John Van Sloten is a pastor in Calgary, Alberta. He is the author of The Day Metallica Came to Church: Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything, and Every Job a Parable. He teaches a preaching course at Ambrose Seminary and has been the recipient of several John Templeton Fund grants for preaching science.
John says, “I have to admit that I was initially a bit intimidated by this question thinking, “What great five books have I read?” When I was young, I never read much at all (maybe twelve books by the time I was eighteen . . . startling, I know!). But here are five books that have shaped my faith and writing during my adult years.”
Shortly after my dramatic conversion at age twenty-nine, a pastor invited me into a yearlong discipleship group that was centered on Ogden’s book. I ate it up. The combination of those readings and an inductive Bible study was God’s just-in-time way of teaching me how to understand and grow what he had done in my heart. When I was young, I skipped many of my catechism classes, but I would never miss this study group. I had so much to catch up on. This was the most formative book of my early faith life.
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
A year into my renewed faith journey, I read Lewis’s classic work. I was ingesting a lot of basic theology at the time and found the first half of the book very intellectually satisfying. Then I got to the chapter entitled “The Great Sin” and I was undone . . . by two sentences that Lewis wrote about the nature of the sin of pride: “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty of themselves,” and “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” I continue to be undone by these words.
The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann
One of my seminary professors assigned this book for his class on the Old Testament. I have gone back to it dozens of times. Brueggemann’s clear articulation of the prophetic imagination kindled my own imagination, and some of his ideas set my imagination aflame. “If there is any point at which most of us are manifestly co-opted, it is in this way. We do not believe that there will be newness but only that there will be merely a moving of the pieces into new patterns.” In order to perceive a new thing, he continues, “We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable.” I’ve spent the last twenty-five years of my life trying to imagine what God is doing.
Science and the Trinity; The Christian Encounter with Reality by John Polkinghorne
In 2011 I was invited to participate in a John Templeton Foundation grant that was awarded to a group at Regent College in Vancouver. One of the aims of the project was to reconcile God’s revelation in the Bible with God’s revelation via creation. How can God’s providential actions fit into a world that is as empirically ordered and explainable as it is? After noting the inherent chaos of quantum theory Polkinghorne wrote, “If creatures can act as agents in the world . . . it would not seem reasonable to deny the possibility of some analogous capacity in the Creator.” Reading those words I realized that scientists themselves are the greatest proof for the possibility of a God providentially intervening in the ongoing processes of the universe. Every time they shape a process, they point to the God who does the same! This realization opened the door to preaching God’s words through basic science for me.
I’ve only read this book once, but I’ll be reading it again soon! It’s one of the most beautiful books on icons that I’ve encountered—theologically and visually. Father Bunge turned my world inside out when he introduced me to the concepts of reverse and inverse perspective. The strange perspective of Rublev’s famous icon of the Holy Trinity was intentional: to reverse and invert our perspectives, to move us from ‘seeing’ to ‘being seen,’ from being ‘on the outside’ to ‘being on the inside.’ Read it yourself to undergo the transformation.
by John Van Sloten, author of Every Job a Parable
A Walmart greeter, a nurse, and an astronaut walk into a church. . . .
They each bring with them their own exhaustions and exasperations, their own uncertainty about whether and how their work matters to God. Good news: All work matters to God, because all work reflects some aspect of the character of God. God created the world so that it runs best when it mirrors Him, and we ourselves find the most fulfillment when we recognize God behind our labor.
John Van Sloten offers a fascinating and innovative reflection on vocation: Our work is a parable of God; as we work, we are icons of grace.
(Top photo by Jcomp)