Read like a Fellow: Book Recommendations from an Alumna
Updated: Nov 4
by Annie Monson
Fellows come away from their programs equipped with an arsenal of truth, encouragement, beauty, and collected wisdom in the form of a large stack of books. Authors become life-long teachers, and we readers continue to draw on their wisdom as we participate in their conversations across time. So we thought we’d collect and share with you some of those books that enrich our Fellows programs.
There are some things this list is, and some things this list is not. This is not a list of all the books that Fellows read. Nor is this even a list of some books that all Fellows read. It does not include the great volume of Bible reading that fellows prioritize. Fellows read more of the Bible than anything else. What this is though, is a list of some books that some fellows read, a list of books allied with the ethos of TFI, a list of books that have inspired fellows’ thinking during and after their program years.
This is a short selection from a long list of favorite curriculum books gathered from recent fellows and directors across TFI. We hope that if you pick up any of these recommendations, you are encouraged and strengthened by them. And that you simply enjoy them!
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This is Bonhoeffer's treatise on Christian community. Powerful in its conciseness, this 122-pager centers around what Bonhoeffer says is the goal of all Christian community: that “they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.” This vision for community impacts the way we live every part of life: our hours, days, seasons; with our families, friends, fellow believers; in ministry, in worship, in work, in our time with others, and even in solitude. Best read, re-read, and re-read again in any time of life.
Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber
Garber’s wisdom is foundational to the Fellows’ learning, as it brings us a broader and more comprehensive understanding of vocation. Garber says the word “vocation” addresses, “the wholeness of life, the range of responsibilities and relationships. Work, yes, but also families, and neighbors, and citizenship, locally and globally — that to which I am called as a human being, living my life before the face of God.” This book addresses our vocation, our call, to see the world with the eyes of Christ who knows the world with all of its brokenness and still loves it, and our responsibility to that which immediately surrounds us.
The Call by Os Guinness
Guinness presents the idea of our having primary and secondary callings. The primary calling for Christians is as followers of Christ: our calling is by him, to him, and for him. We are first called to someone, not to something or somewhere. Our secondary calling, then, is what we often think of as the entirety of our calling: our jobs and careers. It is here in our secondary calling that we as Christians ought to work as for the Lord, do everything entirely for him. This understanding is liberating to the reader who lives in a culture which says that our career defines and evaluates us.
Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller
To further social justice, to evangelize to coworkers, to serve God through excellence, to create beauty, to influence culture, to be refined through a challenging workplace, to follow passions, to earn money to give generously… These are all common answers Christians give when asked what is the value of work. Keller deconstructs these familiar thought patterns, acknowledging that while these are all good byproducts of work, they are not the foundational purposes of work. Our exhausted world needs to hear that, ultimately, our work has value as part of God's story of redemption in this world. Work is the process of God loving, caring, and nurturing his creation. Work reminds us that He sustains us, and looks ahead to a day when all work will be put perfectly right.
Why Work? An Essay by Dorothy Sayers
Sayers’s essay-become-Christian-classic, is her call for a “thoroughgoing revolution in our whole attitude towards work.” She calls us to think of our work as a creative endeavor, and as an activity which is not done begrudgingly for pay, but as a way for us to exercise our nature: to create as God creates. She criticizes the church for compartmentalizing the sacred apart from the secular, and calls us to realize the value of “secular” work as sacred. All in all, our work is God’s work.
On Systematic Theology
Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John M. Frame
This strong and clear, accessible and detailed overview of Scriptural doctrine, is accurately described by one reviewer as “vigorously orthodox and sweetly pastoral.” With chapters including, “What Is Theology?”, “Justification and Adoption”, “The Task of the Church”, and “The Means of Grace”, Frame unpretentiously teaches a wide and deep range of theological topics, all firmly set under the lordship of Christ.
On Culture & Worldview
Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr
In every era and every culture, Christians struggle to strike the right balance of being in the world but not of it. We argue that Christians should reject culture in loyalty to Christ; Christians should integrate closely; Christians should find some combination of those. Niebuhr insightfully explores the reasoning behind, and the problems born from each view. Thought-provoking and conversation-provoking, Niebuhr’s work has influenced Christian thought since it was published in 1951.
The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin
The universal truth of the gospel is unpopular to claim in a pluralist society where everything goes. In this book, Newbigin discusses the characteristics and challenges for Christians in such a society. He encourages Christians to see a mission field closer to home: within our local churches in this cultural midst. It may feel as though Newbigin’s writing is just as or even more relevant now than when it was published in 1989.
The Minority Experience by Adrian Pei
Pei speaks to both minority and majority members alike, to foster understanding and flourishing in our cultural space. Pei, an organizational consultant, points to three “filters”: pain, power, and the past, through which we can view race. These filters raise questions for readers that can be applied to both interpersonal and organizational contexts: do we seek to hear expressions of pain from others of different races? Do we acknowledge realities of power disparities? Do we include history’s impact in our understanding of the present? Pei grounds these discussions in submission to God, who by grace and power redeems, heals, and unifies.
Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age by Jay Y. Kim
Every era shapes the Church, and this digital era is no exception. What really makes a church relevant? Why does the Church exist, and what are it’s hallmark characteristics? Kim asks church leaders and all Christians to thoughtfully evaluate their answers to these questions. This book prompts us to be discerning about, and constantly attentive to, the ways our use of technology limits, hurts, or helps our discipleship, worship, community, and understanding of scripture.
iGen by Jen Twenge
Directors, host families, and mentors may find Twenge’s book helpful in navigating their leader-relationship with young adults hailing from a vastly different generation. The “iGen” is the first generation to be digitally native: raised with all of the technological accoutrements that other generations have been raised without, or without as many. But it goes further to explore the mental health, behaviors, relational styles, priorities, attitudes, worldviews, of the generation, and how it is shaping its teens and young adults and the culture around them.
On Spiritual Formation
Confessions by St. Augustine
To avoid what C.S. Lewis calls an “exclusively contemporary diet”, we look to the old books to find another recommendation. Augustine shares with us his intimate reflections, and the story of how his heart was claimed by God. He describes his flight from God, and his quest to find God again, determining that his fleeing God was really his searching for God. And beyond that, how his fleeing and his finding was really God’s pursuit of him all along. This 4th-5th century autobiographical and philosophical work has remained a close companion of many Christians since.
Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen
Nouwen winsomely, precisely, and concisely explores three “polarities” we experience as Christians: in our relationship to ourselves, we move between loneliness and solitude; in our relationship to others, we move between hostility and hospitality; in our relationship with God, we move between illusion and prayer. He calls us to “reach out” to ourselves, to others, and to our God. To do so, we must “address our inner restlessness, our mixed feelings towards others, and our deep-seated suspicions about the absence of God.”
You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith
The effects of reading this book are visible in both an individual and in a church. Those who absorb what Smith has to say, and take to heart his exhortations, will begin to audit their priorities and intentionally shape their time around what is most meaningful. Smith’s book echoes Augustine’s idea of rightly ordered loves, and reinforces the effect of liturgies, “heart-shaping rituals.” He brings awareness to the cultural liturgies around us, reminding us that we don’t merely perform these rituals; rather, they shape us.
Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson
Psychiatrist Curt Thompson draws on neuroscience to speak to Christians about spiritual formation. We were formed intricately by a masterful Creator, made in His image. And we are also broken in sin. What then does it mean then “to be transformed by the renewal of your mind”? Or, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind”? Fascinatingly, much of this transformation is practical: literally happening in our minds, in the rewiring of our brain’s patterns. Looking closely at neuroscience, attachment, and storytelling, we can make space for God to change and heal in our lives and relationships.
Fiction and Poetry
That Distant Land by Wendell Berry
With great imagination and tenderness, Berry presents the principle of responsibility in relationship and in community. This is a collection of inter-woven short stories set in the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky. What connects the people of Port William is not that they live in the same place, walk the same roads, or see the same sunset every evening. What connects them is their shared experience of humanity, the responsibility they have for one another, the inheritance of loss and redemption granted with each generation, and the implication each person has in their neighbor’s life.
Seasons of Thought by D.S. Chapman
Written and self-published by 2016-2017 Fellow, Daniel Chapman, Seasons of Thought is a collection of poetry in four sections, the four seasons. Each season in a lens through which to examine our human experience. Chapman sees poetry in the people and things surrounding him, thus giving his readers “eyes to see” significance, beauty, and truth in the things which surround them. This collection brings our senses to a higher level, making the ordinary things of life sacramental.
Telling Secrets by Frederick Buechner
Buechner introduces his memoir, writing, “I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell… They tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition - that what we hunger for… is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.” He writes that entering into our deepest secret places, we come closer to God Himself. His memoir reflects upon his father’s alcohol abuse and suicide, and the implications that secret had on his life personally, in family, and in his vocation.
A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson
Robinson layers her personal narrative onto the Biblical narrative of Moses, and in doing so, presents the power of a story told truthfully. She writes, “ I am an expert on being me: a black, Christian woman from the South. So that’s the story I’m telling.” By Robinson’s courageous work of writing and sharing her personal narrative, we’re invited to harness the same kind of courage: to open ourselves up, examine deeply, and expose what we avoid. The truth of our stories sets us free, and in freedom we go out as a people called to act for justice and mercy.
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