Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life” as Want to Read:
The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life

4.54  ·  Rating details ·  229 ratings  ·  34 reviews
In this short work Henri Nouwen offers a penetrating reflection on the challenge of the spiritual life, especially the call to imitate Christ's example of "downward mobility." This vocation is sorely tested by the constant celebration of "upward mobility," which brings to mind the temptations Christ faced in the wilderness" to be "powerful, relevant, and spectacular." To p ...more
Hardcover, 96 pages
Published March 30th 2007 by Orbis Books (first published 1981)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Selfless Way of Christ, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Selfless Way of Christ

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.54  · 
Rating details
 ·  229 ratings  ·  34 reviews

More filters
Sort order
James Klagge
A short, profound book. I have probably read more books by him than anyone else in the last 8 years--though they are all short. But they are dense and demand care and attention. As an academic it is easy to think one is escaping (all) the temptations of upwardly-mobile modern society, yet he shows how they pop up again in other ways. We certainly have our own forms of achievement. I aspire to downward mobility, and yet see that success at that aspiration is yet another trap. All I can say right ...more
Apr 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Human Temptations:

To be Relevant: to make or do something that is needed and can be appreciated by people (49) the act of making productivity the basis of our ministry WE ARE NOT WHAT WE PRODUCE
To be Spectacular: to do something great, unusual or to attract many eyes (53) WE ARE UNCONDITIONALLY ACCEPTED
To be Powerful: having money, connections, fame, skills, and intellectual abilities WE CONNECT WITH OTHERS IN OUR VULNERABILITY AND WEAKNESS

To be Mastered by the Holy Spirit:
Discipline of the Chur
Aug 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I found this a thoughtful book about how to shape one's life. (I read it right after reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers about life in a life in Mumbai slum.) It discusses vocation, temptation and formation as aspects of ministry and the spiritual life.

Instead of keeping up with the Jones, he instructs one in the way of downward mobility. And in living this way we will have a spiritual life in God. There are three lures of upward mobility, desire to be: relevant, spectacular and powerful; that
Mar 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Picked this one up at exactly the right time in my life. Read over half of it before getting over my silly aversion to marking up a nice hardback copy. But after finishing, I went back and reread the first half, being sure to leave plenty of blue ink behind.

I think Henri's approach in this book demonstrates how very metaphysical Christ's message is. Here is a quote from the opening chapter, a thesis statement I think, which the remainder of the book explains in surprisingly sensible detail:

"It i
W. Littlejohn
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Forgot to add this book. Read it a few months ago at my wife's recommendation. An invaluable read for any aspiring academics (though really for anyone at all). Nouwen was a highly-renowned professor of theology at Harvard and Yale before giving up his post in the early '80s and going to live and work in a community dedicated to one-on-one care for the mentally handicapped.

In this book, he challenges the pervasive mindset of "upward mobility" that infects our culture, and calls on Christians to
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Short but powerful. Henri Nouwen has been one of my favorite spiritual reading authors for a long time. This one gets right to the point:. answering the call to holiness means the Cross and downward mobility. The temptations to be relevant, spectacular and powerful lead us in the opposite direction. In order to fight these temptations, we must follow the discipline of the Church, the discipline of the Book and the discipline of the heart.
Jul 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
***2016 Reading Challenge - a book you've already read at least once***
This book has a special place in my heart. I first read it in 2011 and at the time, the idea of downward mobility was mind-blowing to me. And something I had never heard before. I grew up in a mega-church that preached and valued upward mobility as a hallmark of spiritual growth, so this book was a turning point in my life of seeing the gospel in a new way. Not a gospel heavily influenced by Western values and American cultur
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful little book that I wish I could fold up and store in my heart. Nouwen's insights about a life of "upward mobility" versus a life of "downward mobility" are special and should be frequently accessed as a reminder to us all who want to look like Jesus, follow Him, and love Him and our neighbors with our whole lives. This reading will certainly add depth to one's reflections on the song in Philippians 2 about imitating Christ's humility. When I began this book, my orientation was one of ...more
Scott Schlotfelt
May 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I give this five stars because it is life changing. Originally written within the context of the yuppie eighties, Nouwen calls out what I believe are the greatest temptations for American Christians and even more so in the 21st century...the temptation to be spectacular, the temptation to be relevant and the temptation to be powerful; paralleling the three with Jesus' temptations in the desert. He then goes on to give his three practices to resist these temptations and instead live a life of dow ...more
Carlos Abrille
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this book as a must read. It's book all your professors in college would ask you to avoid. Because in college all the professors want your mind focused on competition and succeeding. Naturally this book is quite the opposite but ironically is where all your professors got it wrong. It's the book you should have read In college before graduation. So you're more prepared to face your future and what it all means for those who are of Christian faith.
Debi Walter
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
"To truly become men and women whose identities are hidden in God, we need to have the courage to enter empty-handed into the place of solitude."
One of my favorite quotes from this outstanding, yet simple book. It's an easy read on a very challenging Truth. Love the art work of Van Gogh too.
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Accessible theology... great for helping start the journey of following Christ.
Nikki Stahl
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology
Short but profound text which manages to confront the false self without shaming and present a way forward in the liturgical and sacramental streams of the Church.
Grace Humbles
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book will knock you on your ass.
Austin Scott
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'll read anything by Nouwen. This book is a quick read, but insightful and passionate.
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't think we can be reminded enough about the dangers of pride and the crave for power, and the need for a wholehearted devotion to Christ and his humble ways. Nouwen doesn't offer much here in the way of practical examples, which I found myself desiring as I read. What does downward mobility look like specifically to those believers in positions of influence, to the powerful, and what is the relationship between stewardship and the need to protect the soul from the damaging and sometimes da ...more
Feb 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality
The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen was recommended by a caller to The Catholic Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio and I was thrilled to find it for free on They even had a read-aloud feature where a (in this case, female) slightly computerized voice would read the book aloud, following along with the passages being highlighted in blue.

The book itself is short, only 93 pages, and the Internet Archives actually shows the ori
Abby Tamkin
Amazing book.
Really short, and well written, but not an easy (as in la di da, that book is done, wasn't that fun) read. It was really easy to see myself in a lot of what it was saying. I did a lot of underlining this time around, and I intend to read it again in a few months and do more detailed note taking in the margins (the text is nicely spaced out in my edition, so there is plenty of room for scribbles)
The central thesis of the book is how our lives should mirror Christ's downward path-
Benjamin Vineyard
The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life
by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Initial Question:
How does Nouwen's pastoral tone uncover the call of discipleship, the call away from Jesus as divine accomodationalist to divine rescuer, with rescuing being the path of the Jesus way of downward mobility.


He does. Beautifully so.

The Selfless Way of Christ is another one of the books I will commit to reading and re-reading. Nouwen's pastoral voice connected me to Jesus' call and g
John O'Brien
Jul 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Found this book to be a refreshing tonic about the spiritual life. Frank, concise, eloquent, it concerns the great paradox of Christian life: that only in "giving up" our lives do we truly receive them. Three major temptations -- even for those in ministry -- are: 1) to be relevant, 2) to be spectacular, and 3) to be powerful. Nouwen shows how these correspond to the three temptations in the desert, and how they run counter to the kenotic way of Christ. Ends by pointing us in the direction of tr ...more
Nov 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: church
This is a short book that probably requires reading several times to get all of what is in it. There were two main things that stuck with me on the first pass.

Nouwen described the The Lure of Upward Mobility against the temptations of Jesus:
- The Temptation to Be Relevant
- The Temptation to Be Spectacular
- The Temptation to Be Powerful

He also described The Disciplines of Spiritual Formation:
- The Discipline of the Church - making connections between God's story and our story
- The Discipline of
Albert Hong
Oct 22, 2015 rated it liked it
I have an increasing appreciation for the gift that Nouwen has of making spiritual things simple. He does it again here with some beautiful thoughts on vocation and spiritual disciplines.

This book was helpful in its explicit discussion of downward mobility as the way to follow Christ. That has been particularly encouraging to me as I feel God reigniting my youthful naïveté around the call to imitate Jesus.
Matt Sheffield
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-reads, 2016
This may not be Nouwen's best book but it is an excellent one. I would have enjoyed some expansion on certain topics, yet it is the brevity of this work that makes it unique. In a very small space Nouwen was able to go deep into spiritual matters and also stay practical. A gem of a book that all Christians can benefit from.
Adam Tyler
Jul 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Henri Nouwen packs a lot of punch in a small package. In the 96 pages of this slim volume, Nouwen conveys the important sense of downward mobility as the Christian's vocation in imitation of Christ, calls out the temptation to upward mobility that society demands, and offers three disciplines to help us remain true to our calling in a tempting world.
Apr 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010
An interesting personal perspective of what must be given up to be conformed to Christ. Our ego pushes up upward to constantly have more and do more. But the way of Christ is downward to having less and doing less (materially speaking), so that we can, in reality, have more and do more (spiritually speaking).
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Quick yet deep read. Excellent reminder that as we try to achieve good... there is no reason to focus on the "size" of the good being done. A simple life that attracts no celebrity is often more valid than one that has tremendous influence and power. Great little book.
Must Read : 1
Accessible : 5
Well Written : 3
Meaningful : 5
Kept Attention : 3

A powerful topic, but this book did not move me beyond what I already understand about it. A great introduction for those just beginning to reflect on simplicity in Christ.
Gene Jennings
Dec 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christian-living
A simple, powerful message - much needed in the Christian community. Nouwen explains why and how to conquer the temptations of success, visibility, and influence while taking on the spiritual disciplines required to live the Christian life.
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Personally Challenging, a very short read.
Oct 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Short essays by Nouwen about moving toward humility written throughout his career.
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word in the Liturgy
  • The Catholic Imagination
  • God's Voice Within: The Ignatian Way to Discover God's Will
  • Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness
  • Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent
  • The Openness of God
  • Illumined Heart
  • Anarchy and Christianity
  • Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, the Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons
  • Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality
  • The Skeptical Believer: Telling Stories to Your Inner Atheist
  • One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow
  • Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World
  • Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen
  • Blessed are the Peacemakers: Christ's Teachings of Love, Compassion, and Forgiveness
  • Wide Awake: The Future Is Waiting Within You
  • Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship
  • Economy of Love: Creating a Community of Enough
See similar books…
Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen (Nouen), (1932–1996) was a Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer who authored 40 books on the spiritual life.

Nouwen's books are widely read today by Protestants and Catholics alike. The Wounded Healer, In the Name of Jesus, Clowning in Rome, The Life of the Beloved, and The Way of the Heart are just a few of the more widely recognized titles. After nearly two decades of