The Faith of Our Fathers: a book review.

There has been a  resurgence in evangelicals reading of patristic sources. The work of Thomas Oden, Ronald Heine, Peter Liethart, Hans Boersma and D.H Williams and others have called for a ressourcement which makes use of the Great Tradition. The value of patristic exegesis is a hot topic in the academy, but few works have given the words of the early church for popular consumption. James Stuart Bell and Patrick J.Kelly has just done that with theirt new devotional.

I have noted before the difficulty in reviewing devotionals. Reviewing a devotional after only having it for a couple of weeks, means that at best my thoughts on it are provisional. To know the true value of it, I would need to use the book daily for a time. Awakening Faith is a year long devotional and I haven’t had time to give a full assessment of its value. However I am fairly impressed by it. This is a daily devotional which culls together readings from patristic sources. Readings from sixty-nine different Church Fathers, from the first to the eighth century, challenge Christians to live out their faith in a compelling manner. There are theologically rich reflections and prophetic calls to holy living from everyone from Ambrose and Augustine to Zeno of Verona.

Awakening Faith is beautifully bound with a ribbon book mark. There are 366 readings from the church fathers, with  a scriptural reference at the head of each entry. This book looks good and the contents are pure gold.  I absolutely love it. However the book is limited in a couple of respects.

First, I wish that it reflected the church calender more. The daily reading format sets it apart from IVP’s Ancient Christian Devotionals (edited by Thomas Oden). Those volumes follow the liturgical cycle and draw together different patristic commentaries on the readings for each  Sunday. By contrast Awakening Faith is a daily devotional without an evident seasonal dimension. It is possible to start this devotional on day one reading each day until you finish the book (there are no dates are given for the readings). There are  specific readings for Easter and Christmas (and other holy days) but these are scattered throughout the book. This makes me wonder what the internal organization of the readings is. It is not straight forward. It tends to bounce back and forth from various topics.

Another limitation of this devotional is the lack of references. Each reading reflects on a passage and tells you the author. It does not tell from which of their works the reading was taken from or their context. Sometimes this is obvious. For example, Athanasius’ readings on the life of Anthony, came from the Life of Anthony. Prolific authors like Augustine, Basil the Great, or guys named Gregory are harder to track down. I would have appreciated a reference to the actual work at the end of each  reading. That way I could delve deeper into particular topics or authors.  This may just be my academic bent. I happen to love footnotes in everything I read and am miffed when I don’t see them. I do like that the indexes of this volume give me a bird’s eye view of each author and the scriptural content.

The selection of readings themselves are quite good. Here is a random selection of topics covered:

  • Basil the Great on the value of the Psalms (reading 10)
  • Tertullian on Prayer (reading 88)
  • Augustine on Martyrdom (reading 90)
  • John Chrysostom on standing firm on the rock of Christ (reading 121)
  • Ambrose on freedom in Christ through grace (reading 204)

. . .and much more. Bell and Kelly did a great job of selecting devotions for this collection (I just wish I knew where they were all from!). This is a great compendium of Christian thought. I happily recommend this book as either a daily devotional (as it is intended) or a bathroom reader (as I have been using it). There are beautiful passages here which are worth copying into your journal and I plan to use this book for years to come. I give it four stars: ★★★★☆

Thank you to Zondervan and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.