some are just so good we pick them up annually to reread. Whether you’re looking for a book to challenge you or entertain you, there’s certainly something for all. We pray these books bring wisdom and encouragement to you this fall.

Ralston’s picks

  1. In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen

Since a college mentor of mine suggested this book, it is one I return to yearly (or sometimes more often). Henri Nouwen is always brilliant, challenging, and encouraging – yet this short book from his lectures at the Center for Human Development in 1989 is my favorite. Nouwen explores how Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) meets us in the many temptations we have in our leadership – and all of us have some kind of leadership God is calling us to steward. Nouwen will not give you three tips to better work-life balance, but that’s what makes this 81-page book so powerful. In the Name of Jesus provides paradigm-shaping calls to contemplative prayer, humble ministry, and surrender to community that makes it a must-read every year.

“When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required.”

Henri Nouwen

2. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

I learned about this book while reading another wonderful book, Liturgy in the Wilderness by Dan Marotta (an incredible book about the Lord’s Prayer). After the brief mention that Marotta provided, I knew I needed to read it for myself. Marotta spoiled the ending, but since it is such a moving conclusion I can hardly blame him. Even still, Greene’s book provided more than I anticipated. The Power and the Glory is a novel about a “whisky priest” in the Tabasco region of Mexico in the 1930s – a priest without a parish, running for his life rather than standing for the truth, and oscillating between service and self-interest. Are those things relatable? They are for me. What you get in The Power and the Glory is a beautiful story of how God shows up in exile – that place and time where His people are consumed with their fears, failures, and humble hopes. As we, the people of Christ, live in the Already and Not Yet of his kingdom, Greene’s book provides a piercing picture of the life in between, and how God is indeed working for his power and glory, not ours.

3. Art + Faith by Mako Fujimura

Art + Faith is one of my favorite books, and I am not an “artist” of the technical sort. Mako Fujimura certainly has a word for those of us who are paid for our artistic labors, but he also has a powerful word for those of us who forget there is artistic creativity in the spreadsheets we make, the friendships we keep, and the cities we imagine. In the opening chapters, you’ll be met by a powerful critique of our modern approach to “using” and “mining” things for their value to us – and no less in our Christian theology. What Fujimura helps me remember is that the truth of God, and the truth of my bearing His image, is that He is there to be enjoyed, delighted in, and celebrated with the same creativity that He demonstrates in His act of creation. All of us can participate in the things of God rather than using them.

This book is a wonderful Fall read because of Fujimura’s long exploration of Ground Zero theology and art. Recounting the trauma of being in the subways of New York City as the World Trade Centers collapsed above him, Fujimura invites us, with Mary and her tears, to weep on Jesus’s feet. By entering those places of trauma and grief with Jesus, we experience his comforting and powerful presence – and His beautiful tears. Jesus weeps with us. This is a presence that somehow transforms our grief into a piece of Kintsugi art, a Japanese form that mends broken vessels with gold. Jesus transforms our grief with His own tears, just as His own wounds are transformed in his glorified body. As the darkness of Fall grows, and perhaps the grief or trauma of holiday memories or the deaths of loved ones approaches, perhaps Fujimura’s words can help us bring those tears to Jesus’s feet, trusting that he gently and powerfully transfigures them unto glory.

Mel’s picks

  1. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

This is one of my all time favorites, especially during the cozier months of fall and winter. It’s a beautiful story of love and faith, but don’t write me off just yet if that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. To be honest, I’m not much of a romantic when it comes to reading. I don’t tend to pick up romance dramas from the shelf, but this is one of a separate category. It’s a beautiful, true love story that follows the lives of Davy and Sheldon as they transition from what they refer to as their pagan love in their younger years to a sacred love in their older years as they come to faith in Jesus after a transformative friendship with C.S. Lewis. From scholarly dinners building community in their Oxford apartment to timeless sailing adventures learning of eternity on the sea, Vanauken takes you on a journey as he recounts his life with Davy. I often reference passages from this book to put words to my own feelings of love, grief, and a longing for eternity.

2. A Lineage of Grace by Francine Rivers

Page-turner alert. A Lineage of Grace is one that I had a hard time putting down. The book is a compilation of five separate stories of five incredible women in the Bible – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Basheba, and Mary. Using historical context and a biblical foundation, Rivers fills in the gaps of each woman’s account in Scripture and tells the story of how God uses these unlikely women to change eternity. Not only was I unable to put this book down, but I learned so much about the culture that each of these women lived in. I have such a deeper understanding of the Old Testament, and a more cohesive view of Jesus’ lineage and the women that made a difference. The last book of the series is Mary, and what better time to prepare for the Christmas season than a story that delves into the mind of Mary and her crucial role in carrying God made flesh.

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

I had too many people recommend this book to not read it. And they were all right – it’s worth the read. The full title alone says it all: “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World”. Don’t we all need constant reminders of how to stay spiritually alive in a hurried, busy world? I certainly do. It’s a great book to read with friends or do as a book study because of the very practical examples and suggestions Comer gives for application into our daily lives. This is one I will likely add to the “reread every year” shelf at home.

Both sin and busyness have the exact same effect – they cut off your connection to God, to other people, and even to your own soul.

John Mark Comer

Jonathan’s picks

  1. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

This beautiful little book is one that I revisit multiple times a year. Brother Lawrence was a monk in the 1600’s who was known, not for his high status (since his roles were to work in the kitchen and repair sandals), but for his immense peace. It is said that people came from all over the region to meet him and learn from him. The Practice of the Presence of God is a collection of letters written by Brother Lawrnence and also people’s reflections on his life. Brother Lawrence truly believed that every task and every event in his life had meaning and purpose because it provided him a chance to commune with God. No matter how mundane the role, he knew that God was with him. This posture to his life led him to be a man of constant prayer and allowed him to have joy in even the most menial of responsibilities.

In my life I am constantly moving from thing to thing and it is easy to lose a sense of purpose in life. The reminder that the Lord meets me in all of my daily tasks and responsibility reminds me that my relationship with God is not based on my accomplishments but on his desire to commune with me. It also reminds me that no matter my status in this world, I am beloved by God and can faithfully fulfill the roles that have been given to me in each season of life.

Never tire of doing even the smallest things for Him (God), because he isn’t impressed so much with the dimensions of our work as with the love in which it is done.

Brother Lawrence

2. The Lord is My Courage: Stepping Through the Shadows of Fear Toward the Voice of Love by K.J. Ramsey

It is not hard for us to wrap our head around the idea that the world is broken and that pain and suffering affects our lives as well. We feel it in our work, relationships, and communities. In The Lord is My Courage, Ramsey walks through Psalm 23 as a way to show us how the Lord does not leave us alone in the most challenging parts of our lives. With a mixture of personal stories and theological musings, she gives the reader a roadmap for what it means to trust the Lord not only to meet us in our spiritual highs, but, more importantly, in our personal and spiritual valleys.

3. Faithful Presence: The Promise and the Peril of Faith in the Public Square by Bill Haslam

As another presidential election cycle begins it is easy to be discouraged with the role of politics and it can be hard to imagine what it means to faithfully follow Jesus in this sphere of influence. Politics is complex and messy. I am so thankful for the voice of Tennessee’s former governor, Bill Haslam, who two years ago wrote this book full of reflections on what it looked like for him to let the gospel inform the ways he strived to govern. This vulnerable snap shot into his decision making, relationship building, and policy writing gives a roadmap for what it means to have strong convictions in a pluralistic society. In the book he is the first to admit he did not lead perfectly but his desire to honor the Lord and to view all Tennessee citizens as image bearers of God is a wonderful picture of how the Gospel can shape a leader’s influence.

The only biblical way for us to walk into the public square is the way Jesus walked toward the cross. His motivation was his love for a broken and hurting people. It was not to be proven right or to win the argument or to gain power for himself.

Governor Bill Haslam