Back in the 70s I was trudging through the planning phase of a masters thesis on Puritan devotional poetry, and I happened to catch lunch with someone who read me a quote from an unknown (to me) Southern writer: Walker Percy. With Percy, I embarked on one of the most rewarding reading adventures of my life - and eventually switched thesis topics. His novels - my favorites were The Last Gentleman and The Second Coming - stimulated my intellect and imagination, and his essays, especially those in The Message in the Bottle, were formative in my theology.
Along with Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis, other authors have been formative - perhaps re-formative would be a better word. Lesslie Newbigins The Open Secret remains my favorite, though all his work is helpful. His missiological viewpoint on Christian faith has been seminal for the Gospel and Our Culture Network, Emergent, and many other networks. His reappraisal of the Reformed doctrine of election is revolutionary, brilliant, and, I believe, right.
Few authors write poetry, essays, novels, and short stories - and do all well. Fewer still do so with a keen spiritual sensitivity. Wendell Berrys Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community contains sparkling essays; A Timbered Choir brims with inspiring poetry.
What happens when you cross an intellectual interest in the historical Jesus with an evangelical heart? N.T. Wright. His three-volume magnum opus is a treasure, and its leading to profound reappraisals about Jesus and Paul. Wright got me asking, "What is the gospel anyway?" - and helped me find new, and I believe far better, understandings.
Walter Brueggemann has helped me see the Bible in a post-critical, post-liberal, and post-fundamentalist light. Finally Comes the Poet and Texts Under Negotiation are favorites, along with Ichabod Toward Home.
Brian D. McLaren, pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland, is author of A Generous Orthodoxy.