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Recommended Books

I have been influenced by many authors, the writers of the Bible being foremost. The two other authors who have done the most in crafting the lens through which I see scripture and our relationship with God must be Dallas Willard and Larry Crabb. But authors of influence are many and varied and also include AW Tozer, CS Lewis, Peter Kreeft, Richard Foster, and James Bryan Smith. I like Amazon's Kindle so the links are to Amazon, but of course feel free to use your preferred way to purchase.

The Divine Conspiracy: Author Dallas Willard. The title of this website/podcast "Our God-Bathed Life" is really an homage to Dallas Willard. There is a section of this book that really helped me to think about the reality of the omnipresence of the Trinity means God is present "filling and overflowing space" and that "empty space is a myth". That section of the book is called "Our God-bathed World". Dallas Willard was equally at home amongst secular academia where he taught Philosophy at the University of Southern California as he was amongst fellow Christians as one of the leading Christian thinkers of his day, and maybe one of the leading Christian thinkers ever (though he might've argued against that). This book is about the present availability of the kingdom of heaven. We can live from, and live in, the kingdom now. He shows how the Sermon on the Mount is one cohesive sermon (as opposed to a collection of sayings) about life in the kingdom. He interpreted Matthew 4:17's "at hand" as "available" as opposed to "is soon to come". We can live an abundant, eternal quality of life with God now.

Connecting: Author Larry Crabb. It has been a while since I read this so my memory may be a little fuzzy on what the book actually says. But I remember clearly the thoughts that came from it. Larry's comments about one of the greatest (problems? / challenges?) facing the Christian church being unreleased goodness got me thinking in terms of the fruit of the Spirit and living water (Galatians 5 and John 4). Were those word images used simply for their beauty and that they are easy to remember? Or is there something real about them in that this fruit of the Spirit and this living water are nourishing to the soul? Does God work through us to nourish others' souls and vice-versa? What does that mean about the importance of Biblical community? Does that mean that we may suffer soul malnourishment if we are without Biblical community? I came to the conclusion that, yes, there is something real that God does in and through us that serves to nourish the souls of others in our community as we submit to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And when we aren't in community, we wither. Similarly, others are deprived of what we offer when we are not in community.

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The Good and Beautiful God: Author James Bryan Smith. What we believe about God carries deep implications on our ability to connect with Him. This is a wonderful work for small groups as that is where it was tested and tried before it was released - the whole Apprenticeship / Good and Beautiful series was, and the whole series I highly recommend. This particular book is aimed at helping us to see and understand the relatability of God. It is about His "good and beautiful" attributes. It does not try to cover a fuller breadth of God's attributes; for that you may want to read AW Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy. The subtitle of this book also describes its purpose: "Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows". Like many books, each chapter covers a topic and has questions for consideration, and also has a small group discussion guide at the end. But one thing that separates this book is the addition of "Soul Training Exercises" at the end of each chapter. These exercises are meant to help the truth of what was covered in the chapter to take root. I like the idea so much that it is my intention to include an exercise with each topic in my blog/vlog/podcast series.

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The Knowledge of the Holy: Author AW Tozer. Funny thing is I haven't read this book for 20 years, but when I did, I based an entire Sunday school series on it. It has done more to help me understand the attributes of God than the rightly much-revered JI Packer book Knowing God. For me, at the time that I read it, I found Packer's book dry. But Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy is a fully vibrant book. Tozer's is shorter, clearer, and I picture him writing it with reverential awe so powerful that his hand is shaking from it. 20 years later and I still remember a line from very early in the book since it made such an impact on me, "Against our deep creature sickness stands God's infinite ability to cure." I wanted to be further along in my walk with God and I felt like I'd never progress. I wanted a depth of relationship with Him that would transform me deeply into an effective representative of His in word, attitude, and life (2 Corinthians 5:20). This line, together with the rest of the book, gave me hope that He could do just that.

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The Practice of the Presence of God: Author Brother Lawrence. This book is an absolute must read. This version is revised for modern readers (making the language more accessible) and abridged (I never read a different version). Brother Lawrence lived in such a way that I aspire to live. He wanted to do all out of love for God, and sought to remain in interactive presence with God, in continual loving conversation with Him. There is so much to say, so much that I want to "copy and paste" into this introduction that I don't even know where to begin. Please read it. It is short. It is inspiring. It is aspiring. It says so well the heart of what we try to convey with Our God Bathed Life. Brother Lawrence did all he did out of simple love for God. At one place in the book (Second Conversation), it says "He believed that God is much greater than any of the simple gifts he gives us. Rather than desiring them from Him, he chose to look beyond the gifts, hoping to learn more about God Himself. Sometime he even wished that he could avoid receiving his reward so that he would have the simple pleasure of doing something solely for God." He didn't get lost in the gifts, he sought only the Giver, because he was utterly taken with Him.

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The Good and Beautiful You: Author James Bryan Smith. What you believe about yourself carries deep implications on your ability to connect with God. This book on who God created us to be seeks to remove obstacles to connecting with God as it relates to how we see ourselves, replacing them with the truth of what God made of us. It is hard to say if this book or if The Good and Beautiful God is the best in the series, but suffice it to say this is another wonderful work. It, like the others in the series, is recommended for small group use, but can be read alone as I did. Since it doesn't cover a breadth of who we are in Christ, Neil Anderson's Who I Am in Christ can make an excellent companion piece. 

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Who I Am in Christ: Author Neil T Anderson. This book is a number of small chapters each of which deal with a truth about who we are in Christ. God wants a deep and intimate relationship with us and I think that there are two main things that get in the way of this: 1) wrong idea about Who God is, and 2) wrong ideas about what He has made us. The first can make us not want to be near him out of fear or distrust and the second can make us want to keep ourselves apart from Him out of shame or guilt. This book deals with the second reason.

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The Good and Beautiful Life: Author James Bryan Smith. It's been a couple of years since I read this one so details are a bit foggy, but I very much liked this book. James Bryan Smith uses the Sermon on the Mount's character flaws/sins as an outline to reveal that we can live without them. For example, there is a chapter about learning to live without anger, learning to live without lust, etc. As in all the books in this series, they are best for small groups but can be read alone, and each chapter includes a "soul training" exercise. It may be helpful to read another book on spiritual disciplines after reading this one, like Dallas Willard's Spirit of the Disciplines or John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted.

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The Spirit of the Disciplines: Author Dallas Willard. On Amazon's description, apparently from the inside cover of the book, it refers to "self-transformation". I have read enough of Dallas Willard to believe that he would have bristled at this term like I do. Yes, we are engaged in what God is doing in our lives, but it is the Holy Spirit that works the transformation. Anyway, this book provides Biblical, theological, and philosophical reasoning for why the spiritual disciplines are so critical in our lives, as well as providing a few of the disciplines to consider use of in our own lives. Highly recommended.

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The Life You've Always Wanted: Author John Ortberg. I have heard that many people find Dallas Willard to be a challenging read. He taught philosophy at the University of Southern California and was an academic so I can understand how that can be. This work is a more conversational alternative to The Spirit of the Disciplines. John Ortberg also likes to use humor in his books, so the read is delightful. It places more of a focus on the practices themselves, though it does include reasoning for them. Consider this if you simply want an "easier" read that requires less focus of mind, or if you are a younger reader (like someone in their teen years).

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The Good and Beautiful Community: Author James Bryan Smith. In his final book of the Apprenticeship series, James Bryan Smith takes what we've learned in the other books and puts it into practice within the context of community. He follows the same layout: false narrative, replaces it with a true narrative, and gives us questions to consider and a soul training exercise. So the series progresses this way: Who God is, who I am (who God made me to be), a life rightly lived, that life lived out in community. The reality is that God Himself is a Trinitarian community, and this teaches us how to be an extension of that community.

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Three Philosophies of Life: Author Peter Kreeft. Peter Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher and I hope to read more of his books in the future. This book made a profound impact on how I view my relationship with God through his discussion on the infiniteness of God. He said that since God is infinite, He can give all of Himself to me, give all of Himself to you, and do so with every individual on earth, and still have all of Himself left over to run the universe. This idea captured my attention for a while. I began to consider the fact that God injected Himself into His creation, while He also stands outside of it, and did so in such a way that He experiences time (hear the exaspiration in God's voice when He speaks to Moses asking "how long" will this people spurn Me? How long will they not believe in Me?  - Numbers 14/ Jesus telling us that He will be with us "always, even to the end of the age" - Matthew 28 / etc). So if God has given all of Himself to me in relationship with me, and He experiences that time with me, how does He experience His relationship with me? It was a short trip from there to wanting to be a source of joy for God and an ever increasing one, to please Him in our relationship. It was this book that I credit with helping me to consider my relationship with God from His point of view, and building that out to all Christians, and building that out to all people including the ones that reject Him. (I know He takes joy in me as a person, but I am referring to the transformation of my character and actions bringing Him greater degrees of joy.)

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Renovation of the Heart: Author Dallas Willard. In this book, Dallas Willard looks at how the soul is transformed. This book is intended to clarify the process that people go through for soul transformation, so that we may engage in it. He describes a process he refers to as VIM: Vision, Intention, and Means. That is where this site's "What, Why, How" pages come from. Multiple people have referred to this book as life-changing. It was so impactful that Renovare did a webinar on the book with guest speakers, and John Ortberg did a video series on it.

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Hearing God: Author Dallas Willard. This is one of the first three books that I read by Dallas. After reading The Divine Conspiracy I knew I wanted more of that author to permeate my thinking. Hearing God was another wonderful work of his about the fact that God certainly does speak with us and that we certainly can hear Him speak. I love how, woven through this book, is the idea that God wants to be in interactive relationship with us: He wants to speak to us and He wants to be heard because that is what happens in relationships. He challenged my thinking about how God speaks to us. My mom would talk about visions she would occasionally have of deceased family members that would talk with her to give her a message(s) that she believed was from God. It happened a couple/few times in her life so it wasn't an everyday occurrence. Before I read this book, I judged her for it, thinking it wasn't God speaking to her but her mind playing tricks on her. Thank God I kept that to myself but she could probably tell from my discomfort about it. Today I know that God is infinite, meets us where we are at, and knows how to speak with us in ways that we'll understand. Perhaps that is how my mom would understand. Anyway, this book helped to open my mind about what is possible.

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Soul Talk: Author Larry Crabb. Reading some of his other books first may be helpful. You can see his thinking developing over his books Inside Out, Connecting, Shattered Dreams, and The Pressure's Off. Soul Talk comes at the stage where we have a pretty good understanding of the other books in our own lives and are ready to encourage such thinking in the life of another. Larry Crabb is relentless, to the point of sometimes seeming a little unsympathetic, that pursuit of relational intimacy with God is the first thing, and everything comes after: our marriage, our kids, our job, our finances, everything. God comes first. That is the reality of the Great Commandment. The funny thing is that if we do, God transforms us, and we become a better spouse, a better parent, a better employee or employer, (our financial situation may get better, worse, or stay the same, but God will provide). However, prioritizing becoming a better anything over prioritizing our relationship with God is in itself a disordered priority. That is the one issue I have in the spiritual formation movement: often it can seem like transformation becomes the main thing. But it is not. It is a byproduct of our relationship with God. Anyway, in this book Larry Crabb teaches how to look and listen for what the Holy Spirit seems to be doing in the life of another person and then how to speak into that, providing a vision of what can be to the other person, a vision that would speak to their soul in agreement with what the Holy Spirit is working in their life already. Speaking a vision of what the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives may be what Jesus was doing when he told His disciples "It is not this way among you" in Matthew 20:25-26 (read in context of verses 20-28), perhaps much like a parent tells their child "we don't do that in our family".

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Shattered Dreams: Author Larry Crabb. Do your dreams keep crashing and burning? Do things seem like they're gonna work out as you hoped only to fall apart? Do you actually get what you dreamed of only for it for fail to fulfill? Larry Crabb offers an explanation for this in his book Shattered Dreams. I have a couple of friends who read this book and told me that it changed their lives. I don't want to play spoilers, so you'll just have to read the book to see what his explanation is, but I think it is very insightful. 

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Inside Out: Author Larry Crabb. Does the Holy Spirit have real, unfettered access to all of your life? All of your thoughts? All of the stuff that maybe even you do not want to think about? I was great at that. If I didn't want to deal with it I would just shove it away. There were times when I wasn't sure if I had given God access to it all, but I wanted Him to have access. Like most of Larry Crabb's books, it is a personally challenging read. He calls you to more. He calls you to give God full access. He calls you to place relationship with God above all else. This book was earlier in the process of the change in his thinking, but it is a great and challenging read in my opinion.

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The Pressure's Off: Author Larry Crabb. Larry Crabb rightly points out that many of us put our focus into "making life work", i.e. having better circumstances, than focusing on our relationship with God. He says the pressure is off when we pursue Jesus and trust the outcome to him. I did read one person asking if it is okay to pursue other good things like marriage and ministry and children and having a good career, etc. The answer is of course it is! They just should not hold first place in our hearts over our relationship with God. Pursue God first, invite Him into all of the rest of life and do your best in those areas in partnership with the Holy Spirit, and trust the outcomes to God. With the outcome out of your control, you can find freedom and release the pressure of making life work.

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Sacred Pathways: Author Gary Thomas. This book I highly recommend for anyone seeking to understand how they connect with God, how they can experiment to learn how they connect with God, or for anyone that wants to help others learn how to connect with God. This book helps you understand the nine "pathways" that the author outlines, as well as how to practice them.

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The PAPA Prayer: Author Larry Crabb. It has been years since I read this book also. But I enjoyed the focus of prayer as a relational practice, and I often pray relationally in my own life today. One thing that I do not remember whether it is covered, and if not then I would add, is not to hesitate to ask God how He is doing today and to invite Him to speak if He would want to. Then listen. He knows how to speak with you in ways that you can hear. This book will give you some how-to help with making your prayers relational.

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Victory Over the Darkness and The Bondage Breaker: Author Neil Anderson. I put these two books together because they are very similar in dealing with the same things: the reality of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6), the reality of the war for your mind (Romans 12:1-2, Colossians 3:1-2), and the truth of who we are in Christ being important to both of those battles (2 Corinthians 5:17).

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Life Without Lack: Author Dallas Willard. This book is Dallas' treatment of Psalm 23. As always, well thought out and articulate. I enjoy how Dallas Willard exegetes scripture into practical life with God and this book is no different. In perusing the reviews of the book several people talked about rereading the book as it is excellent and helpful. Dallas makes the case that God is with us, that He provides for us, and that we are free to not worry because we do not control our circumstances.

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Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and its associated Devotional. Author Pete Scazzaro. If you were anything like me when I read this, go slow. If you read it for the first time as part of a small group and need to do it at a certain pace, consider going back and rereading it slowly.  God was already working on some of this in my life when I came to the book, but I did it as part of a small group and I was pretty lost the first time (yes, academic stuff was no problem. emotional life stuff was a little more challenging for me at that time). If you have areas of stunted emotional growth it will almost certainly affect your ability to love well. Since we are called to love well, we'll need to work through the areas of stunted emotional growth. This book provides a framework and practical advice for how to do that. The devotional is helpful for both developing a "rule of life" and for putting some of the things like silence into practice.

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Streams of Living Water: Author Richard Foster. In this book, Richard Foster explains what he calls the "six streams" of classical church expression. If you hear the word "charismatic" or "contemplative" or "social justice" and cringe, or if "sacramental" or "incarnational" or "evangelical" cause you to look away, then this book is for you. "Social justice" has been politically hijacked and redefined in our day, but in reality just means to seek to end unjust treatment and to promote honest and fair treatment for everyone. Incarnational just means seeking to bring your life with God into all areas of life: career, family, social, etc. So it demystifies and helps to classically define these expressions of the church, and encourages that all Christians and all local churches embrace all six streams in their culture. Once defined, I couldn't agree more.

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The Safest Place on Earth: aka Becoming a True Spiritual Community: Author Larry Crabb. It has been years since I read this book. But in many of his books he discusses his career as a Christian counselor and how he believes that he could largely be out of a job if Christians once again took community seriously. And his assertion makes a lot of sense to me. While his book Connecting helped to define the spirit of community, this book helps to fill in a little of the how-to. 

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Finding God: Author Larry Crabb. Larry Crabb is unrelenting in his quest to place his relationship with God above all else, and he calls us to do the same. He and AW Tozer are similar in this regard. As such, his books can be a convicting read. He often isn't gentle about his call to keep fighting to give God first place in our lives. This book is another such call.

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Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters: Author Carmen Joy Imes. The Bible says that Christians are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). The world around us looks at Christians and often, rightly or not, makes judgments about what Jesus is like based on what they see of His followers. As such, those of us who are Christians "bear His name". In a similar way, God chose ancient Israel to bear His name; so that the nations around them might be able to learn what He is like. This is wonderful, grace-filled book, and her use of analogy is some of the best I've ever read. I highly recommend this book if you want to better understand the mission of the nation of ancient Israel, and for us today by comparison.

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Subversive Sabbath: Author AJ Swoboda. I went into this book already convinced of the need to sabbath. What this book showed me more clearly is that the rhythm of sabbath is built into the entirety of creation: animals, land, plants, and not just for people. If you aren't sure whether sabbath is for our society today, this will convince you that it is.

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The Republic: Author Plato. Yes, I know this is not a Christian work. But I was amazed as I was reading this how much of Jesus' dialogue I heard answering some of what Plato was asking or saying in Republic. The idea of there being one Form of Good - Jesus saying that there is only One who is good. Plato said that the truly good man must pursue truth - Jesus saying that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Plato saying that society has no real place for the philosopher who pursues truth - Jesus was killed by His society. Plato saying that the true philosopher sets his mind on higher realities, fixed and immutable realities where no injustice is done or suffered but all is reason and order, and how the true philosopher tries to live by these realities - sounds like Jesus preaching living by the kingdom of heaven and seeking it "first". Etc, etc. Read it after familiarizing yourself with Jesus' dialogue in the four gospels.

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The Idiot: Author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I regret that thus far this is the only Dostoyevsky that I have read, and it was at the suggestion of a friend. In this work of fiction the protagonist is a Christ-like figure with brave honesty without guile or malice, but human in limitations of intelligence and power and wisdom. That kind of honesty inspired me to want the same in my life, even though it worked out poorly for him.

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The New Joy of Discovery in Bible Study: Author Oletta Wald. This book is an extremely practical guide to how to study the Bible. One small word of "warning": don't lose the bigger picture in the smaller details. There are a lot of study tools here and it may be easy to get lost in the mechanics. This wouldn't be the fault of the author, Oletta helps to study in such a way that we see the big picture and little details.

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Eighteen Principles of Divine Revelation: Author Clifton Fowler. Just like in the book title The Divine Conspiracy, don't be thrown by the title of the book. This is simply eighteen principles in how to use the Bible to study the Bible. It gets into things like what Biblical numbers often represent, the willingness principle (where we are more likely to hear God if we listen with a willing heart), etc. Basically it is another Bible study book. My mentor recommended this book in my twenties. Unfortunately this one is out of print but perhaps you can find a used one like I did.

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Love Your God with All Your Mind: Author JP Moreland. I was at a point in my life where I thought reading anything that was not Christian nonfiction was wasting my time. Reading this book changed my mind. JP Moreland makes the point that God gifted us with our minds and that it is okay to pursue intellectual reading or pursuits that catch our attention. Since then I read The Idiot by Dostoyevsky, Republic by Plato, Philebus by Plato, De Anima by Aristotle, CS Lewis' Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce, and a few others. Turns out I enjoy some well done fiction and some philosophy, and yet can still see it in light of God's truth.

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