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Monday, November 11, 2013

"Awakening Faith" (James Stuart Bell)

TITLE: Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church
AUTHOR: James Stuart Bell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (400 pages).

I have come across many devotionals by popular authors, selected snippets from reputed modern theologians, thematic kinds of daily devotionals, and so on. Many of the popular devotionals center around works that have been done around the recent few centuries. Not many reach out far back to the first 500 years of Christian history, and focus on writings of the Church Fathers, or Patristics. This book bucks the trend. Spanning the first eight centuries, 366 devotions are collected from a wide range of theologians, scholars, teachers, pastors, and respected leaders from both the Eastern and the Western hemisphere. The rationales for learning from the Church Fathers are as follows:
  • They are significant shapers of the paths to faith that we proclaim regularly in the creeds;
  • They are not only knowledgeable about the doctrines and theologies, they care deeply for the flock under their jurisdictions;
  • Their teachings provide much needed correctives against heresies and sluggish faith during their time, and can inform us on how to appropriately address the problems in our times;
  • They are committed to the Word and will not budge from trusting in the Scriptures;
  • They are committed to personal virtues and Christlikeness, preferring to take care of the inner being and not be distracted by what is happening outside. 
  • They emphasize a lot of what evangelicals of today need;
  • They provide a rich resource for spirituality and growth.
There are famous names like Athanasius, Origen, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Cyprian of Carthage, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Leo the Great, Tertullian, and others. There are also desert fathers like Antony the Great, John Cassian,  Benedict of Nursia, as well as some unknown writers from the second to the sixth centuries. Each day begins with a title, a Bible passage followed by a page of wisdom. Just putting this book together is challenging. While the writings belong to the Early Church fathers and teachers, the title and the selection of the Bible passages are the works of the author who collected them. This is no easy feat. Considering that the author himself is a compiler and editor of more than 140 books, that gives him a key to unlock the treasures stored within the writings of the Early Church.

At the top of each day is the theme of the devotion such as "Jesus," "service and stewardship," "holiness," "Church," "Prayer," "Salvation," "Our spiritual inheritance," "Father and Spirit," "Thorns and Thistles," and others. This gives readers a general idea of where the devotion is going. Next comes the Day number which is a day from 1 to 366. Then there is the title of the devotion and a Scripture text. At the bottom of each devotion is the name of the Early Church writer. Do not be misled by the brevity of the one-page devotion. There are lots of rich and eloquent thoughts within. For example, on the topic of giving, Leo the Great links it with love, saying: "If God is love, charity should know no limit, for God cannot be confined" (Day 227). In the age of prosperity and a constant thirst for wealth, we need Augustine's exhortation for pastors to be bold: "What sort of pastors are they who, for fear of offending their congregants, not only fail to prepare their sheep for temptations, but even promise them worldly happiness?" (Day 53). Polycarp utters the powerful words to leaders not to easily give in to anger and judgment: "They should refrain entirely from anger, partiality, and prejudice; greediness should be wholly alien to them" (Day 192). Basil the Great reminds us about the temporal nature of our bodies: "Today a man is vigorous in body, fattened by luxury, and in the prime of life, with a handsome face, strong and powerful and energetic; tomorrow he will be an object of pity, withered by age and exhausted by sickness" (Day 251).

The book itself is compelling as I can get a feel of vintage wisdom that has stood the test of time. Despite the ancient beginnings, the relevance is timeless and very appropriate for a technological culture that prefers the latest and the greatest. This book reminds us once again that there is much value in the earliest and the oldest. What we need are humble hearts and willing ears to listen. The benefits are all ours for the taking and for the sharing.

If you are thinking of a Christmas gift for anyone, this book certainly is a highly recommended one.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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