Thursday, June 30, 2011

Books and Authors on Discipleship & Spiritual Formation

Some basic instruction on making good use of this list: Briefly, discipleship is the journey of following Jesus, of being an apprentice to Him. It is the “discipline” we engage in, in order to prepare (partner) in our own spiritual formation, our transformation into the image of Christ, taking on His character by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, as you seek to use the resources on this list, to find those that suit you in your current season of life, your place on the journey, some basic guidelines will be helpful.

 The number codes (1-3) are my attempt to apply a general reading level or complexity to the books; 1 being the “easiest” to 3 being fairly “deep” stuff in my opinion.
 While my short annotations may be helpful, I always recommend using to review, read excerpts, etc. to help determine which books to choose, those that will be meaningful for your particular “bent”, reading level and personality (style preference.)
 Also of great use are the websites for Renovare, Navigators and Intervarsity Press (IVP); all publishers and organizations who have wonderful resources for discipleship and spiritual formation. (links included at the end of this document.)
 I have broken the list into two categories; discipleship and spiritual formation. They are certainly directly related, but discipleship is what we do, the formation is the Holy Spirit’s work. It’s good to understand how the Spirit works in us, transforming us into the image of Christ, esoteric sometimes, but good. These readings require time and reflection, a reliance on the Spirit to “speak” to our hearts.
 This is simply my own personal effort, and as such, is certainly not a complete or exhaustive list, but merely at attempt at a “best of” in this area of Christian literature.
 You will probably find books missing that you would have included, that is not a condemnation of any authors or books, just my choice to limit the size of the list.
 You will also note an absence of “emergent church movement” literature and authors; McLaren, Pagitt, Kimball, Miller and others? I did this purposefully choosing what I felt were “timeless” or classic offerings, works that seem to be widely accepted across Christian thought and groups. That said, I have read and appreciated what they all have to offer as followers of Jesus.
 Lastly, (and to avoid being too lengthy here), the point ultimately is to apply the wisdom and practices (disciplines) we discover, to our own lives. And, begin living the abundant life as apprentices to Jesus, today!

So, in no particular order (random, so as not to appear to be recommending one book or author over another) here are books and resources. Have fun researching (searching for treasure) as suggested above, and enjoy the “spiritual direction” that these folks offer:


The Lost Art of Disciple Making, by Leroy Eims [2] – a good general resource for pastors, churches and lay persons. An overview that includes history. Don’t forget to visit for reviews, etc.

Waking The Dead, by John Eldredge [1-2] – Eldredge is an engaging author that entertains while he teaches. Touches on discipleship, among other areas of the Christian life. Ransomed Heart is Eldredge’s website presence for those who are interested in more from him. Some people question Eldredge’s theology, but his passion cannot be mistaken.

Transforming Discipleship, by Greg Ogden [2] – Ogden has been doing discipleship after the model of Jesus for many years. This book, along with Discipleship Essentials, are excellent tools for anyone who wants to engage in lifelong discipleship and disciple making. Solid one-on-one or triad formational resource.

The Great Omission, by Dallas Willard [2-3] – Willard is thought by some to be the most influential Christian author of our time. This work is aimed at elucidating the loss of discipleship as the cornerstone of the church. Renovation of the Heart is another work to be considered. No less than Eugene Peterson, John Ortberg, Francis Chan, Bill Hull and many others consider Willard to be their spiritual mentor. Great stuff from this author, although often very challenging intellectually. (Took me three times before I got Divine Conspiracy, which is another title for those seeking the deep stuff of discipleship. I give it a definite #3 level code!)

The Kingdom Life, by various authors [2] – A wonderful collection by several really good authors on discipleship and spiritual formation. I hesitate to say this, but if you can read only one book, get this one. The reason I hesitate is that another book on doing discipleship (a “how to”) would be a good (necessary) companion to this one.

The Life You’ve Always Wanted, by John Ortberg [1-2] – Ortberg is a pastor (well, I guess most of these authors have been at one time or another?) who writes with humor and wit, while getting his message across. He might call his writing a “dumbed-down” version of Willard?! A personal friend and pastor to my boys, hope he doesn’t find out I said that!  He has several books that are good; including If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat and The Me I Want To Be.

{Don’t forget, check out all these books at to read excerpts and get a more detailed synopsis.}

Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster [2] – Many call Foster’s book the bellwether of the new discipleship movement (return to the first church). Great stuff on the spiritual disciplines (the practices of discipleship.) I consider this the first of a triad of great books on spiritual disciplines, and applying them (discipleship.)

Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard [2] – You’ll see a lot of Willard in this list, and you’ll see him quoted in many other ones here. This book complements Celebration well, and even Willard will say that. Affirms discipleship as the practice of the spiritual disciplines and following Jesus.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, by Donald Whitney [1-2] – Proven and practical “how to” book that I consider the third member of the triad here. While Whitney is a lesser known author, he does a wonderful job of taking the above two books and giving us direction in applying them to our lives.

Longing For God, by Gayle Beebe & Richard Foster [2] – I love this book for taking the ancient fathers and mothers offerings, giving us a sample of them, then helping us apply their experiences and teaching to our own lives in this time. This is somewhat of a compilation of earlier Renovare works; Devotional Classics and Spiritual Classics, both books I highly recommend in the spiritual formation category.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan [1] – Here is a truly passionate follower of Jesus who has taken the call to obedience very seriously. Chan appeals to a younger audience (he pastors my other son’s church, Cornerstone, in Simi Valley, but I’m not admitting any prejudice here.) 

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, by Eugene Peterson [2] – The author of The Message version of the Bible offers his own look at discipleship based on the Psalms of Ascent, an ancient, poetic look at following God. While not technically a discipleship book, it may suit those who don’t want a “cookbook” type of offering?

Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren [1] - The bestseller by a pastor of a megachurch (who coincidentally understands that megachurches don’t make disciples). This is a good book for seekers and others who are new to Jesus and His church.

Complete Book of Discipleship by Bill Hull [2-3?] – Probably my personal favorite on discipleship (even though I really appreciate The Kingdom Life, in which he authors a section.) Just a flat out excellent work, comprehensive with very good recommended suggested readings (yes, an author who isn’t afraid to recommend other books.) If you are looking for a contemporary overview on discipleship and spiritual formation, with lots of practical advice and references, this is it!

Down to Earth Discipling, by Scott Morton [1] – Short, easy to read and practical. Not looking for lots of theology and complex thought, this fits the bill.

Lifestyle Discipleship, by Jim Peterson [1] – Another offering from a NavPress guy (Hull and Morton are too), that gives basic life application guidance to discipling others.

Apprentice With Jesus, by Gary Moon [1-3] – 1-3 he says??!! Well, I guess that’s because I believe you can benefit from this book no matter where you are on the journey that is discipleship (following Jesus.) This book offers a 30 day experience in applied discipleship. A great way to inculcate the habit of discipleship into our lives, and to find some things that just “tick” with our hearts in this area.

The Apprentice Series, by James Bryan Smith & Renovare [1-2] – Last but not least for sure, a series of books that most of us can read and digest. “The Apprentice Series is based on a simple structure for producing change that has four components. The first “element” is actually the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that enlivens all our efforts to follow Christ—including the other three components of transformation.
The second area where change can happen is in transforming our narratives. Narratives are the stories we live by that give our life purpose and explanation. Often our narratives are at work in our lives without our knowing it. We have narratives about God, our self, others and so forth. Many of us have narratives about God that do not match the narratives that Jesus revealed. We cannot change our behavior until we change the narratives that guide us.
One way to change our narratives is to engage in soul-training exercises, which makes up the third component of transformation. Each chapter includes a practice that helps the reader open to the Holy Spirit and begin replacing false narratives with the true narratives of Jesus. The exercises are often simple and usually counter-cultural. For example, the first exercise of The Good and Beautiful God is sleep, because when we sleep we are relinquishing our perceived control of life and inviting God to be God.
The fourth and final component of transformation is community. We cannot change on our own, we need other people on the journey with us to encourage and challenge us. And while each book in the series [can] be read by an individual they also include reflection questions throughout each chapter as well as a group guide appendix that offers discussion questions for each chapter. In addition, on this website under the “Small Groups” tab you will see a “Leader Guide” which is another, more robust resource for nurturing community.
With this framework in mind, the topics of each book in the series flow in a natural progression. Book one, The Good and Beautiful God, looks at our competing narratives about God and tests them against the God Jesus revealed. As we come to know the God that Jesus knows, it is natural for us to fall more deeply in love with God.
As we fall more deeply in love with God and as we recognize God’s provision and love for us our lives start to look different. This is what the second book explores. The Good and Beautiful Life walks through the “Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew 5-7, taking seriously the teachings of Jesus as something his apprentices will be able to do. But how is it possible to be free from anger, lust, lying, vainglory and the like? It is possible as we grow in understanding where we are—in God’s wondrous kingdom—and who we are—people indwelt by Christ.
As our hearts are changed our lives begin to change and the ultimate expression of this change comes in our relationships with others. In the third book in the series, The Good and Beautiful Community, the outward expression of a Kingdom heart is the focus. Just as our perception of God and our self is transformed and healed, so too we begin to see other people as precious children of God.”

{once again, don’t forget to use to check out the books}

Spiritual Formation:

Devotional Classics, by Smith & Foster from Renovare [2-3] – I suppose if Hull’s book is my favorite on discipleship, then this one from Renovare is my personal favorite on spiritual formation/spiritual development? I love the sampling of the “ancient fathers and mothers” from 300 AD to the 20th century pillars of the church. (My wife is using this book in three different Bible study groups!)

Spiritual Classics, by Griffith & Foster [2-3] – The companion book to the above, and another “sampler”. These books introduce us to some wonderful saints, and often you will find one that you are inclined to read further. The Imitation of Christ has become a staple at my quiet time corner since “discovering” it (Thomas a’ Kempis) in these books.

Renovation of the Heart, by Willard [2-3] – I include Willard’s book here because I honestly felt it was . . . “spiritual” . . . it was about the Holy Spirit? Besides, most reviews refer to it as a spiritual formation book. This is inspiring, if not a little “heady” stuff . . . typical Willard.

Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton [2] – Wonderful, mystical, beautiful . . . no wonder, a female author in the list, finally. Sorry ladies, if you are wont to read female authors, please contact me as I have some suggestions, it’s just that the most widely read and accepted books on discipleship and spiritual formation seem to be from male authors. Okay, here are some names that I have personally found inspiring over the years; Rebecca Manley-Pippert, Joyce Meyer, Joni Eareckson Tada, Madeleine L’Engle, Ruth Bell Graham, Anne LaMott, Annie Dillard, Anne Morrow Lindbergh and others.

Conformed To His Image, by Kenneth Boa [2] – A virtual college seminary course in spiritual formation, but not too difficult to read and understand, (unlike some seminary textbooks.) 

Okay, that’s about it for my list of books. Yes, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Martin Luther, J.I. Packer, A.W. Tozer and lots more are missing, I admit it. You want to read those guys, or T.F. Torrance, McGrath, and more, I suggest you enroll in a seminary. But, for most of us the list above will suffice.

Finally, I include the following links to those organizations/publishers I mentioned earlier above. They provide an abundance of resources besides books, and are good places to seek spiritual direction (if not from a personal “spiritual director”.) Always remember, Christ is our true teacher through the Holy Spirit. (IVPress’ pages specifically for spiritual formation)

Only by Grace, Patrick Watters

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hilo Patti . . .

And another twist in the Narrow Road, and we will follow . . .

Jesus Storybook Bible Deluxe Edition

Yea, okay, it's supposed to be for kids, but adults will love this book as well. A wonderful introduction to the primary character of the Bible and His story. :-) [Not recommended for theologians, especially those suffering with kidney stones or just a bad attitude.] :-)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

on forgiveness . . .

Corrie was spared, and survived the horrors of the awful camp at Ravensbruck. Afterwards she dedicated her life to witnessing for Christ by conducting meetings and writing several books about her experiences. Eventually, a motion picture of her life story was made. It was called The Hiding Place. Corrie tells of a very moving incident which happened during one of her testi­mony meetings in Germany, after the war. She had just finished speaking to the German congregation about the love of God and how He can forgive even our worst sins. 'In fact,' she declared, 'God takes our sins and casts them into the deepest ocean.' After the service, as people were leaving the church, she noticed a bald­ing, heavy-set man, in a grey overcoat making his way towards her as she stepped off the platform. As he drew closer, her blood ran cold, for she instantly recognized him as one of the cruel, wicked guards from Ravensbruck where both she and Betsy had been so inhumanely treated. Now this guard stood before her with an outstretched hand.
June 19
PSALM 130:78 2 KINGS 1O:I5 ROMANS 5:5
The man began to speak to Corrie. 'A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea. You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. Well, I was a guard there.' It was obvious to Corrie that he had not recognized her. But she had never forgotten his face. The man continued: 'You know, since that time I have found Christ as my Saviour and I know that He has forgiven me for all the terrible things I did. However, I would like to hear you say it too, Fraulein.' Again he reached out his hand. 'Will you forgive me too?'
Corrie stood, looking into the face of her former tormentor, a man responsible for the death of her sister. She recoiled in anger and contempt as the terrible memories came flooding back. Hatred welled up within her. How could she forgive this man?
She held her own hand behind her back as she wrestled with the awful contradictions raging inside her. Love and forgiveness had been her message to others. But right now it seemed impossible to practise it herself. One of her favourite sayings was: 'Forgiveness is not an emotion; it is an act of the will.' Poor Corrie, her emotions had failed her. All that remained now was her will.
Silently, she lifted up a prayer to heaven. 'Jesus, please help me. I can stretch out my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.' Awkwardly, hesitatingly, she reached out her hand. Suddenly her prayer was answered, for immediately her heart was filled with the love of God for this man. 'I forgive you, my brother!' she cried. 'With all my heart I forgive you too.'
June 20____________________________
PSALM 86:5 MICAH 6:8 MATTHEW 18:23-25
Forgiveness is very easy to talk or even write about, but we need the power of the Holy Spirit to actually forgive. For the Christian, forgiveness is not optional. It is mandatory.
Henry Ward Beecher said, 'We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. We are most like God when we forgive.' Go ahead - stretch out that hand of forgiveness to someone today. Write that letter, make that call, as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you. And always remember the words of Corrie Ten Boom: 'Forgiveness is not an emotion. It's an act of your will.'

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

a little light, Hawaiian Moose verse . . .

In Dis Life (in memory of IZ)

My car is not a Beamer or a jag.
My house is a plain brown paper bag.
But I got a great family and loving wife.
And God has shown me that's what matters most in this life.

Now this life is not all there is.
And even Bruddah IZ sings about this.
There’s more in eternal life here now, and yet to come.
If we choose to follow God’s one and only Son.

So, as for me and my “house”,
We be livin large and livin fine,
Cuz livin for Jesus is deeevine.

Da kine Moose verse for all you “Hawaiians at heart”!
And, in honor of Hilo Patti, my beloved wahine.
Makua kane Paka, Da Moose