Lent starts this Wednesday, so its that time of the year where either you’ll google “What is lent?” or you’ll try to come up with something decent to tell people you’re giving up. Giving up things can be beneficial, but the wise people I talk to like to focus on adding something beneficial during these next forty days. Some people like to read something alongside Scripture during Lent that will help them draw closer to God, and sometimes those people will ask people like me what books they might recommend, and sometimes people like me will think of several that might be good and make that recommendation. So that’s what this is.
Please note that this list is entirely subjective and there are plenty of other great books to read during Lent. Feel free to recommend to me below.
This is a book that recognizes that to become anything requires “a long obedience in the same direction”–a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche of all people. Eugene Peterson, the author of the Message Bible translation, uses the psalms of ascent to walk through what it means and takes to really grow in faith. Lent is one of those times that asks us to stop thinking about immediate results, and just do something, the same thing, in the same way, for a long time. That’s why I think this book is good reading for Lent.
Merold Westphal is a top-notch Christian philosopher and theologian. In this book he asks us to try atheism for lent. He does this because he thinks that there’s some value and truth to what the great atheists of the last two centuries have said–even though he doesn’t agree on their ultimate conclusions. Grasping the “hermeneutics of suspicion” that people like Nietzsche (he keeps popping up, doesn’t he…), Freud, or Marx exhibit may not invalidate our belief in God, but it will help us to identify and discard harmful ways of thinking and behaving that tend to happen in religion. So, I don’t know, try atheism for Lent. Why not?
The idea of Lent comes from Jesus’ own wandering in the wilderness for 40 days prior to his baptism and ministry. Part of the point of the desert is that it is painful–physically, yes, but it also grinds against all the comforts that keep us complacent. It is painful. In this book, classic Christian author C. S. Lewis thinks about the problem of evil as a problem of pain. That is, there is something about suffering that is transformative, a kind of grace itself. We’re talking about universal kinds of suffering, the kinds of suffering everybody endures through the course of a normal human life; not gross injustices or irredeemable violence, so that’s helpful. Lent asks us to do some voluntary suffering, so why not get a little perspective?
The ascetic tradition of early Christianity (4th-7th century) is one of the richest yet untapped caches of Christian theology and practice. Part of the reason it remains on the fringes of Christian theology is because its hard as hell to understand. But, then again, part of the reason its hard to understand is because its written for people who are living it, and so practice becomes the foundation for grasping and appropriating this wisdom. McGuckin’s book is the best entryway into the wisdom of Christian asceticism. It organizes bits and pieces of writers throughout these centuries into three categories: praktikos (practice…); theoretikos (theory…); and gnostikos (something that’s more than knowledge, less than the mind of God). But again, its hard to really grasp this stuff without living it one way or the other, so what better time than Lent to read a book like this? …there is no better time, is the answer.
Plough publishing produced this compilation of texts from Christians all across the spectrum. It’s intentionally designed as Lenten and Easter devotional reading, so how could I not include it. Actually its the book I’m reading through during Lent, so there’s that too. The book takes a few pages from a list of Who’s Who of Christian authors, giving you a little to chew on each day.
I mentioned the ascetic tradition of early Christianity earlier. In many ways Climacus and his work Ladder of Divine Ascent is a summary and culmination of this tradition. That means little to the everyday person who tries to pick this book up, but I wrote my thesis on this guy so I beg you to put up with this kind of thing. In the past I have read through this book over Lent. It will challenge you, it will make you feel like you don’t love God as much as you thought you loved God, but it will also comfort you, sympathize with you, show you true humility, and maybe even provide some illumination. If you’re up for a challenge, this is a good one.
So that’s my list of recommendations. What books would you recommend for Lent?