Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I'd like to Introduce You to the Church Fathers…

Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church. By James Stuart Bell with Patrick J. Kelly. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. pp. 400. 2013. (List Price $24.99 Hardcover | $13.00 Kindle)

If you can read a blog post or an Internet news article, you can read Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church. This devotional offers 366 passages selected from the first eight centuries of Church history. Most of the writers selected are held in high esteem by Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestant churches, and these snippets of their writings are useful for understanding early Christian thought and experience, which parallel our own more often then we might think.

Much can be learned from the early Church, but the time distance between them and us is often a put off for modern readers. It shouldn't, and this devotional may help stimulate the curiosity of modern believers. Each devotion, numbered, but not corresponding to any specific day or month of the year, provides a few paragraphs from these writers. Since many modern-day readers do not know where to start or lack the desire to read a thick tome by Augustine, these blog-sized passages are excellent introductions to these believers and their writings. The range of subjects provides something for everyone, from exhortations to read the Bible, thoughts on baptism, defenses of the gospel, death and funerals, and much more. As a preacher, I found some of these devotions valuable as illustrations.

As a devotional, this book could be improved in a number of ways. First, each day's devotion should include a citation of the work being quoted. Some of these writers had numerous volumes and a mere listing of the author does not help a curious reader pursue further study of a given passage. Second, although the writers are further identified at the end of the book, I would have found an approximate date with each entry helpful. Third, each devotion begins with a short verse from Scripture, but these verses do not always correspond to the subject matter of the devotion. I was able to detect that a writer was commenting on a particular passage from the Bible, but the introductory verse was not in that passage.

I do not normally read devotions. Most start in January and it feels awkward to begin anywhere but the beginning of a book. Because this devotional does not have specific dates listed, it feels much more like an anthology and I can read as much or as little as I want, or look up on the passages from a specific writer. More than once I found myself wanting to know more about a specific writer or writing. The lack of specific citations weakens this book, and I hope that future additions include them. If the intent of this book is to introduce modern believers to the early Church, I believe it has succeeded. If it can add those citations, it will provide a way forward for those curious enough to move forward.

I received this book in exchange for a candid review. The opinions expressed are my own.

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