Jamin Goggin is a pastor at Saddleback Church, while Kyle Strobel is a professor of theology at Grand Canyon University. Together, they have edited together a collection of essays from a wide range of scholars. The focus in Reading The Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide For Evangelicals is to give an overview and introduction to this collection of classic literature from the people who know the material best.
The book is split into four parts. The first, not surprisingly, provides a foundation for the importance of the spiritual classics. Readers are introduced to the motivations for reading spiritual classics (chapter 1), temptations and dangers that come with the territory (chapter 2), and the value they could have in your ministry (chapter 3).
The second part of the book gives a 30,000 foot overview of the spiritual classics themselves. The different schools of Christian spirituality are laid out (chapter 4), as well as a historical overview of the development of spiritual theology (chapter 5). The last essay in this section offers words of wisdom for engaging older literature in general, but the spiritual classics in particular.
The third part of the book is on reading the spiritual classics from an evangelical perspective. A trio of chapters digs into Catholic spiritual classics (chapter 7), Orthodox spiritual classics (chapter 8), and more traditional spiritual classics in the Protestant tradition (chapter 9). Each author in this section does an excellent job of explaining their own personal engagement, as well as some potential cautions in the particular stream they are commenting on.
Finally, the fourth part details actually reading the spiritual classics and is structured historically. First, we are introduced to key works in the church fathers and mothers (chapter 10). Then comes the desert fathers (chapter 11), the medieval traditions (chapter 12), the Reformation (chapter 13), and finally the Puritan and pietistic traditions (chapter 14). Each of these chapters follows the same general outline that explains the historical circumstances, theological context and assumptions, the hermeneutical framework, and the tradition’s possible use for the church today. The end of each chapter lists the important works in that era for readers to interact with, and the book itself comes to an end with a suggested reading list.
While I don’t have any detailed critical or constructive interactions to give you for this book, I can say that it hits its mark of being a “guide” that is clearly aimed at evangelicals. It is not exhaustive, but it doesn’t need or intent to be. It is an excellent overview for uninitiated readers, and even a guy like me who’s been around his share of old books. I think the forethought put into the shape of the book is what makes is useful for the average evangelical reader. If you were to compare the landscape of spiritual classics to a national park (one impervious to government shutdowns of course), then this is a book put together by knowledgeable park rangers who know the best trails and the best vistas, but also know what kind of dangers lurk in the woods and how you can best avoid them. If you’re interested in getting out into nature (i.e. profiting from the spiritual classics), then this is the guidebook that you need to add to your library first.
Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel, eds., Reading The Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide For Evangelicals. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, June 2013. 333 pp. Paperback, $24.00.
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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!