This book was a good idea. I’m not aware of another book that brings together daily meditations from the early church. The “church fathers” are largely unknown to most contemporary Christians, and when I saw this new book I was immediately interested. Here are 366 very brief readings selected from Christian writers of the first eight centuries of the church, one reading for each day of the year — a new daily devotional guide from the ancient church. Certainly, this is a good idea.
Reading the inside flyleaf of the book, however, it was disappointing to find that in their selection of material the editors0. deliberately avoided what they termed “dry theology,” deciding instead “in favor of spiritual insight and practical relevance.” Of course no one wants “dry” theology, but this kind of false dichotomy is disturbing, to say the least, and reflects a woefully inadequate view of the role of Christian teaching. To be fair, these daily exhortations are often flavored by broad theological considerations. The theology sometimes reflects a high, “effectual” view of the sacraments, but there are also frequent references to Christ’s death, his model life, and so on. And some of the meditations are probably best described as “theologically devotional”: brief considerations of God as Father and as Creator, the Holy Spirit, the incarnation of Christ, union with Christ, the forgiveness of sins, etc. And here and there is a meditation on the value of the Psalms, the value of Scripture, and even a sprinkling of typological interpretation.
Still, the chosen focus of the book is exhortation for daily Christian living. Many aspects of Christian devotion and responsibility are addressed, with repeated emphases on prayer, fasting, charity & showing mercy, love, humility, submission, and encouragement and faithfulness in suffering. Here and there also is found an exhortation grounded in the faithful example of Christian martyrs and the examples of various biblical characters. Each reading is very brief, just one (small-size) page, so space considerations do not allow full development at any point. But brief as they are, they are still of value, and reading through the work we are left with a “feel” for how ancient Christian ministers exhorted their congregations. A good complement to this book would be daily theological readings from the early church, something that would give the reader the same kind of “feel” for ancient Christian theologizing.
There is in the back of the book a helpful listing of all the ancient authors cited, with a few lines of biographical sketch for each.
This is not the best “Daily Devotional” on the market; there are others that are more enriching. But this does deserve its place as a historical-devotional piece.
Fred G. Zaspel is Pastor of Reformed Baptist Church in Franconia, PA, professor of theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary, and executive editor here at Books At a Glance.
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Awakening Faith:daily Devotions From The Early Church