Thursday, April 26, 2012

my favourite Christian novels (what I'm reading: Tony Reinke's Lit!)

How do you choose what to read? So far, I've talked about two of Tony Reinke's six categories for reading: theology and reading for pleasure. Here's a third: reading to kindle spiritual reflection.

I think it's fantastic that Reinke included this category of reading. It's not one I've thought much about. But it's one that has grown my faith and brought me great joy over the years.

So what does he mean by books that kindle spiritual reflection? Not books about theology or Christian living, but novels and poetry and biography and history: books by Christians that help us reflect deeply on faith, grace, sin, death, and eternal life.

Let's start with novels. Here's a short list of favourite writers whose novels have kindled spiritual reflection in me: CS Lewis, Elizabeth Goudge, Patricia St. John, Marilynne Robinson, Francine Rivers, Bo Giertz and George MacDonald.

If you recognise the names, you know they're a mixed lot, from evangelical (Francine Rivers) to Anglo-Catholic (Elizabeth Goudge) to universalist (George MacDonald). I read them with discernment. But in different ways they feed my faith, enlarge my joy, deepen my experience of grace, and spur me on to love and obedience.

CS Lewis needs little introduction, except to say this: if you haven't already, read the Narnia series and The Screwtape Letters and his autobiography Surprised by Joy. I also love his Perelandra trilogy (particularly for sci fi and fantasy fans), When we have faces (a Greek myth retold), and The Great Divorce (the theology is unreliable, but the reflections on sin and temptation are profound). What's your favourite CS Lewis novel?

Elizabeth Goudge, author of the children's book The Little White Horse, comes in second place because she is a true encourager to me. My mum used to pick up her novels whenever we went to the second hand bookshop. While I don't agree with everything she writes, I love her books dearly, especially The Dean's Watch. Her characters discover and re-discover faith, learn about suffering and faithfulness, and grow in hope and love. I'm always left with a bunch of quotes I want to meditate on further. I'll share some with you soon!

I grew up reading Patricia St. John, a missionary who wrote lots of Christian classics for children. If you're a Christian parent, make sure you get hold of Treasures of the Snow, The Tanglewood's Secret, Rainbow Garden and Star of Light, especially the first. They will teach your children - and you - huge amounts about the gospel, and they're well-written and absorbing, with strong narratives and likeable characters.

If you're a Christian woman, chances are you've picked up a Francine Rivers book. If you haven't, try Redeeming Love, a novel about a "lost woman" loved by a Christian man, based on the story of Hosea: an allegory of the gospel in the guise of a relatively well told romantic novel. I also love her five short biographies of women from the Bible, A Lineage of Grace, especially the story of Tamar (there's a similar book about men from the Bible called Sons of Encouragement).

I was glad to see Marilynne Robinson on Tony Reinke's list. Her novels are a rare treat: she's only written three, and they're so carefully and thoughtfully written that you have to wait years for each one to come out! My favourite is Gilead, an aging pastor's letter to his young son, with Home close behind (see my summer reading and Meredith's review). These are literary masterpieces from the best-seller lists, as well as novels with thought-provoking Christian content.

Bo Giertz was a recent discovery for me, thanks to Wendy's review of The Hammer of God. This story of three pastors is not an easy read, but it's well worth the effort: it will help you dig more deeply into God's grace as each of these young pastors come to understand it for the first time. The Knights of Rhodes, a historical novel about the crusades, is also a good read in which the main character comes to understand grace more deeply.
George MacDonald was a great influence on CS Lewis, and some of his books for children - The Princess and the Goblin (see this quote) and The Little Princess - have done more than most to encourage me in courageous, trusting holiness. These two books are well worth reading to your children or reading yourself if you love books for young people.

That's my short list of favourite Christian novels that have encouraged me and grown my faith. I'd love to talk about Christian poetry too, but I'll leave that for another day.

What about you? What are your favourite Christian novels that kindle spiritual reflection in you? Tell us about them here.

image is by Sapphireblue at flickr


Sarah said...

I loved this list and had so much fun reading it. Thank you. One book that stirred me was Stepping Heavenward by Mrs E Prentiss. Was so inspired that I then read a biography about her.
As a child I adored Pollyanna and it shaped stuff for me personally - looking for the positives in difficult situations. I used to read this again and again.
I also love Katherine Paterson - Bridge over Terabithia - something about it.
The other book that I read last year that did this was to read the Jesus Storybook Bible for myself from cover to cover - by Sally Lloyd-Jones. I found myself hungering and thirsting to keep reading, I got excited about the story of Jesus and was comforted and encouraged - all at once. Quite profound. A few of my friends have had a similar experience.

Jean said...

I love Bridge over Terabithia too! And the Jesus Storybook Bible. Haven't read the Prentiss one - will have to try it. Love Jean.

Wendy said...

Thanks so much Jean, I have been thinking about reading more Christian fiction, but wasn't really sure where to start - now I have some great ideas!


Meredith said...

Did you know, my kindred spirit, that The Dean's Watch is the first book I borrowed from the grown ups' section of the library, when I was FINALLY allowed to move from the children's section. And I remember loving it, especially the detail of the inner workings of real wind up watches. I haven't read it ever again...another one to put on the (at the moment) burgeoning list. What a nice memory. Thanks. Mx

Carolyn Weber said...

This is all very helpful, Jean! I'm a huge fan of Reinke and literature lover myself. I've gone back through your posts now and look forward to more. Terrific stuff!

Unknown said...

C.S. Lewis’ works and Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia are interesting choices for Christian novels. I like how their works make you contemplate and reflect on faith even if it is in the fantasy genre. I remember watching “Bridge to Terabithia” and it made me tear up that I had to hold it back so that my sisters would not tease me. It really is a great novel and movie!

Dalene Croff