Ever since Richard Foster wrote Celebration of Discipline in 1978, evangelicals have hungered for a deeper and more historic spirituality. Many have come to discover the wealth of spiritual insight available in the Desert Fathers, the medieval mystics, German Pietism and other traditions. While these classics have been a source of life-changing renewal for many, still others are wary of these texts and the foreign theological traditions from which they come. The essays in this volume provide a guide for evangelicals to read the Christian spiritual classics. The contributions fall into four sections. The first three answer the big questions: why should we read the spiritual classics, what are these classics and how should we read them? The last section brings these questions together into a brief reading guide for each of the major traditions. Each essay not only explores the historical and theological context, but also expounds the appropriate hermeneutical framework and the significance for the church today. Together these essays provide a comprehensive and charitable introduction to the spiritual classics, suitable for both those who already embrace them and those who remain concerned and cautious. Whether you are a newcomer to historic spirituality or a seasoned reader looking to go deeper, you will find this volume to be a reliable resource for years to come.
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Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals. Eds. Jamin Goggin, Kyle Strobel. IVP Academic, 2013. 333 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0830839971. $17.82
“Here you have an absolutely unrivaled mapping by experts of the whole church’s rich, smorgasbord heritage of Christ-centered, sanctification-focused devotional writing, most of which will be unknown to most of us. What to do with it? Take it as your tour guide and start reading its recommended texts. You will be glad you did, I promise you. Wealth awaits.” (J. I. Packer, professor of theology, Regent College)
“This collection of essays is in every sense of the word an introduction to the Christian classics for evangelicals. It gives all the right reasons for reading the classics, pointers on how to do it and a handy map to navigate through various genres and traditions. The beginner will not be disappointed while the more advanced may still pick up some useful tips from these seasoned guides.” (Simon Chan, Trinity Theological College, Singapore)
Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics is a collection of essays providing a broad overview to the practice of reading various Christian classics. The book is a composed of fourteen essays broken up into four parts and a helpful list of suggested readings at the conclusion. The first part is an apologetic entitled Approaching Spiritual Classics, answering why these books are worthwhile for spiritual growth and of value to evangelical Christians. The second section, The Spiritual Classics Tradition, introduces the reader to the types of literature, historical content, and theological variation within pieces considered classics. As the subtitle of the book indicates it is specifically intended for evangelical Christians and part three, Reading Evangelically focuses on this project. Cautions to keep in mind while reading Catholic and Orthodox spirituality are addressed in chapters seven and eight respectively as well as an overview of all classics given in chapter nine. Approaches are recommended for deriving spiritual benefit from these streams while paying attention to the sometimes significant theological differences. The chapters of part four focus on each historical tradition from which we draw spiritual classics. Major figures from The Church Fathers and Mothers (chapter 10) to The Puritan and Pietistic Traditions (chapter 14) are elucidated, giving context and advice for the modern evangelical reader. The organization of the book is essentially from “why study these classics” to “how to study these classics”, concluding with “what classics to read”.
- I am no stranger to Christian spiritual classics. I have read old books, or selections from old books, many times along my evangelical Christian journey. Yet this work was quite helpful for me even as I read it for the purposes of this review. It provides a framework for understanding classics regarding their individual purpose as well as how they fit together within all of church history. The format, moving from lesser to greater specificity, is helpful for the reader.
- As a collection of writings, it is difficult to speak sufficiently about each selection. Suffice to say, the authors represent a spectrum, from devotional and conversational to straightforwardly academic. Each contributor’s voice comes through his or her piece, some are more cautious than others regarding the reading of classics with divergent doctrinal issues. This variation gives balance to the work. On a personal note, it was welcome to once again “hear the voices” of some of my former professors through reading their contributions to the work. I imagine that anyone familiar with any of the contributors would have a similar experience.
- As noted above, the question “why should I read the Christian classics?” is addressed. However, the work is largely intended for Christians who are already interested in the spiritual benefits of reading the classics. This is, perhaps, the only deficiency of the work. It is an excellent guide, for those who have already decided to read the classics, but for those who have not decided, the motivation may not manifest. In some ways the book stands alone as a historic overview, while it seems to have been intended to actively motivate the reader to partake in the spiritual growth to be found in the classics. The contributors who succeed in motivating the reader generally utilize two devices. First, they offer lengthy quotes from the classic figures they are referring to, thus showing the reader rather than telling. Secondly, and even more effectively, they share personal stories of the growth that occurred in their spiritual journey through engaging in the classics. Though excellent as it is, the work would have benefitted if these two devices were utilized more often.
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This book was provided free from IVP Academic with my promise to post an unbiased review.