REVIEW: READING THE SPIRITUAL CLASSICS
Thanks to those who sent emails or made comments on facebook about my BookNotes review of Reading the Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals, a splendid and mature new book published by IVP Academic (regularly $24.00 but 20% off for our BookNotes readers.) The two editors, Jamin Goggin and his colleague Kyle Strobel (www.metamorpha.com) curated and compiled a wise and theologically sane guide to how to best approach the depths, benefits, and foibles of various sorts of devotional and spiritual classics. It is a book about reading well, and it is a guide to different kinds of Christian spiritual formation.
I started with an appreciative shout-out to authors who have become popular in the last 25 years, especially in more mainline denominational circles, authors who we are proud to stock, such as Henri Nouwen, Tilden Edwards, Joyce Rupp, Richard Rohr, Basil Pennington, (and so many more) who have much to offer those who care about their interior lives. These authors are among our biggest sellers when we set up book displays for UCC clergy, for Episcopal priests, for Lutheran folks.
I did say, though – and I hope you give it a fair read if you didn’t – that I worry about the lack of robust, Trinitarian theology and Christ-centered substance in some contemplative literature. Some tend towards a vague sort of pantheism and others are mostly about one’s true self and less about God and Christ’s Kingdom. I am no rationalist and don’t fear creation-based theology (a term Matthew Fox coined back in his less eccentric days) but, still, I believe that those of us who read widely and ecumenically should stand firmly in a firm orthodox center. On Christ the solid rock we stand, I was taught to sing. All other ground is sinking sand.
The new book, Reading the Spiritual Classics: A Guide… is a bit deep and demanding, and it covers a very broad range of writings from throughout church history and from throughout the wide Body of Christ. It is a very, very important reminder to read discerningly, and apply insights faithfully. Although it offers a uniquely evangelical vocabulary and offers a few warnings, it is not the least bit mean, and it does not foster fear or a critical spirit (it is not even what I would call parochial) but is inviting and informative. It is an example of ecumenical discourse at its finest, useful for evangelicals and others, who want to have a balanced view of this important body of literature.
DAVID WELLS AND RENEWING THE EVANGELICAL MISSION
In that column I tossed off a phrase stolen from the old Oldsmobile ads — hinting at a bit of
a concern – that some contemporary evangelicals are “not your father’s evangelicals.” In that big list of 50 books that I did on the webinar last month I mentioned a book called Renewing the Evangelical Mission, edited by Richard Lints (Eerdmans; $34.00, but on sale at 20% off for BookNotes readers.) It is a collection of firm essays about the erosion of central truths and practices, that is, the distinctives of evangelicalism, and is important to mention here. Renewing… is a collection of pieces which interact with and bear witness to the critical work of David Wells, professor at Gordon Conwell, by authors such as Mark Noll, Os Guinness, Miroslov Volf, Michael Horton and other big picture, confessional thinkers. Wells is a dear, good man, a very rigorous scholar, and even when I do not agree with him or fully share his numerous anxieties about the shape of evangelicalism in our time, his work is extraordinarily important. If you only read a couple of serious theological books this year, this overview of Well’s work by a wide range of scholars, pastors, theologians and cultural critics, is worthy of your consideration. (This is certainly true regardless of your own theological orientation and regardless of whether you know Well’s quartet of books about these themes.)
The concerns raised in the anthology edited by Lints about cultural accommodation, mushy theology, the idolatry of the self, the pragmatic marketing ethos of the mega-churches, the disconnect nearly everywhere with historic, classical Christian thinking, will remind you why the Reading the Spiritual Classics is so very important. We need, as Lewis reminded us years ago, old books. But we also need help in reading them afresh. Reading… and Renewing… are very different sorts of books, but both share a concern for the edification of God’s people by standing within a robust, historic orthodoxy.
Two stories from yesterday:
After my review of Reading the Spiritual Classics the other day a mainline denominational pastor friend wrote an noted a benediction he recently heard at a gathering somewhere. It invoked a trinity of self, others, and Mystery. Well, that is just fine – who doesn’t know that these three mysteriously go together, that all selves, alone and together, swim in what singer Bruce Cockburn once called “the ocean of love.” But to replace traditional One-God-in-Three-Persons language in our liturgy for this clever truism? Puh – lease. And mainline folk wonder why their numbers are dwindling…
And then, while I’m thinking about this, recommending these good books to our astute readers on line – and our tribe here at BookNotes is mostly pretty sophisticated, I’d say – a smart young customer came in to the shop. He was forthright with us: his intellectual life is rich and full; his relational and social life is good. Then he held up his forefinger and thumb, making a circle the size of a pea and said “my spiritual life is like this – virtually nothing.” Or maybe he was making that universal sign of a zero.
We have these conversations from time to time. Often, such folks — often baby boomers, but sometimes sharp young adults — are not interested in religion, per se, and in a few quick comments back and forth (as those of us trained to hand sell books do) we learn whether they are interested firstly in proofs for the faith and apologetics. Sometimes skeptics and seekers warm up to The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, The Reason for God by Tim Keller, or any number of books by the eloquent Ravi Zacharias, or the grand and practical survey of world religious options, The Long Journey Home by Os Guinness. I have several lists of books I can share with you if you want about apologetics and books for smart skeptics.
These folks are often eager to know that there are intellectually plausible reasons for Christian faith and they ask about faith and science; we start off suggesting stuff like The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis Collins (Free Press; $15.99) or the fantastic reader he put together as an anthology of important essays and chapters from books that he could easily offer to his scholarly friends. That is called Belief: Readings on the Reasons for Faith (HarperOne; $19.99.)
Or they want to know if the Bible’s central teaching about Christ and his resurrection are reliably true. Or are authors like Reza Aslan, citing those same tired sources and outmoded conjectures correct after all, insisting that we can’t really trust the New Testament documents?
But earnest conversations with such inquirers often reveal that they aren’t really skeptics, they might be glad to know there are intellectually sounds reasons to hold to conventional, historic orthodoxy, but, really they are seekers. They aren’t needing answers, but insights, not apologetics but spirituality. They are like our new friend from the other day, hungering to deepen their grasp of spiritual things. Such folks often are keenly aware that we all have this looming hole in our hearts. To use Buber’s language they want an I-Thou relationship.
One book that helps us understand this, and is perfect for somebody pondering their heart’s deepest longings is Yearning for More: What Our Longings Tell us About God and Ourselves by Barry Morrow (IVP; $15.00.) There is hardly a book out that is just like this, and I adore it — very highly recommended because it shows how our daily sense of things, our yearnings, are themselves avenues through which we can come to deeper spiritual insights. Morrow, as Kenneth Boa writes in the foreword, “has a penchant for leveraging culture to illuminate timeless spiritual issues.” He does more, though: he helps us turn our longings for God into ways to enter His very presence.
Listen to what John Wilkinson (author of the cleverly titles No Argument for God) says:
Yearning for More uncovers the reality of God in the most unexpected places. Barry Morrow cleverly identifies ‘signals of the transcendent’ in our hatred of death, our desire for heaven and even the humdrum of daily living. So often we are told to ‘go with your gut.’ Morrow takes this to a whole new level.
Many people who visit our store and people that I suspect who talk to you are looking for Something, something akin to what Tozer called (in his book by this name) The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine (Wing Spread Publishers; $12.99.) We have more books on the intellectual plausibility of the gospels and stuff on apologetics than any store we know of. Yet, it is not common to come across open minded skeptics who need such resources. Rather, folks hunger for and experience of God. They are yearning.
USE BOOKS OF ALL SORTS TO HELP OTHERS
And so, as if you didn’t know it, I say again that this stuff about spirituality and knowing the classic devotional literature is so, so important. There is goofy mystical literature out there and some that are less than Biblical and there are books solid as steel, theologically speaking. But some of that is off putting, dry or harsh. But, of course, we can have both. Lots of books are mysterious and mature, creative and classic, interesting and orthodox, beautiful and Biblical. (Come on, somebody stop me. You get the point — haha.)
Those of us who care about these kinds of conversations about our yearnings, and helping others with theirs, and who want to use books wisely will realize that there are a whole lot of varying styles and tones and approaches that work well for this person or that, depending on her or his interests, temperament, needs at the moment. All kinds of books can be tools to help folk take one step at a time, closer to the Light. I’m really not that fastidious, but I do hope that we ground ourselves in the deep gospel, that we take on the ways of Christ, the Kingdom-bringer promised in the Hebrew Scriptures, the incarnate human one who is the second person of the Holy Trinity, that we are guided by the Holy Spirit in Biblically-shaped ways.
And I want to share some books that will help you on that very thing.
As we deepen our own worship of the Triune God of the Universe, we can effectively help others, sharing our favorite authors in fruitful and gracious, life-giving ways. Used with discernment, any number of kinds of books can work. We love helping people discover different kinds of resources that are “just right” so give us a call if we can help you start conversations with good books.
If that means using Joyce Rupp’s liberal Catholic, poetic, image-rich, tender-hearted, evocative (feminist) spirituality or if it means slowing wading through amazing and often remarkably relevant Puritans like John Owen, Richard Baxter or Jonathan Edwards, or if it means studying together a contemporary, contemplative evangelical like Ruth Haley Barton or David Benner or Richard Foster — tolle legge. Start big or small, but start reading about spirituality! Share books, read them prayerfully, start a lectio reading group, pray and talk and care and love. Worship daily by using prayer books and journals and be a part of a real church. There are so many resources on starting a lifestyle of spiritual practices and while there are some weird things it may be wise for some to avoid, I think reading widely in this every-expanding field of spirituality is not just healthy, but essential.
For instance, for real beginners, we often suggest a lovely book on setting priorities by Gordon MacDonald Ordering Your Private World (Nelson; $15.99) There is a great chapter in there called “The Sadness of a Book Never Read” which reminds us that to grow in life, one does need to read and study and learn to be reflective. The book isn’t exactly about prayer or spirituality, but on attending to one’s “under the waterline” stuff. I guess one could say it is about discipline and priorities and being self-aware. Any of his fantastic books would be good to start with, by the way.
For those who think of spiritual disciplines as being mostly about prayer, there is much more to learn. But learning to pray is certainly basic, and we often tell people to start their prayer life with Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels (IVP; $16.00) which is truly a fabulous starter book, enjoyable and inspiring, or Prayer by O. Hallesby (Augsburg; $11.99) which is also a magnificent and very thorough overview of clear instruction. It might be a bit more heady, but the excellent Catholic priest, Ronald Rolheiser, has a very short (65 pages) new one coming the end of August (2013) simply called Prayer: Our Deepest Longing (Franciscan Media; $8.99) and I am looking forward to it. Write to us if you want a longer list of books about prayer. I mentioned his classic The Holy Longing in my previous post, and it is a masterpiece.
The two most popular books we’ve sold in the last few years about prayer are a bit deeper, but still quite accessible. First, we must commend the very popular A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracted World by Paul Miller (NavPress; $14.99.) It is gospel-centered, full of anecdotes and Biblical exposition and is very, very popular these days. Another amazingly rich, insightful, and impeccable book is Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers by Gary Neal Hansen (IVP; $15.00) which draws deeply on the very best of a wide posse of oldsters, from Calvin to Luther to St. Teresa of Avila. You can learn from how to write prayers (by drawing on the Puritans) and how to pray for healing (drawing on Agnes Sanford) and how to use the Jesus Prayer by drawing upon the anonymous Pilgrim. I have to say I am very, very fond of it, and intend to spend more quiet time learning from its historic riches. Gary is obviously ecumenically minded, but studied at Princeton and now teaches at a Presbyterian (USA) seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.
For those wanting to start a more focused and multi-dimensional spiritual life, after getting some of the above under one’s belt we often recommend starting with The Life You Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by John Ortberg (Zondervan; $18.99) or the sequel, God Is Closer Than You Think (Zondervan; $18.99.) Ortberg is conversational and upbeat, uses clear illustrations and is a fabulous guide and friend for entering this new world of deeper spirituality. (There are DVD curricula for each of these to and I can’t say enough good about them. Very well done! Shoot us an email or call if you want more info.)
We always suggest Ruth Haley Barton’s fabulous titles. You may know how much we esteem her, and how proud we were to have her here in our community. Her books are among my favorites, and you should at least have Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence and Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (both IVP; $18.00 and $17.00) although her others (one specifically for women, one on the spirituality of leadership and one on communal discernment practices for church ministry leadership teams.) By the way, there is a very nice DVD study version of Sacred Rhythms, too that we love to suggest. Call us!
Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life Marjorie Thompson (WJK) $15.00 This is also quite nice, mature and thoughtful but still approachable for beginners. Many, many have found it very useful. She is a Presbyterian (USA) specialist in this field, and we take her book everywhere we go!
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life Donald Whitney (NavPress) $15.99 We really like this as it is theologically clear, mature, with a heavy emphasis on Biblical truth as shaped by this wise Reformed leader. It may be a tad tedious for some, but I think it is pretty accessible, and helpful for those who don’t trust medieval Catholic writers. And important for those that do. There is a fine forward by J.I. Packer where he suggests reading the book three times over! He thinks it is that good, and that transforming.
Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God Gary Thomas (Zondervan) $14.99 I am a huge, huge fan of anything Gary Thomas writes, and he is on my short list of those who I’d read anything he does. His guide to the ancient classics will be listed below, but this one is so foundational, so helpful in a very basic way, that we often suggest it to those who feel a bit unsure of the next steps they should take as they deepen their “heart and mind.” In a nutshell, Thomas wisely shows how we are all “wired” differently, and that we tend to resonate with different sorts or style of spiritual communion. Love the out of doors? Like to sing? Are you rather intellectual and like to plumb the harder Scriptures or are you emotive, drawn to the Psalms? Does the very idea sitting still make you break out in sweat? Are you an introvert? You get the idea — and it is helpful to be self-aware and then apply that to the ways in which you are most likely to nurture your inner journey. There is a self-inventory inside as well. I love the playful quote on the back “Thou shalt not covet they neighbors spiritual walk.”
Writing in the Margins: Connecting with God on the Pages of Your Bible Lisa Nichols Hickman (Abingdon) $16.99 I will tell you much more about this brand new book later (to which I wrote the foreword, the first time I ever had the privilege of doing that.) This is a splendidly interesting book, wonderfully designed, about knowing God by way of marking up one’s own Bible. It is not quite about the quiet process of lectio divino where one meditates over and over on a text. And it is more than inductive study. She shows how to draw on the spiritual discipline of using our imaginations to pay attention to the Bible and its connection with our lives. As Minister of Education at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton NJ Joyce Mackichan Walker puts it, her “instructions lead to reflection and wonderment, encouragements that draw out our true and truer selves. Lisa Nichols Hickman shows us that in discovering ourselves, we discover God.” One theologian noted that he thought the book was going to be about how to read the Bible, but learned it was really about how to pray, concluding that “those things go hand in hand.” Exactly.
Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God Margaret Feinberg (Worthy) $14.99 I exclaimed about this when it came out late last December. In the post-Christmas sales and New Year lull, it may have gotten lost. You may know Margaret’s other good books –The Organic God is now out in paperback! – and her upbeat presence at conferences and young adult gatherings makes her a bit of a rock star. She seems exceptionally comfortable talking about the role of the Holy Spirit in her life, and clearly believes in the power of God. This may be her best book yet, a wonderfully candid story of her awakening to the goodness of God and God’s creation, explaining in colorful prose how to stand in awe. It is certainly not “deep” or heady but it is passionate. She reminds us to be attentive, and gives wise advice about practices of rest and friendship and nurturing attitudes about gratitude and grace and mercy. There is a chapter on prayer, a chapter on forgiveness, a chapter called “the wonder of restoration.”
Never wanting to only inspire with beautiful writing or good stories, Ms Feinberg has a 30-day study guide in the back of Wonderstuck which she calls “Thirty Days of Wonder: A Challenge to Experience God More.” She thanks me in it, too, but I’m just braggin’ now. It is a delight to have acquaintances like her, to offer feedback on manuscripts as they are coming to their fullest fruition. Buy her book – give it to somebody who wants deeper awareness of the Holy Presence, but who isn’t going to wade through the Puritans or Richard Foster. I love Ann Voskamp’s lovely endorsement: “With eyes on the heavens and His Word in hand, Margaret Feinberg tells the wonders of God’s love in ways you’ve never known. Who in the world doesn’t need joy like this?”
MORE MATURE RESOURCES FOR A DEEPER LIFE
Here are some other mostly deeper resources that are not inconsistent with my earlier remarks about the need for discernment about orthodoxy and maintain a theologically sane center. Some are new, some not, indication that there are very reliable books that combine meaty, mature, evangelical theology and experiential, wondrous, contemplative practices. These are all good to use in one’s own formation practices, and they are good to share with others who need deeper, thoughtful texts. Taste and see.
By the way, for another Hearts & Minds list, see this BookNotes post from a few years ago that offers good stuff on spirituality.
The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable Steve Boyer & Chris Hall (Baker Academic) $19.99 Some of our customers found this quite useful, especially on this vexing question of how we can talk reasonably and with theological rigor about some that is essentially ineffable. I think it would be really worth having if one wants a profound rumination on the theology of mystery. Hall has written a lot on the church fathers and the liturgical year (he is an evangelical Episcopalian) and is the Chancellor of Eastern University. Boyer teaches theology at Eastern.
The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality Evan Howard (Brazos) $40.00 This handsome, over-sized hardback is truly amazing — very, very interesting. It is remarkably fluent in a wide range of authors and traditions and so is happily very ecumenical while rooted in a broad, evangelical tradition. Brazos is very strong in this kind of serious work in the Great Tradition, and this author is perfect to compile such a fine work. It is excellent, useful and the kind of book you’ll refer to for a lifetime.
Dictionary of Christian Spirituality general editor Glen G. Scorgie (consulting editors Simon Chan, Gordon Smith, James D Smith (Zondervan) $39.99 I think this is a must-have for anyone serious about studying deeply, teaching, or working in this field. It is large (pushing 900 large pages), very well researched and reliable handbook/dictionary. The contributing authors are like a “who’s who” of evangelical scholars who work in this arena. Remarkable in its breadth and scope.
Four Views on Christian Spirituality general editor Bruce Demarest (Zondervan) $18.99 This is such a helpful background for come to realize the differences of language, theology and perspectives which undergird the best spiritual practices. A fabulous back and forth from a Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical and progressive Protestant. Wow.
Satisfy Your Soul: Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality Bruce Demarest (NavPress) $16.99 I remember how enthused we were – that is putting it mildly -when the straight-arrow evangelical publisher at NavPress announced over 20 years ago a line of books curated by Dallas Willard, inspired by Galatians 4:19. They had a little floor display with their lovely oak tree logo, and we showed it off proudly. Conservative Protestants were waking up to the wise beauty of Henri Nouwen, reading Richard Foster, learning about Merton, going gaga over Brennen Manning, eventually reading Kathleen Norris and Parker Palmer. But to see a clear-headed, Bible-based, Christ-centered guide to help us attend to the presence of God, to sense God directing us, to move us towards greater intimacy with God without goofy sentimentalism or weird mysticisms, was a great grace. This was one of the books in that series that has endured and we think it is, as Presbyterian pastor (and former President of Eastern University) Roberta Hestenes put it, “especially helpful in its sensitivity to evangelical issues and concerns, along with practical suggestions for implementation.” What a great guide to spiritual growth! Let’s face it: Biblically-shaped spiritual formation will be Christ-centered and Christ-like. This is well-rooted, flourishing discipleship. Very highly recommended. See also his very useful one about the stages of spiritual development called Seasons of the Soul (IVP; $16.00.)
Catching Fire Becoming Flame: A Guide for Spiritual Transformation Albert Haase, OFM (Paraclete Press) $16.99 I have read several other good books by Al Haase, and he is a fine man, a great writer, a very good teacher. He has written on small Catholic publishers (he is a Franciscan, after all) and also on InterVarsity Press. This new one is pretty explicitly Catholic, but so conversational, so interesting, with so many good stories of folks growing in deeper faith, that I am confident that it is fine for nearly anyone. Dr. James Wilhoit, of Wheaton College, agrees, saying, “This is a thoroughly ecumenical book in the best sense. One never loses sight of Fr. Albert’s Catholic perspective, but readers from all Christian traditions will find help to grow in their love of God.” Visit his website at www.AlbertOFM and see what you think. We are eager to sell this, to invite folks to use it, to see revival fire discussed, studied, and experienced, in reasonable, down-to-Earth ways. Very nicely done.
How To Pray the Dominican Way: Ten Postures, Prayers & Practices That Lead Us To God Angelo Stagnaro (Paraclete Press) $16.99 Well, this may not be for everyone. It is a very, very handsome book – even a lovely embossed stamp on the cover – but there is no disguising the fact that this is not just Roman, but Dominican. Their founder was all about the bodily postures of prayers. This ain’t yoga, boys and girls, but it involves the beautiful tradition explained in the historic Nine Ways to Pray by St. Dominic which includes body positions such as being prostrate. A dear family friend just became a novice Dominican, so I can say I know one person who does this. He liked that we had this lovely book. Check it out.
Prayer: Finding the Hearts True Home Richard Foster (HarperOne) $24.95 It should almost go without saying that we are all greatly indebted to Richard Foster and his classic — and I don’t use the term loosely, it is surely in the top ten most important religious books of the 20th century, in part for the huge shift that it caused towards contemplative spirituality, sparking a renaissance of such literature — Celebration of Discipline (HarperOne; $25.99) I trust you know that we are fans of Richard and that we carry all the books he has written. His Renovare ministry is certainly worth following, and if you are drawn to that sort of thing, know we have whatever resources you may need. I list Prayer, though, as I believe it is vastly under-appreciated. There are more than 15 different sorts of praying he so eloquently describes, and some include thing you don’t often find in traditional books about prayer. He talks about lament, about sorrow, about protest. Of course praise and adoration, confession and intercession, and he is wise in all of these kinds. I highly recommend this, perhaps to read before wading into the depths of Celebration of Discipline. It isn’t simple or quick, but it is one of the most helpful, illuminating and important books I’ve ever read.
Yours is the Day, Lord, Yours is the Night Jeanie & David Gushee (Nelson) $15.99 I wanted to list at least one or two traditional prayer books, for obvious reasons. This new one — a nicely bound hardback — draws from the broad, ecumenical church, including some prayers by current authors and writers (but mostly older ones.) It has a beautifully crafted prayer for morning and evening each day. You may know Dave Gushee, as we’ve sold his several books on Biblical studies and social ethics. It was good to be with him a few weeks ago at the ESA 40th Anniversary gathering, where he was a presenter. Phyllis Tickle, who herself has written a famous Book of Hours and knows a bit about prayer books writes, “If there is such a thing as a ‘perfect’ prayer book, then Yours is the Day, Lord… is that book.” Wow. And Brian McLaren says, “This is the prayer book I have wished for since I began praying.”
Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro (Zondervan) $24.99 This very cool, textured hardback with ribbon markers came out a few years ago, now, and we are proud to have been among the first to seriously review it, commending it to anyone who would listen. People continue to discover it, many still use it, to find its prayers, Bible verses, suggested readings and songs to be remarkably, uncannily appropriate. There are great helps to assist in using it and deepening ones formation through its regular use; you should know that there is a strong emphasis on peace and justice in the prayers, woodcuts and sidebars.
As you might guess, there are “saints days” for the likes of Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero. You know that the authors, while helping us get used to using a daily prayer book, are confident that such disciplines will form us into the ways of Christ, which is actually pretty radical business. But I firmly believe that it should not be seen as a specialty devotional for activists but could be used helpfully by anyone, of any background or theological persuasion. The prayers and Biblical readings are clear and very meaningful (and frankly not as zealous about causes or issues as you might think. It is primarily a prayer book for the scattered church, not a guide to activism.) If you don’t use a complex daily prayer book like this, Common Prayer is a great one to use. There is a small, pocket-sized, considerably abridged paperback, too, which is a simpler way into the habit. (Zondervan; $12.99)
Diary of Private Prayer John Ballie (MacMillan) $9.99 This is a small prayer book, pocket-sized and, although paperback, still quite nice to hold. More importantly, the prayers offered by this beloved Scottish pastor are wise and good, classic, eloquent, and bold about Christ’s Kingship and grace in the world. I have used it with others on retreats more than once and the day’s morning or evening prayer was precisely on the theme of the retreat! God has used this in beautiful ways over the years (it first came out in the States in 1949) and it is a joy to remind you of it here.
Letters by a Modern Mystic Frank C. Laubach (Purposeful Design) $10.95 If you know literacy work, you know Laubach’s name. If you’ve read Richard Foster, you know his enthusiasm for this little volume, originally published in 1937. As in the original, this newer paraphrased version includes his famous A Game with Minutes, which was Laubach’s attempt to live out the principles of Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Andrew.
The internationally-known Laubach wrote these letters to his father, trying to explain Christ-centered spirituality . This pocket-sized hardback is the best version you will find of the letters and the “game.” There is a very nice forward by Dallas Willard, commending the constant faith of Laubach and his wise methods of routinely filling one’s mind with the vision of God’s Kingdom. This ought to be more popular than it is as it is renowned.
God in My Everything: How An Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God Ken Shigematsu (Zondervan) $16.99 I would take much longer than I have here to explain the wonders of this amazing new book, but I am convinced it is a very important work, wonderfully written, offering good, rich, insight, practical but grounded in excellent insight. Drawing from the spiritual practices of the far East and more conventional evangelical faith, this author offers a large picture of the spiritual life, showing how God’s presence can be more notably felt in our day to day lives as we learn rhythms of rest and celebration.
Here is part of his story, which is fascinating: he was an overworked business executive for Sony in Tokyo, studied theology in Canada where he became an overworked pastor, and then made a pilgrimage to Ireland where he learned of Celtic and monastic spirituality. Of course some of that ancient wisdom resonated with the traditional wisdom of his native land. Shigematsu shows here how to develop your own “Rule of Life” that is (as John Ortberg puts it on the back) a way beyond “mechanical formulas on the one hand and vague abstractions on the other.” Lovely, practical, with lots of resources for journaling and reflecting and stories of those who have been shifting their rhythms and more intentional about experiencing grace and the goodness of God’s presence.
The Rest of Life: Rest, Play, Eating, Studying, Sex from a Kingdom Perspective Ben Witherington III (Eerdmans) $18.00 I hope you know that this great United Methodist New Testament scholar has done a set of small book on how the central Biblical theme of the Kingdom of God shapes and colors how we think about stuff. He has one on worship, one on work, one on money. He gets endorsements by the likes of Regent College’s brilliant work-world theologian R. Paul Stevens. Work: A Kingdom Perspective has been used by the likes of the Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation, and Culture. Here, he brings together short reflections on the “other stuff” of daily life. Less public, more personal, here we learn to practice the presence of God by thinking well about the uniqueness of living well, for God and others, as we shop and buy and eat and play and rest. This is not sentimental or light-weight, but it isn’t obtuse academic work, either. Friends, this is more important than you may know, more urgent than many realize, and such a good, good gift, rare and good and true. I realize it isn’t about the typical spiritual disciplines, but its vision is so close to the heart of seeing God in all things, I wanted to list it here. Send us a note, by the way, if you want a list of our favorite books on sabbath-keeping. There are a lot!
Ancient Paths: Discover Christian Formation the Benedictine Way David Robenson (Paraclete) $16.95 There is a huge interest these days in monastic customs and the spirituality that emerges from those settings. Most popular, it seems, are books by and about Benedict. Benedictine spirituality affirms the daily and celebrates human work of all sorts — in the world, quite generally, but also, literally, in the Earth. High-tech culture-makers and backyard gardeners are all finding new ways to deepen their faith and spiritual experiences by hearing well the insights from this historic tradition. I myself have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the monastic way, and, for me, Benedictine faith makes most sense. Which is a long way of saying that I think this is the best book on the subject, a fine and wonderful introduction to this stream of monastic spirituality. I learned so much about the history of the order, and its good applications in the world of ordinary living. It is written by a Presbyterian pastor, too. Ha. Perfect!
Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards Kyle Strobel (Crossway) $16.00 This is an amazing book in many ways and while it will surely appeal to conservative Reformed folks — it is about Edwards, after all, and about our reason for being coram deo — I want to suggest that it is one others should read as well. I am very aware that many are turned off to Edwards (that is a conversation for another day, but certainly all agree he is one of the most brilliant scholarly minds in American history and an eloquent and elegant theologian.) So, realizing that it may be a harder sell, as they say, at least to some, I want to offer that this is a great way to open up a new avenue or sort of learniong for some of our readers. I think you should become more familiar with Edwards and his intimate, Godly piety! Many Protestants are now quite happy to read Catholics (thanks be!) But yet, some who are not Reformed or not drawn to Puritan thinking simply will not give this tradition its due. Strobel himself is young and profoundly aware of the hungers of the postmodern generation, and he is well-grounded in a scholarly study of church history and various sorts of thinkers who taught contemplation and meditation. In fact, he explores exactly some of this sort of mystery in this very volume. There are other books that are more general about the great Puritan but this may be the best thing out on his spirituality, and how and why we should care about formation.
Listen to Gerald Sittser, author of the moving book on grief, A Grace Disguised,
His attention to Edwards’s theology of glory and beauty and love informs and shapes his exploration of Edwards’s spiritual practices, which in both cases orient us toward God. This book did more than teach me; it awakened longing for God. It introduces Jonathan Edwards as the luminous, pastoral, passionate and deeply Christian man that he was. I heartily commend it to you.
Living into the Life of Jesus: The Formation of Christian Character Klaus Issler (IVP) $16.00 With rave endorsements from the likes of Dallas Willard, you’ll realize this is thoughtful, mature, but aimed at practical Christian growth. J.P. Moreland says, “Its uniqueness likes in two directions: its central focus on Jesus and the Gospels, and its seminal chapter on finances and the spiritual life.” The late Calvin Miller endorsed it, the counselor John Townsend writes of Issler’s “scholarship and warmth.” If you want to deepen your discipline so that you put yourself in spaces to be open to being formed into the ways of Jesus, if you long for greater Christ-likeness, this could be a God-send. Literally. The chapter on five formation gaps and what to do about them is worth the price of the book, too. Perhaps you know his profound work, Wasting Time with God: A Christian Spirituality of Friendship with God (IVP; $20.00.) That also was well reviewed by serious readers in this field.
Meditation and Communion with God: Contemplating Scripture in an Age of Distraction John Jefferson Davis (IVP Academic) $20.00 Davis is quite Reformed and has widely in the past written about conservative social ethics. Not your typical profile of a touchy-feely inner life guy. Yet, I saw this coming. His last book was Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence (IVP; $22.00) which was heady and hefty, but whispered over and over the need to worship the real God who is really there. This hunger for truth and experience, facts and feelings, worshiping “in spirit and truth” just seemed to me as if he was becoming more contemplative. And, wow, is this book ever.
Meditation and Communion… is a serious critique of our lack of attention, and our lack of attention to the Bible in our spiritual formation. It shares the sorts of concerns that I voiced above. After mind-stretching studies of epistemology, symbolic hermeneutics, and the malaise of the state of the modern church, Davis ends up offering wonderful guidance for serious practices of the disciplines. He offers some exercises, further tools to deeper our meditation, all using the Bible in profound ways.
Sung Wook Chung of Denver Seminary says “Davis is one of the best and most important evangelical theologians alive in North America.” Asbury Theological Seminary prof Timothy Tennent says “if his challenges are taken seriously, we will never again read Scripture without an increasing sense of the risen Christ in our midst.” This is a very important resource.
The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism and Justice Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling (Jossey-Bass) $14.95 This book is not heady or difficult, but it is on a challenging subject, and it does a very thorough job. It is about the curious and complex relationship between contemplation and action, about, well, prayerful piety and public mission.
Others have written profoundly about this — it was a major concern of Thomas Merton and is the theme of the outstanding and provocative exploration The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring by Parker Palmer (Jossey-Bass; $16.95.) But this one by Tony and Ms Darling is a real favorite, and I can’t recommend it enough. Campolo, as you surely know, is an outspoken advocate of social justice, is a world-wide gat fly not only around causes of creation-care and business ethics and peace-making, but he has started numerous schools and orphanages in his beloved Haiti. So he’s a doer, a mover and shaker, an evangelist and tireless public speaker. But he also preaches about “quietude.” About listening to Jesus, about mystical communion. His co-author teaches contemplative spirituality at Spring Arbor College, as a master of the spiritual disciplines, and is known as a spiritual director. Together, they’ve done this incredible book showing how our inner lives and outward callings are profoundly related, and how the two general callings, prayer and action, can be combined. (And, further, it shows that social action and justice work must also include appropriate evangelism and proclamation.) As Ruth Haley Barton writes of it, “This very important work brings integration to the false dichotomy that promotes an artificial disconnection between Christian mysticism and Christian outreach.” I love this upbeat, inspiring book and the wholistic gospel it invites us to experience and share. I highly recommend it.
Missional Spirituality: Embodying God’s Love from the Inside Out Roger Helland & Leonard Hjalmarson (IVP) $16.00 This is a major contribution, an amazing and substantive study of the relationship of spiritual formation and missional ministry. Whether one is interested in the missional church conversation or convicted about whole-life discipleship that sees all of life as a daily opportunity for Kingdom witness, this study of spiritual formation is one of the few that knowingly seeks to equip readers to be more missional. Listen to what Michael Frost, author with Alan Hirsch, of The Shaping of Things to Come and Re:Jesus and so many other seminal missional books says:
I found myself saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ as I read Missional Spirituality. So many books on spirituality are focused on self-improvement and private pietistic devotion, and they often leave me cold and uninspired. Roger Helland and Len Hjalmarson helpfully reconnect spirituality and mission, believing all truly Christian spiritual formation to be for the sake of the world. They take Jesus as their supreme example, the one who claimed that he was nourished by doing his Father’s will and work. This book is a triumph.
Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal Richard Lovelace (IVP Academic) $30.00 All right. Here’s to a classic, an under-appreciated and amazingly rich book that is one of the more important works of my own lifetime. This came out in the late 70s on the tail of the counter culture and the Jesus movement and the rise of both the evangelical left and the charismatic renewal, seeking to provide a much-needed, solid theological foundation for church and para-church in the throes of change and transformation. How many books do you know that have endured a generation and in a new cover design, includes blurbs from a Catholic (Mark Link) a mainline leader (Martin Marty) and a radical Wesleyan (Howard Snyder.) Lovelace was passionate and eccentric and a vital interpreter of the great awakenings of American history. Do you wish for live orthodoxy, realizing the need for a more comprehensive vision of renewal in our time? I am not alone to insist that Dynamics… is an essential book to add to your collection of must-read religious books of the last 50 years.
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