life and books with Mark Upton

Life & Books is a new series designed to encourage and equip you with great books from well-read men and women.

This week I talked with Mark Upton about what’s on his nightstand, books he regularly revisits, and the biographies that have most shaped him. Mark is a pastor at Hope Community Church in Charlotte, NC.

Note: to benefit Hope by purchasing a book through Amazon, type in “Hope Community Church Charlotte” in the Amazon Smile portal. 

What are you currently reading?

Faithful God by Sinclair Ferguson for work.

For fun: I just finished The Art of Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

What are some books you regularly re-read and why?

On rotation about once every three years I read The Lord of the Rings
by Tolkien, The Maytrees by Annie Dillard, and one of the works of Flannery O’Connor.

What biographies have most influenced you and why?

The ones that Isaacson did on Einstein and Steve Jobs. Their creativity and impact on the world amazed me. I admired their courage in trusting their intuition, commitment to their craft, and their admiration for the beauty inherent in nature. Their ability to see the future and bring it into the present was truly amazing.

I was also impacted by how the lack of vocational balance and interpersonal humility negatively impacted their personal lives.

What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?

Inside Out by Larry Crabb taught me to be ruthlessly honest with myself about the depth and nature of my sin and broke me of the delusional idea that I could deal with it on my own.

Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning taught me the Good News of the Gospel.

Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner gave me to permission to give my doubts about God a seat at the table in my own spiritual journey and to admit publicly what a mess I was even though I am a professional Christian.

Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid taught me how to grow up into Christ by embracing the fact that apart from Him I could do nothing!

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

I’m learning that life and Jesus are mysteries to be explored not problems to be solved. Since we’re in the middle of a divine narrative that isn’t over yet our lives don’t really read like novels. They read like chapters in a novel–closer to poems than prose. Subsequently growing our divine intuition in the face of doubt is more important that pursuing intellectual certainty since certainty is unattainable while something is in motion.

Consequently I’m learning that humility and trust is actually the key to life, not just with God but with others as well.

What are your favorite fiction books and why?

The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, Dune by Frank Herbert, The Maytrees by Annie Dillard, East Of Eden by John Steinbeck.

I love epic stories that are multi-generational that give the reader a reason to be hopeful that a divine redeemer exists and is working things in the direction of redemption even if that figure is never named but only hinted at through the providence of the plot. Those stories are very life giving to me. Particularly since I deal with so much brokenness on a regular basis through my counseling ministry.

What books would you especially recommend for men and women in their 20s?

I love The Reason for God by Tim Keller to help you build a theology.

Inside Out by Crabb to help you build an anthropology.

Ruthless Trust by Manning to help you build a Christology.

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch to help you develop a proper understanding of vocational calling.

And Lord of the Rings or East of Eden to sanctify your imagination into a proper understand of how God might be at work in your family story redemptively.

What books have been most helpful in shaping your thinking on how to engage the contemporary culture with the gospel?

I think Soul Searching and Lost in Transition by Christian Smith pretty much has your generation pegged. Anything by David Brooks on culture is money.

If you are willing to do some heavy lifting intellectually I’d recommend you take a look at The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society by Leslie Newbigin, To Change the World by James Davidson Hunter, or How (Not) to be Secular by James K.A. Smith.


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