Continuing my tradition (started last year), here are the books that had the greatest impact on me this year:
- Introduction to Spiritual Formation (John Coe). This actually wasn’t a book, but a free series of lectures from Biola. However, I downloaded the transcripts and read them, so I’m counting it as a book! I was expecting a decent introduction to my field (I like to read these and see how others introduce it to those new to it). What I got was single best explanation of the dark night of the soul. Most spiritual formation authors write for nominal Christians who feel discipleship is optional; Coe writes to serious Christians who want to grow, but are dismayed by how it isn’t happening like it used to in the early days of their faith.
- Renovation of the Heart and The Divine Conspiracy (Dallas Willard). These are modern-day classics of spiritual formation that I believe will be read for decades or even centuries from now. Both focus on the theology, philosophy and practicalities of how people are changed to the image of Christ; Renovation focuses on the individual person, while Conspiracy starts with the kingdom. If you don’t have time to read the books in their entirety, read Chapters 2 and 5 in Renovation (“The Heart in the System of Human Life” and “Spiritual Change: The Reliable Pattern”) and Chapters 8 and 9 in Conspiracy (“On Being a Disciple, or Student, of Jesus” and “A Curriculum for Christlikeness”).
- In the Day of Thy Power and God’s Chosen Fast (Arthur Wallis). Two more modern spiritual classics, this time on revival (Power) and fasting (Fast). When you read Wallis, you get the sense that he has really experienced that which he is describing. I appreciated his highly readable style and practical focus. I did not appreciate his sharp challenge – but the flesh always hurts when it is pricked. You’ve been warned!
- Glittering Images (Susan Howatch). A lot of great books have been written on the false self. However, the most impactful for me was this fictional novel telling the story how an Anglican clergyman in pre-War England came face-to-face with his false self and worked through it with a very gifted spiritual director. It is a decent read up until he starts meeting with his director; then it gets AWESOME! Warning: his false self drags him through some fornication, so only read if that won’t be a problem for you.
- The Vine Project (Colin Marshall and Tony Payne). Australian pastors Marshall and Payne describe the shift from the ministry model of creating and maintaining programs (trellis work) to discipling people (vine work) in their great book The Trellis and the Vine. I was fully on board when I read it, but was left with the question YBH (“Yes, but how?”). The Vine Project is their excellent answer to that question.
- The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous. I have been exploring my unhealthy attachment to food this year. I was vaguely familiar with the Twelve Step programs, but when I read this excellent book from Overeaters Anonymous (OA), I was blown away by the insight into how people really change. They have stumbled through trial and error into discoveries spiritual writers have made throughout the history of the church. I later visited a nearby Celebrate Recovery group (Twelve Steps with a strong emphasis on the Evangelical tradition) and was very impressed. Even the Twelve Traditions (guidelines for how OA groups are run) are great advice for churches.
- Life of the Beloved (Henri Nouwen). Henri Nouwen once tried to write a book explaining the spiritual life to a non-Christian friend. As an apologetic work, it was unsuccessful (his friend told him in no uncertain terms that the book was not helpful to him). However, it turned out to be one of the greatest books of the last generation. It shows how the spiritual life is a life of gradually discovering – again and again, at progressively deeper levels – that you are the Beloved One of the Father. I’ve added it to my list of books I re-read every year, as I am prone to forget this essential truth.
- Into the Silent Land (Martin Laird). This book was independently recommended to me by three sources I trust within a few weeks of one another. Always one to take a hint, I picked it up. It turned out to be the best introduction to contemplative prayer I’ve come across to date. I’ve been confused or concerned by other books on the topic and my attempts to practice this kind of prayer have been frustrating and fruitless. Laird finally explained it in a way I could understand, and the early fruit of my practice is encouraging.