WORKING as a team to produce 100 Best Christian Books necessarily meant that we worked under some constraints. But, in the main, the pluses hugely outweighed any minuses. The exercise was demanding and difficult in places. Mostly, it was enormous fun; and, unsurprisingly, there was a high calibre of discussion. As panel members, we were all enriched by each other, and we all left the deliberations with our knowledge widened and deepened.
We were, however, focused from the outset. We set our minds on identifying books of "lasting significance". That said, "significance" can be a personal matter. All the judges had favourites that both fed and entertained them - and that they would have loved to get on the list. Here are mine.
Garrison Keillor's work - the masterly chapter "Protestant" in Lake Wobegon Days - still moves me to tears of laughter.
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale are all salutary tales of faith and fate, as is Dominique Lapierre's The City of Joy. Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible is a beautiful, poignant, and tragic tale of misconceived missionary endeavour. (Yes, I am drawn to irony.)
So, A Prayer for Owen Meany,
by John Irving, is probably my favourite novel - up there with Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, and Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Irving's tale pays homage to Günter Grass's novel The Tin Drum (also a brilliant film). Grass had a great influence on Irving, and they were close friends. The main characters of both novels - Owen Meany, and Oskar Matzerath - share the same initials, as well as some characteristics. The stories have parallels, too.
Theologically, anything by Dan Hardy is a sound investment, and I still consider Jubilate (with David Ford) to be a seminal book. Generally, I cannot resist a good social and theological analysis of the Church and its contexts, so James Hopewell's Congregation, H. Richard Niebuhr's The Social Sources of Denominationalism, and Urban "Terry" Holmes's The Future Shape of Ministry would make my own cut.
In spirituality, is there an equal to Martin Laird's Into the Silent Land? This is a deep book on mindfulness - before the term became fashionable.
And I am also a great fan of Tom Stoppard's play Jumpers. Religion, philosophy, social commentary, gymnastics, and a murder mystery all wrapped up in one drama: unbeatable. But no place for that in our 100 Best Christian Books either, alas.
I READ Christ Recrucified, by Nikos Kazantzakis, when I was in my twenties, after being entranced by his 1946 novel Zorba the Greek. I then devoured all his novels, in translation.
Christ Recrucified tells of a Greek village under Turkish occupation putting on a Passion play - those chosen to take part find themselves becoming the characters they are allotted. Chosen to be Christ is Manolios, a shepherd boy and former novice monk; he comes to embody the person of Christ in a way that stirs the reader's soul.
The whole story puts the reader through the same agony of dramatic irony as does the Passion itself -always the outcome is known, inevitable and (paradoxically) desirable. But the tragedy of the human cost is unbearable. As the priest, Fr Fotis, says finally: "In vain, my Christ, in vain . . . two thousand years have gone by and men crucify you still."
IF WE were continuing past 100, Befriending the Stranger, by Jean Vanier, would certainly be next on my list.
The founder of l'Arche lives out the gospel message. This book shows how befriending the "strange" and "different" in society - those who are often overlooked or shunned - can help us to confront our own weaknesses.
anier's belief in the value of each individual is inspiring. He has shared his life with people with developmental disability, and found much to learn from them. The book is based on six talks, which are offered as meditative pieces, offering insights into community and compassion. At a time of such division and violence, it is uplifting to read of Vanier's vision of a world with no barriers, where all are accepted in love.
I RECOMMENDED The Diary of a Country Priest, the novel by Georges Bernanos (number 95 in the list), because, like Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton, in England he did a good deal to promote dialogue between Christianity and culture in France and Continental Europe.
With hindsight - and given how (by and large unavoidably) Eurocentric our choices are - I should perhaps have suggested an even more important novel: Silence, by Shusaku Endo.
Often ranked as one of the greatest fictional works of the 20th century, it chronicles the experience of a young Portuguese Jesuit, Sebastião Rodrigues, sent to minister in Japan during the 17th century, at a time of acute anti-Christian persecution.
100 Best Christian Books