12 Books that Shaped My Life and Why

Certain books have a way of shaping you – they stay with you – and you keep going back to them. If reading had been a thing in Jesus’ day, he would have been a big reader. There are two reasons I say that: 1. Reading makes us better human beings. Jesus was all about making people better human beings; 2. William Nicholson wrote, “We read to know that we are not alone.” Jesus’ recurring mantra – you are not alone.

Reading Books


12 Books That Shaped My Life

So — Was Jesus a voracious reader? No. Few in his world were even literate. And the few who were had little material to read. But, Jesus was a voracious learner. We find him debating in the temple at the age of twelve. A conversation was the only way to learn, and debating was the “book-reading” of Jesus’ day. Greco-Roman rhetoric was a national sport.


You’ll notice that most of the books on my list were read when I was young or “young” in ministry. That’s because these are the books that shaped me, mostly at an impressionable age or time in my life.


NOTE: I’m NOT including the BIBLE in this list. Hopefully, it goes without saying that the Bible is the book that has most shaped my life.


Paul Sweeney said, “You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” Here are twelve books that did that for me, and why.


1. Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

It was formative in my understanding of justice, the human spirit, and the rhetoric that can be truly prophetic.


Paolo Freire


2. To Walk as He Walked by T.B. Maston

Jesus appears on every page, and it is so simple you think to yourself, “I could have written this.” But you couldn’t.


3. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It was the first book I read when I got to seminary. Bonhoeffer lived it out and died for it.




4. My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

After 30 years of reading it, it still kills me.


5. The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner

I couldn’t speak for an hour after I finished reading it—just like when I walked out of the theater after watching Schindler’s List for the first time.


6. Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman

It is the closest thing to the Spirit of Jesus in book form, outside of the gospels.




7. Cathedral by Raymond Carver

I love short stories, and Carver was the best at the craft, and his stories always ring true.


8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I was young and impressionable when I first read it, and if a book could make me feel this way—it made me want to read everything.


Harper Lee


9. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Again — I was young and impressionable, and it was the truest and scariest book I’d ever read.


10. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

It is so wonderfully innocent and tragic and just like real life.



11. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

It’s about everything, but mostly because he was an inspiration to me as a Latino.


12. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

It’s one of the fiercest searches for truth I’ve ever read, and impossible to describe — you just have to read it.





The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss





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