Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church by James Stuart Bell with Patrick J. Kelly
This collection of daily devotions based upon the writings of the Early Church is a remarkable guide to the Christian church. Each entry is numbered with a thematic title based upon the church father’s words and a Scripture to go with it. For example, one of the most moving entries is John Chrysostom’s letter to a widow (Grief with Everlasting Hope II), in which he writes, “The power of love is such that it embraces, unites, and fastens together not only those who are present with us, but also those who are far away; and the soul’s affection cannot be broken by time, nor space, nor anything else” (116). The title gives the reader a narrow focus on what the main point of the text is and brings us into a greater understanding of the writer’s goal. The brevity of these selections is to be commended as we live in a blog post world in which conciseness counts greater than lengthy admonitions. I can imagine combing through these texts might have been taxing to find just the right passage that goes along with a theme. Usually it’s better in my Scripture reading when I read through the Word of God and have it arrest me with a particular theme or idea than have a game plan etched in stone.
The diverse selection of church fathers was also very appealing to me. You find selections from the writings of Ambrose, Augustine, and some lesser known figures like Fulgentius and Maximus of Turin also. The subject matter ranges from union with Christ, the Eucharist, to loving our enemies. Every essential doctrine of the Christian faith is commented upon by one of the church fathers. There is a high regard for following Christ individually through seeking virtue and putting to death vice. Yet, there is also a high place in this book for seeing Christ’s work on the cross for the whole world and that the church is only strengthened when its members work together as one body. Overall, the selection of church fathers, the careful thematic structure of the passages, and the snapshot way in which the passages are included all lend this book to being used over and over again.
Lastly, I wanted to bring out one of the selections in the book that had an arresting ability to speak the truth. Dionysius of Alexandria speaks on Loving our Enemies by writing, “And yet Christ, although he knew all these things beforehand, did not at any time stop offering his counsel and love to Judas. Therefore we should follow this example and seek to recover those who have strayed from the flock, even if it appears that are counsels are doing no good” (78). The ministry of Jesus to love Judas, using his name and not bringing down the gauntlet of verbal lashings is an example for us to follow when we meet, pray for, and talk to those who left the flock. Dionysius’ wisdom is clear here that even when we fail to see the result of our counseling, we should continue as the Lord to speak the truth in love to those who have left the fold. The only drawback in the book was that I wish the selections indicated what specific writings these passages came from.
Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Zondervan for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.