These five books have been instrumental in my journey from a beliefs-based faith to a practice-based faith.
Jesus didn’t [only] teach “Here is the truth, believe it.” But, he [also] declared “I am the Truth, follow me.” The invitation is participation. We are not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers. And so I’ve been prayerfully on a journey from a “beliefs-based faith,” to a more holistic “practice-based faith.” These five books have been incredibly helpful to me in this journey.
1. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God 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.
While Willard introduced me to the idea of God’s kingdom, it was N.T. 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: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation 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: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love 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 kingdom of God.”
These five books (and many others) give a holy vision for a more practice-based faith. But more than a vision or new set of beliefs, these wise guides offer a set of concrete practices that can create space for God to do what only God can do in and through our lives. Beliefs are very important, but the invitation is participation. May we choose to get swept up in God’s good work in our souls, families, neighborhoods and world today. Amen.
Aaron Niequist has served as a leader at some of the most influential churches in the country. He is the author of The Eternal Current: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us from Drowning. In 2014, he launched a neo-liturgical, ecumenical, practice-based service at Willow Creek in Chicago. He also created a series of liturgical recordings called “A New Liturgy” to help people create holy space wherever they find themselves. Niequist and his wife, bestselling author Shauna Niequist, live in the suburbs of Chicago with their two sons. Visit aaronniequist.com and anewliturgy.com.