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Spring 2005 · Vol. 34 No. 1 · pp. 98–103 

Recommended Reading

On Christian Spirituality

Irma Fast Dueck

The reading possibilities in the area of Christian spirituality are boundless, especially if both historical and theologically-oriented readings are included in addition to the more pastoral literature dealing specifically with the practices/disciplines of the Christian spiritual life. Where does one begin?

What follows is a recommended “top five” or “best of” reading list from seven faculty who are currently teaching in the area of Christian spirituality and spiritual formation at various Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite Church post-secondary schools.

Of course to develop a short list of five books is a nearly impossible task (most of the faculty replied to the request for their top five books with something like, “Only five books? What about the rest of my bibliography?”), especially from faculty who make it their business to pay attention to what is being written on the subject. The kinds of books recommended reflect a wide cross section: from historical perspectives, to what could be considered “the classics” of Christian spirituality, to very practical books geared to the development and practice of spiritual disciplines. Here is what these teachers of Christian spirituality came up with.

From Gareth Brandt, Columbia Bible College, Abottsford, British Columbia:

Lee C. Camp, Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World. Brazos, 2003.

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. 3d ed. HarperCollins, 1998.

Foster’s book continues to be a popular book for good reason and is frequently read in both classroom and church settings. (Foster’s book was recommended by a number of faculty; however, it was removed from the lists of those who had surreptitiously submitted more than five books).

Martin Marty, A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter Heart. HarperCollins, 1983.

Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. Doubleday, 1972.

Nouwen’s books, including this classic one, have been significant in the development of a spirituality for ministry.

Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality. Zondervan, 2002.

From Gerald Ediger, Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba:

Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image. Zondervan, 2001.

Boa’s book is a comprehensive and systematic introduction to Christian spirituality from an evangelical perspective.

Demetrius Dumm, Praying the Scriptures. Liturgical, 2003.

Dumm demonstrates the Bible’s premier role as the Christian’s prayer book. With a decided emphasis on the importance of thanksgiving and praise, he traces the prayers of the biblical saints in a way that enables one to make scriptural prayers one’s own.

Gordon Mursell, The Story of Christian Spirituality: Two Thousand Years, from East to West. Augsburg Fortress, 2001.

The book takes an historical approach to Christian spirituality—ecumenical and visually beautiful.

Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for Christian Spirituality. Doubleday, 1999.

Arnold C. Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ: The Anabaptist Spirituality. Orbis, 2004.

This recently published book reflects the unique contribution of the Anabaptists to the area of Christian spirituality. It is significant that it is published by Orbis, placing the Anabaptist perspectives alongside other traditions, accessibly written for those both within and outside of the Anabaptist tradition.

From Jim Holm, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California:

Marva Dawn, Powers, Weakness and the Tabernacling of God. Eerdmans, 2001.

Dawn’s book challenges readers to rethink the goals and mission of the congregation, to develop practices that follow God’s “hidden” way of weakness, and to expand the congregation’s sense of what it means to be a faithful church.

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ. Trans. and ed. Joseph Tylenda. Random House, 1998.

This book is clearly one of the classics of Christian spirituality.

Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God: With Spiritual Maxims. Revell, 1999.

Brother Lawrence’s continually-updated resources to help guide spiritual reflection are available without charge via the internet,

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

Willard’s book received Christianity Today’s “Book of the Year” award in 1999.

Daniel Wolpert, Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices. Upper Room, 2003.

From Marlene Kropf, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana:

Susan Howatch, Absolute Truths. Fawcett Crest (Ballantine), 1994.

Howatch’s book is a novel; however, it is a remarkable introduction to the ministry of spiritual direction and the ongoing life of conversion.

Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for Christian Spirituality. Doubleday, 1999.

Using compelling anecdotes and personal examples, Rolheiser attempts to make sense of the meaning of spirituality and how to apply those meanings to one’s own life.

Arnold C. Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ: The Anabaptist Spirituality. Orbis, 2004.

Jean Stairs, Listening for the Soul: Pastoral Care and Spiritual Direction. Fortress, 2000.

Joann Wolski Conn, ed., Women’s Spirituality: Resources for Christian Development. 2d ed. Paulist, 1996.

From Wendell Loewen, Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas:

Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. Crossroad, 1993.

Nouwen’s book, though brief, provides an excellent and honest look at the “spiritual” challenges of ministry.

Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World. Crossroad, 2002.

Nouwen wrote this book to explain the spiritual life in lay terminology to be understood by those even outside of the Christian faith. As such, it avoids complex theological language and technical constructions, yet remains profound.

Douglas J. Rumford, Soul Shaping. Tyndale House, 1996.

Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life. Westminster John Knox, 1995.

Mike Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder. Zondervan, 1998.

From Rick Schellenberg, Bethany College, Hepburn, Saskatchewan:

William A. Barry, God and You: Prayer as Personal Relationship. Paulist, 1988.

This book describes prayer as a conscious relationship of a person with God.

Maxie Dunham, Alive in Christ: The Dynamic Process of Spiritual Formation. Abingdon, 1987.

Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out. Image, 1986.

A. W. Tozer, Pursuit of God. Christian Publications, 1982.

Walter Wangerin, Whole Prayer. Zondervan, 2001.

Wangerin gracefully explores the dynamics of prayer—speaking, listening, waiting, and hearing God’s voice.

From Jeanine Yoder, Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, California:

Richard Foster. Streams of Living Water. HarperCollins, 1998.

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ. Trans. and ed. Joseph Tylenda. Random House, 1998.

M. Robert Mulholland Jr. Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation. InterVarsity, 1993.

Mulholland defines spiritual formation as “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” Through this definition, he attempts to develop an understanding of spiritual formation that moves beyond a private affair between “me and Jesus.”

Clare Ann Ruth-Heffelbower, “Design for Christian Formation.” D.Min. Project.

Yoder includes Ruth-Heffelbower’s D.Min. Project as a resource for thinking about spiritual formation from an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective. The design is entitled, “Knowing Christ: A Life of Discipleship.” For more details, see Ruth-Heffelbower’s Web site

Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. HarperCollins, 1988.

The key to self-transformation, Willard claims, resides in the practice of the spiritual disciplines, enabling persons to live life to the fullest.

Irma Fast Dueck is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the Director of the Institute for Theology and the Church.

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