The best Christian books on spiritual formation and Christian virtue

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung Author Of Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies
By Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung

Who am I?

As a moral philosopher, I ask practical questions: What kind of person am I becoming? What kind of life will I live? What loves, hopes, and fears drive my choices and shape my relationships? Character formation moves us from vice to virtue. It starts with self-reflection and moves toward intentional practice. Over time, those practices shape us and add up to a way of life. You will be formed—but how? Glittering Vices, like my job, combines my passions for character development and wise teaching. Enduring the fiery furnace of cancer treatment made formation an urgent, life-changing topic for me. I hope these books open your life to renewal too.

I wrote...

Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies

By Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung,

Book cover of Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies

What is my book about?

What do you see when you look in the mirror? Self-examination often reveals inner struggle. A wise tradition of philosophical virtue ethics and Christian spirituality offers us a powerful diagnosis of the human condition. With depth and accessible language, this study of the seven capital vices points to a healthier way of life. With analysis from Augustine and Aquinas, insights from everyday life, and examples from contemporary film, Glittering Vices explains why our hearts are captivated by glittery but false substitutes for true human goodness and flourishing.

The new edition includes discussion questions and a section on spiritual disciplines—practices that transform our life and character from vice to virtue. Glittering Vices is an insightful guide for college ethics classes, book groups, and spiritual retreats.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues

Why did I love this book?

Humility, joy, gratitude, hope, contrition, and peace are virtuous emotions of Christian character—shaping how we see and feel and respond to the world, to God, and to each other. This gem of a book deserves to be widely read. Roberts offers mature Christian reflections on patterns in our emotional life. A Christian perspective offers a distinctive spin on each of these virtuous responses. When I was going through the most difficult time of my life, the chapters on gratitude and hope reframed everything for me. 

Roberts’ work at the intersection of philosophy and psychology is insightful and spiritually rich. It has also catalyzed a new generation of Christians thinking about virtue ethics and character formation.

By Robert C. Roberts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spiritual Emotions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An expert in moral and philosophical psychology, Robert C. Roberts here develops an original, up-to-date understanding of human emotions in relation to spirituality and as a basic part of Christian moral character. With an eye on pertinent Biblical texts, Roberts explores emotions as nonsensory perceptions that arise from personal caring and concern. His study culminates with an in-depth examination of six "fruit of the Holy Spirit" emotion-virtues: contrition, joy, gratitude, hope, peace, and compassion.

Though Spiritual Emotions is rigorous in its focus on the inner structure of Christian character, it is nonetheless readable and is laced with many narrative examples.…

Book cover of Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation

Why did I love this book?

I love Barton’s personal and practical approach to a key cluster of spiritual disciplines in this accessible overview. She explores how to encounter God in Scripture and in prayer, how to practice solitude, self-examination and discernment, how to honor the body and keep sabbath. Individual chapters are framed by an introduction to spiritual formation and book-ended by combining them into a single rule of life. Think of this book as a fresh update of Richard Foster’s classic, Celebration of Discipline. (See her Transforming Center website for more.)

By Ruth Haley Barton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sacred Rhythms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Do you long for a deep, fundamental change in your life with God? Do you desire a greater intimacy with God? Do you wonder how you might truly live your life as God created you to live it? Spiritual disciplines are activities that open us to God's transforming love and the changes that only God can bring about in our lives. Picking up on the monastic tradition of creating a "rule of life" that allows for regular space for the practice of spiritual disciplines, Ruth Haley Barton takes you more deeply into understanding seven key disciplines along with practical ideas…

Book cover of Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation

Why did I love this book?

This book on spiritual formation is introductory but still rich enough to reread again and again. Mulholland seamlessly weaves together pastoral theology and psychological insight, but he keeps things accessible and focused on practice. You will see yourself clearly in the mirror with the guided reflection-and-practice exercise at the end of each chapter. Follow this up with A Deeper Journey, which peels away our performances and false pictures of ourselves to find a place of rest in the loving presence of God. Mulholland is a wise and gentle teacher who reveals what we need to know about ourselves to step into a better way to live.

By M. Robert Mulholland Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Invitation to a Journey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

M. Robert Mulholland Jr. defines spiritual formation as "the process of being formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others." Compact and solid, this definition encompasses the dynamics of a vital Christian life and counters our culture's tendency to make spirituality a trivial matter or reduce it to a private affair between "me and Jesus." In Invitation to a Journey, Mulholland helps Christians new and old understand that we become like Christ gradually, not instantly. Not every personality is suited to an early morning quiet time, so Mulholland frees different personality types to express their piety differently.…

Book cover of Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ

Why did I love this book?

“Discipleship is becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.” This is Willard’s classic map of areas of spiritual transformation. The second half of the book gives his signature “how-to” guide for patterning your life and character after the life and character of Jesus Christ. The book tracks every aspect of our person and life: our will and choices, our thoughts and feelings, and our social relationships. A lifelong apprenticeship begins with intentional, practical steps. This book maps the terrain and guides each step forward, balancing grace and effort perfectly. See Johnson’s and Willard’s follow-up text (Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice: Experiments in Spiritual Transformation) for more practical wisdom from two seasoned spiritual masters.

By Dallas Willard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Renovation of the Heart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Renovation of the Heart is an influential contribution from the late Dallas Willard that continues to break ground twenty years after its first release.

Helping us to understand how character is formed and where Jesus does his most significant work on our spiritual and emotional health, this book changed a generation’s mind about what it means to follow Jesus—not a matter of sin management but a matter of drawing near and letting ourselves be shaped into the eternal people of God.

With reflections on the book’s impact over its life from family, friends, and admirers of Dallas, and supplemental resources…

Book cover of Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way

Why did I love this book?

This is the most “how-to” book on the list. Whether we are reflective about it or not, our character will be shaped and our lives transformed into something—the only question is In what way? and For what end? John Stott once said that “Spirituality is not a condition into which we can drift.” Steve’s book teaches you how not to drift through life. 

Steve’s ministry (Leadership Transformations) helps Christian leaders and laypeople live renewed and beautiful lives. This book walks you through a process of self-reflection and intentional choice to create a “rule of life”—an intentional rhythm or pattern of our days that primes us for spiritual growth and attentiveness to God.

By Stephen A. Macchia,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Crafting a Rule of Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Your personal rule of life is a holistic description of the Spirit-empowered rhythms and relationships that create, redeem, sustain and transform the life God invites you to humbly fulfill for Christ's glory. All of us have an unwritten personal rule of life. We wake at certain times, get ready for our days in particular ways, use our free time for assorted purposes and practice rhythms of work, hobbies, and worship. There is already a rule in place that you are following. Isn?t it time to give up your unwritten rule and prayerfully write one that more closely matches the heartbeat…

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