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Staying inclusive while making exclusions

26 September 2014

Martyn Percy, chairman of the judges, reveals the panel's appetite for a varied diet

Martyn Percy

Martyn Percy

IDENTIFYING and naming those religious, Christian, or theological books that have lasting influence was bound to be a contentious exercise. Yet there was a great deal of agreement on our top 20, and on the range and breadth of what needed to be considered.

Theory and theology jostle with poetry and prose; and novels nudge up against narratives that are deeply personal, yet stand the test of time as exemplary patterns of spirituality and discipleship.

As with all lists, we agonised as much over those that did not make the cut as those that did. We argued over Karl Rahner and Paul Tillich, for example. Both theologians have been much read, but did they fit our fairly tight definition of broad and lasting influence?

Should the rather more vogueish Hans Urs Von Balthasar make the cut? What about Margery Kempe? We reassured ourselves that this list would provoke argument among readers rather than close it down.

The panel was mainly, but not exclusively, Anglican. But, like many Anglicans, we operate with a generous and inclusive template when it comes to our reading. Our 100 Best is a good mix: poetry, prose, spirituality, and some theology. But this is an inclusive list, not exclusive: many of the books are not explicitly Anglican at all. 

WE SEEM to prefer, as a denomination, a blend of the takeaway and our own home cooking. Ours is a mixed diet. Roman Catholics, Baptists, those of other faiths, and those about whose faith we know little, jostled with the likes of Michael Ramsey, R. S. Thomas, Rowan Williams, and N. T. Wright.

Three former Archbishops of Canterbury made the cut. And we also included a couple of books that we think are indicative of present influence, and the future shaping of Christianity.

We spent some time mulling the lasting influence of recent Evangelical literature: Billy Graham's Peace with God, David Wilkerson's The Cross and the Switchblade, and Norman Warren's Journey Into Life, to name but a few, have sold in their millions.

The works of Jim Packer and John Stott, likewise, have enjoyed significant influence. But the comparatively meagre attention that Stott and Packer receive today may reflect a more fluid market, and emerging diversity within Evangelicalism. Many titles in this category tend to have an immediate but short-term relevance rather than long-term resonance.

These and other considerations fed into our concentrated but very enjoyable judging session.

There are, of course, many hundreds of other titles that could have made it into the list. But, reviewing our selection afterwards, we were happy that, at the very least, these are books that deserve continuing notice.


[Images in slideshow]

MARTYN PERCY (chairman) is the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. He was ordained priest in the Church of England after a career in publishing. From 2004, he was Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon, until moving to Christ Church earlier this year. He is the author of several books, the latest of which is An Anglican Landscape of Faith (Canterbury Press, 2013). 

MALCOLM GUITE is a singer-songwriter, poet, and the Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge. He has just returned from being artist-in-residence at Duke Divinity School, North Carolina, and is about to be a visiting fellow at St John's College, Durham. His most recent poetry collection is The Singing Bowl (Canterbury Press, 2013).

CALLY HAMMOND read Classics at Oxford, and became a Research Fellow at Downing College, Cambridge. She is Dean of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. She is the author of a number of books, the most recent of which is the first volume of a new translation of St Augustine's Confessions (Harvard: Loeb Classical Library, 2014 ). 

JENNY MONDS is a chartered librarian, who has worked in public and academic libraries in Britain and the United States. Since 2001, she has been the director of learning resources at Sarum College, Salisbury, where she is responsible for the library and the bookshop.

MARK OAKLEY is the Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, and is responsible for its educational and outreach activities. He is a visiting lecturer at King's College, London, and the author of several books, including The Collage of God (Canterbury Press, 2012). 

RUPERT SHORTT is religion editor of The Times Literary Supplement, and a former visiting fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. He writes for the Church Times, The Tablet, The Guardian, and The Daily Telegraph, He is the author of several books - the most recent is Christianophobia: A faith under attack (Rider, 2012). 

JANE WILLIAMS is senior tutor in theology at St Mellitus College, and visiting lecturer at King's College, London. She is the author of a number of books, including Lectionary Reflections: Years A, B, C, based on her Church Times articles. Her latest book is Faces of Christ (Lion, 2011). 

DAVID WINTER was a teacher, writer, and editor before joining the BBC, where he became the head of religious broadcasting. As a priest in the Church of England, he served various parishes in the Oxford diocese until his retirement in 2000. He has written more than 40 books: the most recent is At the End of the Day: Enjoying life in the departure lounge (BRF, 2013). 


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