Books for Reading in the Season of Lent

Thoughts and Insight by Marissa Burt


Overcoming Sin and Temptation

by John Owen

This is an intense read, but one I will come back to many times. Owen, a brilliant Puritan theologian, politician, and father of many, blew me away with his reflections on temptation and what it really means to hate sin, mortify the flesh, and surrender to the Holy Spirit. If you opt for this one, give yourself plenty of space to read it in small segments - there’s so much to reflect on and pray over in this collection. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. Game on.


Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin

by Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

Aaron and I stumbled across this book a few years ago and read it together. There's plenty to think about and discuss here as Plantinga works to bring the idea of sin back into contemporary Christian vocabulary and explains how sin pollutes and perverts the good God is always giving. I particularly like how Plantinga frames his reflections on sin within the context of God's goodness and shalom, or the way things are supposed to be. Stop feasting on death. Let God quicken your hunger for His life-giving shalom. 


Rediscovering Holiness: Know the Fullness of Life with God

by J.I. PackeR

This quieter addition to Packer's titles was recently re-released, and it's a timely read. Packer explores how it is that we've lost a sense of holiness, defining it for us in an exploration of God's character and the sanctified life of the believer. In his gentle, straightforward way, Packer calls us to pursue whole-hearted holiness, because we belong to a holy God. In Christ, you are a new creation. Therefore live according to your true Spirit-implanted desire for holiness.


Our Favorite Sins

by Todd Hunter

Sometimes we like to relegate sin to a hazy understanding of wrongdoing and so distance ourselves from specific personal confession. ACNA Bishop Todd Hunter attempts to address that as he looks at some of our favorite contemporary sins - think procrastination, laziness, gluttony, crippling anxiety, overuse of media, and more - and challenges us to confess such sins and walk by the power of the Spirit in freedom from them. This is a fairly light read but the content will provoke personal reflection on each chapter, and you may find the way Bishop Todd weaves in the Anglican tradition to be extra applicable. No more playing favorites. Let's throw aside anything that hinders us from running hard after Jesus.


The Utter Relief of Holiness

by John Eldridge

I love the title of this book. It hints at the healing and rest to be found in the holiness of our good God. If you have time constraints, this might be a good choice for you (I recommend the audio book if you can get your hands on it.) In classic Eldridge-style he explores God's unfathomable love for us and how that can bring healing to our wounded fearful hearts that, from Eden, are constantly questioning the goodness of God. If you are feeling heart-heavy and just plain tired this Lent, come drink from the life-giving water Jesus offers.


Real Love: Where Bible and Life Meet

by Thaddeus Barnum

This is the perfect read for those of you who only have a few minutes a day to set aside for Lenten reflection. With brief daily readings, ACNA Bishop Thad challenges our hard-heartedness and calls us to a deeper life of loving one another as he explores the themes of 1 John. Each reading ends with several questions for contemplation to carry throughout your day. Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.


Tools Matter: Beginning the Spiritual Journey

by Sr. Mary Margaret Funk

I discovered this gem many years ago while on retreat at my favorite monastery, which is the perfect setting for it, since Sr. Funk draws from the monastic and contemplative tradition - particularly the desert fathers and mothers - to examine the spiritual life. I like how Funk uses the image of our souls as a garden - not only must we root up the weeds that hinder our connection to God but we must cultivate nourishing soil that enable us to receive from Him. Drawing upon historic spiritual practices, Funk offers plenty of wisdom for soul care and spiritual growth. 


The Cloister Walk

by Kathleen Norris

Something about the Lenten season draws me to the monastic tradition. Perhaps it's the commitment to solitude, prayer, and the discipline of a quietly mundane life lived hidden from sight in daily communal practice of the hours. Whatever the reason, I highly recommend poet and contemplative Kathleen Norris' memoir-ish reflections on monastic practice and spiritual formation. This is a beautiful read and a good fit for readers who prefer a narrative read to topical discussion. Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.


The Imitation of Christ

by Thomas à Kempis

This is on my to-read list for this year! Here's an excerpt about it from the 25 Writings that Changed the Church and the World issue of CHRISTIAN HISTORY:

“THE IMITATION OF CHRIST has been for centuries the most widely read Christian devotional book next to the Bible...Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, devoted a year to the study of the IMITATION in hopes of following in Jesus' footsteps more closely. John Newton, author of the familiar hymn "Amazing Grace," linked his conversion to the reading of this book...Dietrich Bonhoeffer was reading the IMITATION the night before the Nazis led him to his execution. Dag Hammarskjold, secretary general of the United Nations, left his copy of the book with a friend as he embarked on a plane that would crash in the dark of night...Ironically, Thomas Merton, one of the Catholic spiritual giants of the twentieth century began reading the book at the suggestion of a Hindu monk.”

Read the full article, “Following Jesus Above All.”

Why haven't I read this yet?


Abandonment to Divine Providence

by Jean-Pierre De Caussade

This Christian classic is well worth a slow read. In doing so, you will find grace to receive the sufferings, joys, challenges, and delights of everyday life as gifts from the hand of an All-good and All-powerful God who works all things after the counsel of His “adorable will.” Let me give you a little foretaste of the freedom to be found here:

“My God, I desire with all my heart to do Your holy will, I submit in all things and absolutely to Your good pleasure for time and eternity; and I wish to do this, Oh my God, for two reasons; first: because You are my Sovereign Lord and it is but just that Your will should be accomplished; secondly: because I am convinced by faith, and by experience that Your will is in all things as good and beneficent as it is just and adorable, while my own desires are always blind and corrupt; blind, because I know not what I ought to desire or to avoid; corrupt, because I nearly always long for what would do me harm. Therefore, from henceforth, I renounce my own will to follow Yours in all things; dispose of me, Oh my God, according to Your good will and pleasure.”


The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ

by Fleming Rutledge

Y’all. This book. I can't even do it justice. From the jacket cover:

“Countering our contemporary tendency to bypass Jesus’ crucifixion, Rutledge in these pages examines in depth all the various themes and motifs used by the New Testament evangelists and apostolic writers to explain the meaning of the cross of Christ. She mines the classical writings of the Church Fathers, the medieval scholastics, and the Reformers as well as more recent scholarship, while bringing them all into contemporary context.”

Can one really ask for anything more? Rutledge delivers, and I appreciate that her brilliant scholarship is aimed at, and therefore accessible to, laypersons and pastor-teachers, so don’t be intimidated by the heft of the book and its many (and worthwhile!) footnotes. Come on. Let’s determine to grow in our knowledge of nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.