Review

Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church

by James Stuart Bell with Patrick J. Kelly

The jacket copy and the first line of the introduction clearly lay out the textual parameters of AWAKENING FAITH. This is material originally written by the Church Fathers (including no Mothers): “key teachers and leaders of Christianity’s first eight centuries.” It has been edited --- modernized and presumably condensed --- by James Stuart Bell and Patrick Kelly, Bell being a publishing maven and Kelly having a graduate degree in systematic theology.

Many or most readers would embark on a 365-day devotional cycle at the beginning of the liturgical or calendar year, December or January. To capture that market interest, this category of book is nearly always published in late autumn. To build on seasonality, the text might start with winter themes --- Advent, Christmas, or even Lent --- and build through a predictable cycle. That doesn’t seem to be the structure of this volume. There are no section breaks delineating months or clustered topics. Each one-page reading starts out with a prominent title and a short Scripture passage (usually one verse). A small header identifies the particular reading’s underlying subject: “Service and Stewardship,” “Prayer and Devotion,” “Holiness,” “The Church,” “Holy Days,” “Jesus Christ,” “Thorns and Thistles,” etc.

"For its intended purpose --- a year of devotional readings --- AWAKENING FAITH is a good purchase and would make a great gift for someone interested in early Christianity as it developed in both the Western and Eastern churches."

With those tag lines in place, the material seems to be randomly ordered (am I missing something?), except where a long reading is continued over two days. Reading 7 focuses on Easter, as does Reading 16. Reading 40 touches on the Incarnation and Christmas; Reading 44 on the Ascension; Reading 279 probably on Good Friday.

There are benefits to a loose organizational framework. A reader can start the book on any day of the year and dip in randomly without feeling lost or uprooted. The content itself is well chosen and edited with a devotional reader in mind. I found myself repeatedly marking the margins next to interesting, quotable lines. Basil the Great: “What two people can be enemies who have together uttered the same prayer to God?” Peter Chrysologus: “If you want your petition to be heard, listen to the petitions of others.” John Chrysostom: The Lord counseled the disciples not to be just clever or just innocent; rather he joined them together so that they become a unique virtue.”

I admit to being disappointed that the volume did not include a subject/topical index, nor did it name the ancient source document along with the ancient author. For example, a selection credited to Augustine did not further state whether it was from Confessions or The City of God or The Trinity or yet another writing. I assume this was deemed not important to a devotional reader.

For its intended purpose --- a year of devotional readings --- AWAKENING FAITH is a good purchase and would make a great gift for someone interested in early Christianity as it developed in both the Western and Eastern churches.

Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on December 17, 2013

Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church
by James Stuart Bell with Patrick J. Kelly