This critique covers the first three streams of the five topical sermons, namely, ”Preparing for the spiritual life”, ”The prayer filled life” and ”The virtuous life”. These sections have eight, thirteen and nine articles respectively. Each section clearly identifies areas of spiritual development. It is inevitable that the experiences of people like Jonathan Edwards (Congregational pastor), John of the Cross (Carmelite monk), Julian of Norwich (Benedictine nun), William Law (Anglican priest), Jean Nicholas Grou (Jesuit priest) to mention a few could not have been gathered from a single group, church or denomination. There is therefore so much to learn about the Church.
The text is a conscious attempt to draw from the experiences of Christians from diverse backgrounds. The format used in the fifty-two articles is the same and makes reading easier. I view the text as a form of biographical dictionary since it gives background information about fifty-two contributors. The excerpts give the reader an opportunity to grasp the information in fifty-two books which would have taken a much longer time to read. The appropriate Bible passages illuminate the messages of the contributors. I view the reflection questions and suggested exercises as a deliberate attempt of the editors to critically engage the reader and transform him from a distant observer to an active participant. Two ways the questions could be used (identified by the editors) are for group discussion and individual journal reflections. Individuals or groups could also do the exercises. Perhaps one of the most important sections for me is the ”Reflections”. Even if one is unable to read every article, a section could be easily understood by simply by reading this section which is a compendium of the article. The creativity of the editors is really impressive. The text, in a sense, could be seen as a form of annotated bibliography since that is the function of the last section titled ”Going deeper”.
It would appear as if the editors were a bit bias in their selections. The percentage of male contributors greatly outnumbers their counterpart. Perhaps the same criticism could be used if the editors were females. Although this work is in its third edition, one could still identify a typographical error. The word ”known” should have been used instead of the word ”know” (see page 13, paragraph 2, line 5). I can”t state how far one can be off from the belief of the nature of God and still maintain one”s salvation. The above notwithstanding, a subsequent edition should ensure the inclusion of the experiences of more denominations. Pentecostals, for instance, could realistically take an offense since they are not adequately represented in the presentations. There is so much to learn from one another.
“Sometimes (God) calls through our sicknesses and our trails and he bids us to pray” (197).
“Happy are those who give themselves to God! They are delivered from their passions, from the judgement of others, from their malice… from the unfaithfulness and inconstancy of friends, from the wiles and snares of the enemy, from our own weakness, from the misery and brevity of life, from the horrors of a profane death, from the cruel remorse attached to wicked pleasures, and in the end from the eternal condemnation of God” (47).
Like the writer Volf who captured the divine reality that portrays the ideal Church, a gathered community, as an image of the triune God, I recommend this invaluable text which will be useful to all in ministry who believe in the unity of God”s people. Anyone who reads this volume will be spiritually nurtured and strengthened by the lives and teachings of these great devotional writers.