Spiritual Formation

A Kempis, Thomas The Imitation of Christ Translated by Edgar Daplyn. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1950
A Kempis was a Dutch monk who lived from 1379 to 1471. In this simply written volume, universally heralded as a classic of Christian devotion, he maps out what it means to imitate Christ in daily life. Practical, penetrating, there can be little doubt as to why it has endured through the centuries.

Benedict, St The Rule of Saint Benedict Edited by Timothy Fry. New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 1998
The Rule of St. Benedict has guided Christian communities, and the individual lives within them, for centuries. Rules of humility, obedience and reflection (contemplation) continue to speak to the heart of spiritual formation. For an excellent companion volume, read Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich The Cost of Discipleship New York: Collier, 1963
The famed line, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die” hails from the pages of this classic work, as does the idea of “cheap grace.” Using the Sermon on the Mount, Bonhoeffer explores the dynamics of spiritual life in penetrating ways.

De Sales, Francis Introduction to the Devout Life New York: Image, 1989
For guidance and insight on spiritual formation, few eclipse Francis de Sales. His Introduction to the Devout Life is widely heralded as one of the best devotional guides of all time. His influence has been welcomed by Catholics and Protestants alike, including such notable figures as C.S. Lewis, who counted de Sales among his most important influences. Though many from non-Catholic backgrounds may find de Sales Catholic moorings off-putting at times, his foundational spiritual insights and exercises cut across all backgrounds and provide a universal spiritual guide. It is not a book to be devoured in a single sitting, but one taken slowly, contemplatively, over time. If you wish to place the formation of your soul into the hands of a master director, you will find none better than de Sales in this classic writing.

Foster, Richard J Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978
Whereas Dallas Willard (see below) casts a vision for the importance of the disciplines – and how they form our souls – Foster shows us how to pursue the disciplines themselves. How to fast, how to meditate, how to enter into silence or solitude. An indispensable volume for the pursuit of spiritual maturity. If you don’t get this information from Foster, you must get it from someone – but you will be hard pressed to find one more adept at the mentoring we all need.

Lawrence, Brother The Practice of the Presence of God: The Conversations, Letters, Ways, and Spiritual Principles of Brother Lawrence Translated by E.M. Blaiklock. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1981

Here are the insights of a man who simply fell head over heels in love with God. What does that look like? No other writing takes us inside the heart like this. The simple principles of Brother Lawrence continue to speak into lives that seek to grow closer to God and to eventually “practice His presence.”

Lewis, C.S The Screwtape Letters New York: Bantam, 1982
Lewis wrote many works that speak to spiritual formation, but few so directly as in this creative masterpiece. Using two fictional demons discussing their human “patient” on earth, Lewis explores the psychology and the dynamic of temptation. Though many sections reflect the Second World War in a way that can be tiresome, the reader is more than rewarded with those passages that will forever be timeless.

Nouwen, Henri The Way of the Heart New York: Ballantine, 1983
Perhaps Nouwen’s most simple, elemental work – and some would say, most helpful. Nouwen takes the reader into the three primary disciplines for spiritual growth: solitude, silence and prayer, capturing the heart of the wisdom and counsel of the early desert fathers and mothers. One of the best introductions to the contemplative, spiritual life available for the modern soul.

Swindoll, Charles Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living Nashville: W Publishing, 1981
To date, this is still Swindoll’s strongest book. Within its pages is some of the best biblical teaching and application for Christian living you can find.

Ten Boom, Corrie with John and Elizabeth Sherrill The Hiding Place 1971
There has seldom been a story so well told, so profoundly moving, and so deeply shaping as this. Not simply one of the best Christian biographies ever penned, but one of the most powerful soul-making experiences you’ll have in reading a book. Far more than a tale of two women in a Nazi concentration camp. It is a story of faith, courage, and pursuing a love of God in the pits of hell.

Thomas, Gary Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul's Path to God Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000

The strength of this book is not its writing, which is not particularly moving, but in its central thesis: that each of us grows spiritually in different ways, so one size doesn’t fit all. This all-too-obvious insight is all-too-often missed. Thomas explores this truth by looking at nine “sacred pathways,” and how each can serve.

Underhill, Evelyn The Spiritual Life Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 1955
Originally part of a series of broadcasts given by the author prior to the Second World War, Underhill’s aim was to present the most basic truths of spirituality in simple form. She succeeded. Underhill (1875-1941) was a prolific British author who wrote extensively on mysticism and spiritual formation.

White, James Emery Embracing the Mysterious God: Loving the God We Don't Understand Downer's Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003

Embracing the Mysterious God explores what an authentic relationship with God must entail, particularly in the midst of struggling with Him. From the problem of pain to experiencing the silence of God, this book will enable a journey that will deepen your walk with God.

Willard, Dallas The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 1988
Reading Willard is like digging for gold. You either have to dig your way through many layers to find the nugget (he can be wordy), or you have to live with the fact that the nugget has been broken into flakes of gold that you have to pan your way through (he can take a single idea and beat it to death). So why read Willard? Because there really is gold in them hills – and lots of it. This is his seminal work, and worth every minute spent with it. Willard gets at the heart of what it means to form yourself spiritually, to truly become like Christ.

Yancey, Philip The Jesus I Never Knew (1995) and What's So Amazing About Grace (1997) Grand Rapids: Zondervan

How do you categorize Yancey? His writings stride across grand, sweeping territories of theology and spirituality, biblical exposition and culture. These two works are Yancey at his eclectic and thoughtful best, and give more than any life could absorb in admonishment and challenge for the Christ life.

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