When Cleland Professor of Preaching Richard Lischer reads for pleasure, he chooses among fiction, autobiography, memoir, and poetry.
Sometimes these books inspire courses, such as “The Life of Faith,” in which he and his students read and discuss Christian autobiographies and memoirs.
“When it comes to fiction and poetry,” says Lischer, “I find myself returning to old books and reading them far more slowly than before, sometimes line by line, in the hope that this time the fine writing, and not just the ideas, will sink in.”
Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William Cavanaugh
I am preparing to give lectures on preaching in a time of loss, economic and otherwise, and Cavanaugh’s book, like all his work, offers a helpful alternative to the culture of consumption.
The New Measures: A Theological History of Democratic Practice by Ted A. Smith
What a smart essay on the inextricable relation of democracy and popular religion in America. At the center of the book is the master evangelist Charles G. Finney and his “new measures,” by which he changed the culture of preaching forever.
For Lent and Easter
For Lent I recommend The Poems of George Herbert and especially “The Sacrifice,” a long liturgical recitation of Christ’s trial and death. Herbert is the finest religious poet of the 17th century and perhaps of any century.
I always discover illuminating insights in Rowan Williams’s series of devotional essays, Resurrection. It is not so much a defense of the resurrection of Jesus as a meditative appropriation of it.
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
A surprising choice for a theologian, but this book, along with her four essays on poverty that recently appeared in The New York Times, opened my eyes to the trials of the working poor like no other. These are the folks we see in our congregations every Sunday. I was especially taken by her phrase “the pornography of poverty,” by which she means the inspirational little lessons that the unpoor derive from the losses of others. Preachers beware!
The Comedians by Graham Greene
Greene is my favorite fiction writer. I love not only his “Catholic” novels like The Heart of the Matter and The Power and the Glory, but what he called his “entertainments” as well: Brighton Rock, The Third Man, The Human Factor. For my money, no one explores the agonies of losing faith or having faith—or being possessed by the claim of Jesus—than the “bad Catholic” Greene.
Can’t Wait to Read
The next book by Wallace Stegner, Flannery O’Connor, John Updike, or Graham Greene—too bad they’re all dead! I’ll settle for Updike’s last: My Father’s Tears: And Other Stories.