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Monday, November 30, 2015

"The Imitation of Christ" - (A New Modern English Translation by James M. Watkins)

TITLE: Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today's Language
AUTHOR: James M. Watkins
PUBLISHER: Franklin, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2016, (288 pages).

It has almost become a cliche in Christian circles to talk about living the Christian life: "Be Christlike." What exactly does that mean? How do we become more like Christ? Go no further than Thomas a Kempis's classic work. These words spell out the purpose of this book:

The one who follows me will not walk in darkness,”
says the Lord. These words of Christ teach us how far
we must imitate his life and character, if we seek true
understanding and deliverance for deception of
our hearts and minds. Let us, then, most earnestly
study and dwell upon the life of Jesus Christ.
Christ’s teachings surpass all the teachings of holy men,
and if we have his Spirit we find spiritual nourishment." (Thomas à Kempis)

Watkins has chosen to do away with the numbering system that some of us have been familiar with, replacing it with paragraphs so that it can read like a modern book. The language is freshly paraphrased in modern words. Some tips in this book are worth pondering:
  • Don't be too interested in "Who said this?" Be more attentive to "What is being said?"
  • Read the book devotionally, using the re-arranged "disciple" and "Christ" voices. 
The book is instructional and devotional. Sometimes, the segments that are attributed to Christ speaking appear like a mini "Jesus Calling" devotionals by Sarah Young. It takes a little getting used to in reading this new translation and re-arrangement. The language is clear and concise. The voice is fresh and the citations are clearly indicated from the Scriptures. This is useful as other translations tend to footnote the Bible verses instead. I appreciate the insertion of the full verse directly into the text as it aids reading and minimizes interruptions. This infusion of Scripture, paraphrase, and Kempis's words is uniquely Watkins's. There is a tender listening and responding format that readers can adopt when reading this. The words after the headings "The Disciple" can be a time of prayer and seeking God. The portions after "The Christ" can be adopted as getting us ready to obey Christ, as if Christ is speaking directly to us.

For the past 500 years, this classic has ranked among the most popular devotional books about the Christian life. Some even say that it is the second most translated book (after the Bible). Originally written in Latin in the Netherlands back in the 14th and 15th Century, Thomas Haemmerlein (aka Thomas à Kempis) borrowed much of his materials from three sources: The Bible, the Church Fathers, and the medieval monks. The original editions were from four devotional booklets. The modern one we have in our hands is a combination of all four. Promoted by both Catholics and Protestants, this book has been published in more than 6000 editions over 50 languages. Is that not enough? One may ask. Why another translation? Surely, we can get free ones online like here, here, here, and here. Classics are always prime candidates for translations and re-translations. I suspect that more often than not, the primary beneficiaries are the translators themselves. They are the ones who had to read, analyze, digest, paraphrase, and to communicate the truths learned into a manner that they can best express. It will take a little while for readers to re-adjust to this new translation. Some readers may still prefer an old numbering format, or the original Book, Chapter, notation. After the first few pages, once readers get the hang of it, the classic will take over. Be patient. It is rewarding read.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Worthy Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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