The Church Leaders “Best Books” series is our way of helping leaders find, read, and recommend books on a variety of important topics related to ministry and the Christian life. Check out the rest of our best books lists.
Nathan Finn joins us today to offer his five favorite books on spiritual disciplines. Nathan serves as director of the Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in church history and historical theology. He also serves as one of the pastors at First Baptist Church of Durham, North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter: @nathanafinn.
Over the past forty years, evangelicals have paid increasing attention to the spiritual disciplines. Generally speaking, I would define spiritual disciplines as faith-motivated practices that the Lord uses as means of sanctifying grace to make us more like Jesus Christ. The most obvious spiritual disciplines are those clearly commanded in Scripture: biblical meditation and memorization, prayer, fasting, corporate worship, etc. Other spiritual disciplines are not necessarily commanded in Scripture, but are grounded in biblical principles and might prove spiritually fruitful to some people: journaling, reading Christian biography, and silence and solitude come to mind.
Dozens of books have been written on the topic of spiritual disciplines. Some of them are more theologically grounded than others. Some are just weird. In this post, I share my top five books on spiritual disciplines.
1. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
Though not the most famous book in the genre, I think Whitney’s book is the best because of his commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture and his focus on the centrality of the gospel for spiritual maturity. If you can only read one book on this list, this ought to be the one. Highly recommended.
2. Spiritual Disciplines within the Church: Participating Fully in the Body of Christ by Donald Whitney
This book is Whitney’s “sequel” to the aforementioned title. Whereas Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life looks at personal spiritual practices, Spiritual Disciplines for the Church focuses upon corporate spirituality within the body of Christ. Whitney’s high view of the local church and his commitment to biblical community shine through in this book.
Kent Hughes was the longtime pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL; Barbara is his wife. Both are accomplished authors who are known for their commitment to sound doctrine and godly living. These two books are ideal for use in a local church’s men’s ministry and women’s ministry. Also, check out the couples’ companion volume, Disciplines of a Godly Family.
4. The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by John Ortberg
One of the unintended dangers of spiritual disciplines language is that it can be approached in a way that is motivated more by guilt than grace. To be clear, evangelical writers on this topic are almost never legalists. But it can still seem overwhelming, especially if you’ve never thought about spiritual disciplines beyond (perhaps) a daily quiet time. If this sounds like you, then Ortberg has written just the book you need. Though not as deep as Whitney, Ortberg excels at writing in a winsome and pastorally sensitive style.
Strobel is a theologian, a scholar of Jonathan Edwards’s thought, and an expert on spiritual formation. This book reflects all three of those emphases. This is the best book I know of for introducing readers to how an influential Christian from bygone days approached the spiritual disciplines. Plus, Edwards is awesome. As a church historian who loves spiritual formation, I recommend this book to my students all the time.
Honorable Mention: Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth; Donald Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life: Spiritual Disciplines for the Overwhelmed; Earl Crepps, Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders.