The Best Books on Spiritual Formation

November 30, 2012

There are thousands of definitions of Spiritual Formation, but here’s what I mean by it:

“The activity involved with becoming more intimate with God through disciplines, practices and knowledge, with the goal of becoming more Christlike”

In my 41 years as a Christ-Follower, I have read many books that sought to help me in this process of Spiritual Formation. Many of these were written centuries ago and some show up from year to year. When I find a book that impacts me, it is usually because it shows me a path to God that is both challenging and accessible.

I realize a list like this is subjective. I have not read a lot of Eugene Peterson, Henri Noewen or Timothy Keller, so their books are not on this list. Also, as a spiritually oriented counselor, I have added more books on how to have a healthy inner man than most other people. I tried to include books from every age.

My criteria for choosing books on Spiritual Formation include the following four characteristics:

1. Good theology, but not too much

2. Biblical basis but not a lot of quotations

3. Practical elements, but not a how-to

4. Personal reflections, but not a biography.

So, without further explanation, here is a list of the books I consider essential for any disciple of Christ.

The Bible: Because it shouldn’t go without saying this is THE BOOK.

cunninghamIs That Really You, God? by Loren Cunningham. This is the foundation for a missionary movement greater in scope than any other. And a simple book on Hearing God

Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. This is the only allegory on the list, but it propels the reader to greater understanding of suffering and joy.

I Found the Key to the Heart of God by Basilea Schlink. Most North Americans need to delve into what one of the world’s greatest souls found as she lived out her Christianity in a rugged culture.

Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness by Jerry Cook. Jerry understands those things that we have to have to live for God in a broken world.

Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets. He understands how to pray for others and expresses it more clearly than any other book on prayer. And I’ve read a lot of them.

wallisGod’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis. If you have never fasted, or never got much out of it, this is the quintessential book on the subject. I love books of less than 100 pages that say this much.

How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit by A. W. Tozer. Another short book that delivers what it promises.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe. Many people will be shocked to see this one on here. But when you read it, the cost of what it means to follow Christ becomes clearer and clearer.

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon McDonald. This book has changed the lives of so many people.

When I Relax I Feel Guilty by Tim Hansel. Every intense follower of Christ needs this one to balance out Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

Between Heaven and Earth by Ken Gire. This is the best book by a man I consider to be one of the most thoughtful writers alive.

How to Study Your Bible by Kay Arthur. No one presents the principles of Inductive Bible Study better than Kay Arthur.

Healing Life’s Hurts by Ed Smith. This is a simple to read explanation of just about every mental and spiritual problem we face. And it lays out the simple solution.

Transformation of the Inner Man by John Sandford. The tri-fold nature of man needs to be understood and this book does a thorough job.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Boenhoeffer. This is actually  not high on my list because it is difficult to read and not well written. But the concepts are foundational and may make this one of the greatest books in Christianity along with…

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Okay, here is another allegory, but it is so much more. Get a modern translation of it if you can.

NeeThe Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. The greatest mind of Chinese Christianity and some of the simplest and profound practices of getting closer to God.

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. If you ever wondered how the Enemy of our souls carries out his business, this might be the best book on the subject.

The Bait of Satan by John Bevere. This explains why most of us have trouble getting along with other people and shows how God can solve that.

The Divine Romance by Gene Edwards. When I first read it, I thought it was heresy. I have changed my mind and now consider it a great book. Read it more than once for full effect.

Don’t Waste Your Sorrows by Paul Billheimer. Have you ever grieved and mourned? Was it worth it? That strange question is the foundation for a powerful truth.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. In this unique set of daily prayers the Bible comes alive in a semi-private conversation between Jesus and you.

Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. You need to understand real holiness and Bridges delivers in this simple book.

When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson. Though perhaps not as well written as some of the rest (from a technical standpoint), it is rich in a subject most Christians ignore: The power of God

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. The so-called master of spiritual formation, this book is his best.

The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. A good explanation of all the spiritual disciplines. Please don’t let this be the only one you read (as is true of most of these).

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. The scene about washing dishes radically changed my view of the sanctity of work.

chanCrazy Love by Francis Chan. I caution the reader to see this is one man’s passion and may not be every person’s calling. That said, this is a great depiction of God’s love for us and how we can live that out.

The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer. A classic understanding of the intricate levels of our relationship with God.

Wild At Heart by John Eldridge. Like many of the books on this list, this one launched a movement of men to get closer and more intimate with God.

The Autobiography of Madame Guyon by Jeanne Guyon. This is a deep and reflective look at God by a woman literally locked up most of her life. This is not an easy book to read, but is extremely valuable.

Holiness and the Spirit of the Age by Floyd McClung. This is a glimpse in how to read our culture with a focus on how the people of God should live in that culture.

One comment

  1. Thank you! There are some here I haven’t read, but since they are in such good company I shall have to check them out.

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