Is there a proper way for evangelicals to engage the spiritual classics? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Reading The Christian Spiritual Classics is a work edited by James Goggin and Kyle Strobel. If the last name sounds familiar, it’s not a coincidence. That is Lee Strobel’s son and this has been his area of study. Lee is a friend of mine who got me a copy because frankly, a book on spiritual classics is quite frankly something I would not have picked up on my own.
In the area of apologetics after all, we’re trying to keep up as much as we can. There are so many new books that we need to read and then there’s all the research and we at the same time are family men who need our own time as well and then there’s still time that we have to spend with prayer, Bible study, etc.
People don’t often realize how big a job ministry is and in ministry, one often thinks they carry the burden of others around them. To an extent, of course we do, but we are not alone and part of the essential process of a Christian is sanctification. This is why I’ve surrounded myself as well with mentors, including a mentor I email every night to make sure I have been keeping up with prayer, an area I need to improve on, and seek advice for problems in my life.
I say all this because this review could sound negative at the start, but it really isn’t. When I started reading, I felt like I was having to push myself through. That is not because this book is a problem. Not at all! It is because I know that this is not what I am used to reading.
This is not to say I never read anything dealing with sanctification, but it is not something that I think we commonly read, much like an apologist I interacted with recently said apologists need to spend more time reading fiction. We should have our place in the academy of course, but we are not to be just in the academy. The best apologists I know are the ones that can also be real people. If I can laugh and joke with someone in my field, I know they’re real. It’s also why I make sure to take time for non-academic interests, such as the Mrs. and I watching our favorite shows most every night.
Reading a book about spiritual classics then is stretching someone in the field, but we need to be stretched. Part of Christian sanctification is being made uncomfortable unfortunately. It’s about doing things that we normally wouldn’t do. I would in fact encourage someone who just reads spiritual classics that they need to pick up books like Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ.” Every bit of sanctification we have must be grounded in truth. All that we do must be grounded in truth.
The book in its work tells why they should be read but also gives a warning in our day and age and one that applies greatly to apologists. This book is for evangelicals and so it assumes evangelical positions and tells us we could be reading a spiritual classic and it will talk about the veneration of Mary, for instance, and some of us who might be staunchly against the Catholic position could raise our defenses up and unfortunately, miss all the good stuff that is there.
And yes, this book recommends reading the Catholic classics. It also recommends reading the Orthodox classics. I do not doubt that people in both of those camps would also recommend reading works by people in the other branches just as much. Wisdom can be found in all manner of places in the Christian tradition.
Reading this book gave me a challenge to consider these kinds of areas more seriously and even had me looking on my Kindle to see from time to time if I could find any of these books that were talked about for download.
Christians are called to be holy people and of course, people of truth. It is easy to miss out on any one side. In our church today, we can often reflect on holiness and our experience, without remembering that these have to be grounded in truth. In more apologetic circles, we forget that truth that has no impact on us is just what is going to puff us up. If we believe something is true, we should act accordingly. If we believe in the Lordship of Christ and the advance of His kingdom, we should act accordingly.
It is because of that then that while I read the book as dry at first, I saw myself becoming more receptive over time, and realized the dryness said nothing about the book but about myself. If I went through again, I still think it would be difficult, but I think I would be still getting more out of it. I recommend this book then knowing that it will be a challenge, but a way that we need to be challenged.