Five Books that shaped my understanding of a Practice-Based Faith
(1) The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. Even though I had been a Christian for many years, this book was the first time I had ever heard teaching on the topic that Jesus did most of his teaching on: The Kingdom of God. Learning that Christ was inviting us to join God’s work of redeeming and restoring all things—rather than merely agreeing to correct doctrine—helped propel me into a more practice-based faith.
(2) Surprised by Hope by NT Wright. While Willard introduced me to the idea of God’s Kingdom, it was NT Wright who put theological flesh on the concept. He writes “What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future.These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether.… They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom."
(3) Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. Once I saw that Christ didn’t simply invite us to believe disembodied information, but to flesh those beliefs into redemptive action, I needed to find a road map. Ruth Barton provided a brilliant and yet deeply accessible PATHWAY to begin aligning my life and soul with God’s loving movement.
(4) Practicing the Way of Jesus by Mark Scandrette. For me, this book brought it all together. Mark creatively lives out the heavy teachings of spiritual formation in such a quirky and fearless way in his city, and this example propelled me to start a community of spiritual practice in my city. We call Mark “The Godfather of Practice” for good reason.
(5) Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church by Barbara A Holmes. Since most of my teachers on this journey have been white, Holmes helped me see how incredibly limited my perspective had been up to this point. Her brilliant book reminded me that “If the model for contemplation is Eurocentric, then the religious experiences of indigenous people and their progeny will never fit the mold. But if contemplation is an accessible and vibrant response to life and to a God who unleashes life toward its most diverse potentials, then practices that turn the human spirit inward may or may not be solitary or silent. Instead, contemplation becomes an attentiveness of spirit that shifts the seeker from an ordinary reality to the Kingdomof God.”
In Chapter 4 of The Eternal Current, we included an insightful quote from John Perrine about a theology of practice in the scriptures. John is a good friend, one of the leaders of The Practice community, and a wise-beyond-his-years theologian. He fleshed this idea out in a wonderful paper (3800 words) that you can download for free here.