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.

The books I picked & why

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Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues

By Robert C. Roberts,

Book cover of Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues

Why 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.

Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation

By Ruth Haley Barton,

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

Why 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.)

Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation

By M. Robert Mulholland Jr.,

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

Why 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.

Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ

By Dallas Willard,

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

Why 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.

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

By Stephen A. Macchia,

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

Why 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.

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