On My Shelf: Life and Books with Kathleen Nielson

On My Shelf is a new feature designed to help you get to know various people through providing a behind-the-scences glimpse into their lives as readers. I corresponded with Kathleen Nielson, director of women’s initiatives for The Gospel Coalition, about what’s currently on her nightstand, books she re-reads, what she’s learning, and more.

What’s on your nightstand right now?

Piles of books seem to grow on all available surfaces in my study, offering categories of options for trips to the next room or to the airport. There’s a “missions” pile, since I’m preparing for a talk on women in missions. Ruth Tucker’s From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya is full of amazing missionary stories I can’t believe I’ve either forgotten or never heard. My husband and I also recently discovered a lovely series of missionary biographies published by YWAM for young people—I just read Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime and enjoyed hearing the well-told story of this housemaid from England who found her way by faith to China. Then there’s The Great Commission: Evangelicals and the History of World Missions, edited by Martin Klauber and Scott Manetsch.

In the “Lit” pile is a new book I can’t wait to read: Jerram Barrs’s Echoes of Eden: Reflection on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts—a biblical perspective on the arts, with chapters on Lewis, Tolkien, Shakespeare, and more. In that pile is also an extraordinarily beautiful little collection of literary readings for devotional purposes: At the Still Point, compiled by Sarah Arthur. A woman who attended a conference I spoke at last year sent me this book without including her name or address: if you’re reading this, many thanks! The collection is liturgically arranged but still a rich resource for people like me who don’t regularly follow the liturgical calendar.

On Kindle I always have a couple titles from my local book club: Corban Addison’s A Walk Across the Sun took me through a long flight recently, offering a horrifying, well-written, fact-based but fictional glimpse into the world of sex-trafficking—based in Mumbai. For the next trip I’m saving In the Land of Blue Burqas, Kate McCord’s account of living and sharing Christ with women in Afghanistan.

What books do you regularly re-read, and why?

C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces is a favorite and much-read novel, one that delves deep into a story of learning to see what is real and true. It seems to jolt me toward reality every time I read it. I’ll also often pull out some poetry—perhaps Gerard Manley Hopkins if I’m wide awake, or Amy Carmichael if I’m needing encouragement, or George Herbert at any time. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress comes off the shelf regularly. These writers have helped shape my thinking about God and what it means to follow him: they take the stuff of real life and, as they put that stuff into words, find everywhere echoes of the story of redemption in Christ.

What books have most helped you teach others about Jesus?

Some of the most helpful have been books by Graeme Goldsworthy and Edmund Clowney on biblical theology; commentaries by Derek Kidner, J. Alec Motyer, Dale Ralph Davis, D. A. Carson, and Kent Hughes (my pastor for many years); and Leland Ryken’s books on the literature of the Bible.

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

I think I’m just beginning to learn how big the story is—the story God is writing from beginning to end, this big redemptive story that’s echoed in every little story. I keep forgetting, but the Bible keeps showing me. Books about travel and far places are helping open wide my eyes to God’s love for his world and challenging me to see the nations more like he does, according his promises and all for the glory of Jesus. I’m more and more amazed by the gift of words and the Word, and by the power of Scripture’s words to speak into the life of anyone anywhere and everywhere.

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