James Stuart Bell, with Patrick J. Kelly, Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions From The Early Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2013. 400 pp. Hardcover, $24.99
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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!
I think I’ve mentioned on here before that I’m not usually a huge fan of devotionals. I am however willing to give one or two a try. It’s kind of yearly thing, and if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll probably see my post a review of a devotional I did last year.
This year, I thought I’d check out James Stuart Bell’s Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions From The Early Church. Mainly, I was curious to see how it would be put together, and whether it was something I’d like to integrate long term (or at least utilize here and there). I’m not sure if its really for me personally, though Ali and I are reading a day to supplement when we are pressed for time with our family devotions. It could however be for you, but I should probably tell you more about it so you can make up your mind.
The general layout is a daily devotion for each day of the year, though day numbers are used instead of dates. If you want to, I suppose you can do the calculations and figure out which day is which (today is day 316 I think). Or you can just start at day 1 when you first pick this up.
As you are reading, you are greeted with a title and a short verse. The main body of the daily reading is drawn from a particular writer in the early church. The span of writers goes from the early second century (someone like say Justin Martyr) up to the 8th century (with someone like say, John of Damascus). This means you are getting gleanings from writers known as the church fathers if you are keeping score at home.
Some readers may wonder why we should even care about what the church fathers have to say. To that, Bell offers these reasons:
- They can offer a corrective to some of our modern imbalances
- They shared a great commitment to Christian doctrine (some exceptions of course)
- They were committed to Scripture
- They had a commitment to personal virtue and Christlikeness
- They were concerned for pastors
More could be listed, but Bell seems sensitive to the fact that many general readers will think the church fathers archaic or perhaps too daunting to investigate. To counter that, he is offering readers an easy entry point and focusing on the writings that will feed readers devotionally.
Of the portions that I read, they were surprisingly accessible. I probably shouldn’t have been that surprised since the whole thrust of the devotional is that readers’ “faith will be reawakened” as they read these early church writings, which means they need to be selections accessible to the average reader who might not know Athanasuis from Anselm.
On the whole, I think the selections give readers a good flavoring of the various voices the church fathers have. Occasionally, a reading spans a couple of days instead of being confined to one, but for the most part the days are stand alone, so you could skip around.
A different pathway through this book would be to look up the brief biological sketches in the glossary, pick a church fathers that interests you, and then progressively read each day which features a selection from his writings. You could do this alphabetically, which would be interesting to say the least.
The one downside that I could pin-point in all of this is that readers are not alerted to where the selection is drawn from. Most readers probably will not care, but if you’re like me, you kind of like to know where you could read more if you are interested. Unfortunately, while there is a glossary and a scripture index, there are no endnotes that catalog where the writings are drawn from.
Aside from that, if you are unfamiliar with the church fathers and would like an accessible entry point into some of their devotional wisdom, this might be a book for you. If you’re already familiar with the fathers, you might like reading their writings in a devotional format. If you’re not familiar and not interested, then I think you’re missing out (though you’re certainly free to never explore anything the fathers have to say). If you don’t like devotionals, well, I can sympathize. But if you do, then you probably ought to give this one a spin if you’re the market for something new (or is it old?).