Has a book changed your life?

Throughout the month of January, WordPress is sending participating bloggers a writing prompt each day. It’s a way to find some creative inspiration and perhaps make connections with other bloggers. My entries in this blogging challenge will appear here under the tag #bloganuary.

Yes, my life has been profoundly affected by a book. The “About” page on this blog discloses that I am a pastor, and given that information, some would understandably assume that book to be the Bible, and there was almost certainly a time when this was true. I love the Bible, and I have studied it, taught from it, and preached from it for many years, and yes, I’m quite sure the Bible has had quite an effect on my life. But when I consider books that qualify as “game-changers” in my life, quite honestly, and I mean no disrespect for the Holy Scriptures, today the Bible is probably in third or fourth place on a list that is topped by The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.

(If that last sentence got your dander up, I get it, and I’m sorry–John 5:39 has been helpful to me.)

I stumbled on The Divine Conspiracy in a bookstore (remember those?) in Denver, Colorado in the late 1990s, when my wife and I were there to help our church’s newly-appointed interim pastor pack up and move to Lawrence, Kansas. One evening while we were there, I needed a bit of introvert time, so I slipped off to the bookstore by myself for a couple of hours, and during an obligatory cruise through the “Religion” section, the title of the book, printed in all caps on the spine, caught my eye. I pulled it from the shelf and thumbed through it. I read two lines from the book: the first was the first line of the foreword, written by Richard Foster, the author of a book I was familiar with, Celebration of Discipline, and it read, “The Divine Conspiracy is the book I have been searching for all my life.” I knew Foster had written about spiritual formation and the role of spiritual disciplines in the life of the Christ-follower, and if this was the book he had waited for, then I knew I should read it.

The second line that I read was from the author’s introduction: “My hope is to gain a fresh hearing for Jesus, especially among those who believe they already understand him.” I closed the book, tucked it under my arm, and headed to the cashier’s counter to purchase it, but was distracted for the next half-hour or so when I saw that author Vince Flynn was there, speaking to a small group of people about his newest thriller. Before leaving the store I bought the book, along with one of Flynn’s, tucked it away in my suitcase, resumed the busy week of preparing for our new pastor’s move, and more or less forgot about it.

For whatever reason, I didn’t pick up Willard’s book again until about two years later, and when I began to read it, I could scarcely put it down. I was immediately drawn into Willard’s perspective on the Christian life as the life of an apprentice, and of the teachings of Jesus as subversive with respect to the conventional wisdom of his day. Much of the book is concerned with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5 through7), and these chapters still seem quite subversive today, in many ways. Willard’s vision was for a Christian life in which the follower of Jesus doesn’t merely tick off a sanctified list of doctrinal checkboxes, but actually tries to live life the way that Jesus modeled.

I’ll leave the book review there for now, but if you haven’t read The Divine Conspiracy, do yourself a favor and read it. In more recent years, as I have found myself rethinking my faith and re-evaluating what I believe and why, I have been amazed to learn how many others who have found themselves in a similar process (some call it “deconstruction”) have cited Willard’s book as a “game-changer.”

There have been other books and authors–Ian Cron, Peter Enns, Brian McLaren, Brian Zahnd, N.T. Wright, Rachel Held Evans, and many others, some who are theologians or pastors and some who aren’t–who have helped me discover and appreciate a broader view of the faith that still sustains me and excites me and which I am still learning. But without a doubt, The Divine Conspiracy got that ball rolling for me.

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