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Home > Issues > 2013 > July Web Exclusives > Summer Reading: The Top 10 Novels for Pastors

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor.

"A Searching Novel of Sin and Redemption," this bizarre story from the queen of Southern Gothic literature is disturbing, hilarious, and profound. Returning war veteran Hazel Motes comes back to his Tennessee home to find it abandoned, precipitating a journey through a garish South, rife with the sacred and profane. Motes, an atheist, is (lack of belief notwithstanding) so preoccupied with theological concepts and symbols that God is inescapably and inexplicably behind every turning of his strange road.

O'Connor never makes interpretation easy, but the depth of her insight into depravity and redemption make this a powerful read.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

This phantasmagorical tale is part allegory/part meditation on the importance of story. Haroun, a young man from a city that has forgotten its name, travels across a bizarre landscape filled with riddles, puns (in two languages), and colorful characters as he seeks the source of the stories that can return hope to his land and family. It's a meditation on how narratives define us that will connect for storytellers of the pastoral kind.

Light reading, but with big images that will worm their way into your brain. You'll either love it or hate it.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

It's a toss-up between this one and The Great Divorce, but this makes the list for its depth of feeling and excellent characters. Lewis's most critically acclaimed (and last) novel, Till We Have Faces reinterprets the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche to poignantly illustrate the strangeness of the divine, the smallness of our souls, and the human urge to accuse God for our sorrows.

"When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?"

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Completely underappreciated by the millions of high school seniors forced to read it, this American classic retains its power even 150 years after it was written. Central to the plot are themes of duplicity, sin, and redemption, and the question of what makes for true righteousness.

"No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true."

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

This story of a washed up "whisky priest" during a period of Mexico's history when Catholicism was outlawed opens a window into the mind and soul of a man of God who is an utter failure (alcoholic, lecherous, cowardly), yet unable to forsake his calling, even though it may mean his martyrdom.

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Paul J. Pastor is associate editor of Leadership Journal.

Related Topics:BooksCulture
Posted: July 8, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 5 comments

Rob Brown

May 17, 2014  6:07pm

I would also submit Les Miserables!

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Brint Keyes

July 20, 2013  12:45pm

"Silence" is utterly powerful. Thanks for including it.

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July 16, 2013  1:59pm

Perhaps less literary than your choices, nevertheless may I humbly suggest The Testament and The Street Lawyer, both by John Grisham. The Testament portrays a missionary in a good light--not failed, not conflicted, not hiding a secret, just humble and dedicated and clear-minded and strong in character. The Street Lawyer shows a man's journey from self-serving and blind to needs in the world, to self-giving and made alive by helping others.

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Jana Muntsinger

July 16, 2013  12:36pm

Oh I furiously flipped through this article, hoping to see Gilead somewhere in the top 10. Gilead, as a pastor's wife, book lover, grace-needer, is my absolute hands down favorite. Now I'm planning to re-read it again this summer.

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John Quinones

July 11, 2013  10:25pm

Although I have not read it since college, an old novel - The Keys of the Kingdom by A.J.Cronin - gave a humbling perspective on the pastoral ministry (the movie starred Humphrey Bogart but as usual did not do justice to the novel). Although a much older novel, it portrays two priests who take different "roads" in ministry. It may be even more appropriate in our culture of celebrity in ministry.

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