Life and books with Claude Atcho

On My Shelf helps you get to know diverse writers through a behind-the-scenes look into their lives as readers.

I asked Claude Atcho, author of Reading Black Books: How African-American Literature Can Make Our Faith Fuller and Righter-about what’s on her bedside table, her favorite fictions, her favorite re-reads, and much more.


What’s on your bedside table right now?

I keep too many books on and around my nightstand. This clutter of books is a physical representation of how I often enjoy reading: whatever mood and interest strikes me, though I generally read fiction in the evening and other works in the morning. I turn to a few of them every day and others that I tap into when I feel like it.

What are your favorite fiction novels?

You’d think this question would get easier to answer over time, but I struggle every time it’s asked. Here are some of my favorite literary works:

Which biographies or autobiographies influenced you the most and why?

I would like to read more biographies. I first met Augustine confession in his second year in a Western Civilization class and was especially moved by the story of his conversion. These last years, confession helped me better understand the human heart, especially my own, and the God who is infinite, beautiful and good. There are so many poignant quotes but, for me, this one is near the top: “For what am I to myself without you but a guide to my own downfall?”

The Autobiography of Malcolm X helped me learn more about the history of our country and the legacy of an often misunderstood character. The autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. showed me the power and strength of love and non-violence as a way to overcome evil.

What books do you read regularly and why?

I rarely read books cover to cover outside of novels, but I do reread sections of books quite often. I’m going back to Fleming Rutledge The crucifixion and John Stott The Cross of Christ to wonder and marvel at the crucified Christ and what it means for me and for the world. by NT Wright Surprised by hope helps me keep before my eyes the overwhelming power and hope of the resurrection. I come back to J. Deotis Roberts Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology for concise and rich theological reflections directly applied to the African-American experience. by Karl Barth Evangelical theology is the one I revisit because it’s quite fun and reminds me that wonder and joy are at the heart of theology because God is amazing and incomprehensible.

When it comes to novels, I like to revisit Invisible Man every few years as well as Endo The silence and Graham Greene power and glory. The last two, to me at least, paint a clear picture of the ministerial need and the necessity and power of grace.

Which books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others in the cause of the gospel?

I have already mentioned a few, including all the novels above. I would say Fleming Rutledge The crucifixion and John Stott The Cross of Christ for what it means to know Christ and Him crucified, and then to declare this world-changing and world-healing reality to others. by Tim Keller center church and Preaching have been extremely influential in my thinking and teaching. At Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthen the soul of your leadership helped me grow as a non-anxious leader, ministering from a place of rest. by Robert Webber Old-future tense helps me think about time as a way to discipleship under Christ for myself, my family, and my church. by Howard Thurman Jesus and the poor broadened my sense of how the gospel is good news for the humble and oppressed. by Alexander Schmemann For the life of the world has been an invigorating paradigm shift in my thinking about secularism, worship and mission. by Robert Louis Wilken The Spirit of Early Christian Thought continue to teach me to think and serve from our ancestors’ deep well of faith. Read Scripture with the Church Fathers deepened and broadened my love and approach to the scriptures.

What book do you wish every pastor read?

I would suggest The Atonement Mosaic: An Integrated Approach to the Work of Christ by Joshua M. McNall. Rather than reducing the atonement to a single image or flattening it into something indistinguishable, McNall shows how the atonement is wonderfully multifaceted. It is thought-provoking and moving reading alongside Stott and Rutledge, and it will help pastors more powerfully preach the crucified Christ with the full harmony of scriptural testimony rather than doing so in the same note.

What do you learn about the life and following of Jesus?

The gift and importance of being present with Christ and those who came before me at every moment. That’s what matters most.


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