by Justin Rhorer | Pastor, Restoration Church
Ever since we’ve began worshiping from our homes, my bookshelf in my office has become the default backdrop of my sermon delivery. Beyond the subtle suggestions on how I need to straighten up my books (a wonderful source of laughter), I’ve had a number of folks inquire about the books on the shelf themselves. And while I haven’t the time nor energy to go through them all, I’d love to expound on 10 of the books that have been most influential in my theology and worldview.
I read as much as I can, and while some of what I read is more on the academic side, I’m going to keep this list to the ones that are most accessible to non-theology nerds. Instead, I’ll pretend that you’ve asked to borrow a book from me that has profoundly impacted my journey that pretty much anyone could enjoy. With that being said, here are ten 10 of the books I’d most readily place in your hand.
If you randomly chose to visit Restoration on a random Sunday, there’s a high probability you’re hearing a Willard quote out of me. This book is foundational for me in that is places Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as the central framework of understanding the Christian life. In this book, Willard calls us out of the “gospel of sin management” and into the embodied, dynamic reality of the kingdom of God. I return to this book often as a reorienting reminder of what discipleship really looks like.
Another guy you’ll hear a lot from in my sermons. As perhaps the most prominent New Testament theologian of our time, Wright has been extremely influential to countless pastors and theologians. In Surprised By Hope, he calls us out of a reductionary gospel that’s focused on a disembodied heaven and into the good news that God is (in his words) “colonizing earth with the life of heaven.” In expounding upon heaven, hell, and the future hope of Christians, he helps us reimagine not only what we believe about the afterlife, but especially this life.
I literally could pick anything by Peterson – all of his books have been invaluable to me. It’s no exaggeration to call him a spiritual mentor from afar. Not only is he a consummate theologian, he’s a pastor’s pastor. I read Peterson who I need to be put back together again. I remember reading this book while on a break at a conference in Colorado years ago. It’s about how to read – and more specifically, how we are supposed to read the Bible. I left there and bought everything I could of Peterson’s from that day on. I still do!
Here’s a quote: “The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.” Basically, this book was ground zero for helping me see that the Church’s constant pursuit of political power undermines their true calling to be the prophetic alternative to the world around us. This book was written in 1989, but it couldn’t be more relevant to our world today.
I don’t remember how I came to get my first John Perkins book in my hands, but it was in the middle of trying to be active in inner city “outreach” in our church. Needless to say, it floored me. I’d been naively entrenched in *well-meaning* yet very paternalistic, parachute drop, white-savior activities that cared for short term needs and not people. I was challenged to see what incarnational, community-focused ministry could look like. How I saw our role as a Church – especially now as Restoration in downtown Lexington – has never been the same.
The shooting of Michael Brown in August of 2014 jolted me out of my own indifference towards the issue of race. I had been a bystander to my own privilege as a white man. It led me on a journey towards reckoning with racism and injustice that continues to this day. And there’s been no book that’s had a more powerful impact in that journey that Just Mercy. Last year, I was able to visit Stevenson’s Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and it was a day I’ll not soon forget. If you’ve not read Just Mercy, do it now.
I generally don’t care for “leadership” books. I’ve had some bad experiences with the intersection of business language and the Church. This book, however, is the opposite. It calls leaders to a renewed vulnerability, mutuality, and humility in our journey with Jesus. This book is the best “leadership book” I’ve ever read – and I’ve read it multiple times. Like Peterson’s writing, Nouwen is someone I go to when I want to get put back together again after a time of weariness.
I grew up with an understanding of the gospel that was primarily transactional and focused on going to heaven when I died. In this book, McKnight expands our understanding of the Gospel based upon what Jesus seems to understand the Gospel to be… and he seems like a good source, right? This book has helped me clearly and more fully communicate the larger beauty of the Gospel – and treasure it more myself.
Ok, never mind – this is a tie with In The Name Of Jesus for my favorite leadership book! This book came along at a time in ministry where I really needed to learn my limits. I had a pattern of unhealthy expectations leading to weariness and taking way too much on my shoulders. This book forces you to confront your own emotional health as a leader and prioritize slow, loving, union with Jesus as the definition of success. I still return often for check-ups.
Ok, I cheated. This is technically 2 books. But I don’t exaggerate when I say that I read and listen to anything Mark Sayers says. He’s an incredible mix of cultural insight and Spirit-filled challenge for navigating faith in times like these. His podcast with John Mark Comer, “This Cultural Moment,” has profoundly shaped the way I see ministry in the 21st century West. These 2 books are a challenge for the Church to step into her calling and be a renewal people for the sake of the world.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some, and there’s plenty more I could mention. But these are 10 that I can say profoundly shaped me as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor. I hope this might spur you on to read and grow in the days ahead!