What I Have Been Reading….The Imitation of Christ and The Everlasting People

Here a couple reviews of books I read over the last few months. I have 3-4 more reviews I will post once I get the time to write them up. Also please check out the links at the bottom for other interesting articles or blog posts I have read recently.

I hope you enjoy these reviews and if the books sound interesting please check them out for your self ( I have included links that you can use to purchase them if you so desire). I always appreciate any thoughts shared in the comments at the end of the post. Please check out the article/ blog links at the bottom as well.

*I am an affiliate with both Bookshop.org and Christian Book Distributors. I receive a small percentage of any sales generated on any links on this website.*

Book Reviews

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis

Widely regarded as a devotional classic, The Imitation of Christ has been influencing Christians since the time of it’s writing in the 1420’s in what is now the Netherlands. While there is some debate on it’s authorship, priest Thomas a Kempis has traditionally been given credit for writing the Imitation of Christ. I have heard of the book over the years so when I saw a copy at a going-out-of-business sale at a local bookstore, I snatched it up.

The Imitation is actually 4 separate books with Book 1 first appearing in 1424 and all four books by 1427. Book 1 is titled “Useful Reminders of the Spiritual Life”; Book 2 offers “Suggestions Drawing one toward the Inner Life”; Book 3 focuses on “Of Inner Comfort”, and Book 4 is simply “The Book on the Sacrament”. Each book is broken down into small, bite sized chapters that are perfect for morning or evening devotional times. Book 1 offers the sort of practical advice that one might expect a spiritually mature individual to offer to a new convert; “Of Having a Humble Opinion about Yourself”; “Of Finding Peace and Making Spiritual Progress”; “Of Putting Up with With Others Faults”; and “Of the Love of Solitude and Silence”. Book 3, the longest and in my view most helpful book, offers chapters on topic such as “That We Should Bear Our Hardships Patiently after Christ’s Example”; “Of Growing beyond Self”, “That Peace Does Not Depend on Other People”; and perhaps most usefully, “Of Minding Our Own Business”.

Many of these chapters are written in the form of an imaginary conversation between Jesus and a disciple, with Jesus offering teaching (often in the form of paraphrased scripture) and the disciple confessing their sin, weakness and feelings of failure. I found this format to be very inviting as I could project myself into the conversation from the perspective of the disciple, though I could not always relate to what was being said. I think this was mostly due cultural difference between a modern American Protestant and 1420’s Catholic priest. This cultural difference was a two edged sword; on one hand I value and appreciate getting a perspective that focuses more on devotion, sacrifice, and spiritual formation than is typical of modern thinking; on the other hand some of the emphasis was hard to relate to. It is not so much that I really disagreed with anything much theologically, it was just that it somehow skirted around the current struggles in my life. I had reading this book nightly for several months and found no insight into a certain struggle I was having, but when I turned a more modern author I found insight within a few chapters that spoke exactly to the spiritual struggle I was wrestling with. I don’t think the modern author was ‘better’ in any way but living in the same culture and time period allows for insightful connections with others to develop more naturally. I do think that the perspective brought forth in ‘The Imitation of Christ’ is a valuable one that counteracts most of the individualistic, materialistic and self-centered tendencies of our culture. I would recommend this as a devotional book for those looking to broaden their perspective from those of 21st century spirituality.

The Imitation of Christ
Next to the Bible, this book is the most-published–and most deeply cherished–book in any language. For nearly 600 years, these thoughtful meditations on Jesus’ life and teachings offer practical guidance on the central task of the Christian life: learning day by day to live like Jesus. This modern translation is direct and concise, yet retains a deep devotional flavor.

The Everlasting People by Matthew J. Milliner

Knowing that I am interested in both the writings of G. K. Chesterton and the history and culture of the First Nations of the Americas, my brother, who was as intrigued as I was by the subheading of the book, ‘G. K. Chesterton and The First Nations’, gave me this book as a gift. While the book was interesting and at times thought provoking, I ultimately came up disappointed.

Matthew Milliner; an associate professor of art at Wheaton College; brought together a series of lectures he gave at Wheaton College to be published in this book. Each essay was followed by a response from friends and colleagues who share their experiences and perspectives relating to each essay. In each essay, Milner describes an insight he gleaned from Chesterton, and then applies to reexamine the art and history of the cultures of First Nation cultures around the Great Lakes area. There are several strong points to the book. As some who lives in the Great Lakes region of the US, it opened my eyes to the rich history of various tribes around the region. I was unaware of a great deal of the mound sites and other historical important areas within a few hours of where I live. Milliner also challenged the view I had that Christianity had been entirely detrimental to the Native Americans. I had come across stories of missionaries who would push Western European culture along with Christianity as a way to assimilate various tribes. The result was an obliteration of these tribes cultures, often in the name of Christ. Milliner presented evidence that Christianity was actually a source of strength for a fair of amount of Native Americans. He described events where Christian whites brutally killed fellow Christian who were Cherokee, Delaware, or other Native tribes. In the account of the Cherokee massacre, the unarmed Cherokee were singing hymns as they were slaughter. It was encouraging to me to read of how the Christian faith was able to overcome incredible racial violence and provide strength to those being unjustly killed by those who claimed the same faith. Undoubtedly this history has hindered many with First Nation ancestry from coming to know Christ, but seeing how many believed despite this history was heartening to read; especially in this present moment when American Christianity looks to be in decline.

Where the book fell short in my mind was in the connections Milliner was trying to make between Chesterton’s insights, tribal art, and the history of the First Nations in the United States. I found his insights to be highly speculative and hard to follow. He seemed to feel that his insights could be helpful to bridge racial and ethnic differences, but I was not able to really see where he was going with those connections. I did not find the evidence he presented to support some of his theories or interpretations of the Indigenous artwork to be persuasive. The book was very interesting and enlightening in it’s presentation of the history related to different types of art and culture, but it was much less insightful when it came to applying those insights to healing the historical wounds in present day America, which seemed to be what Milliner hoped to accomplish with the book. So in the end I liked the book but it left me unsatisfied. Would I recommend it? Only if you are interested in the intersection of C. K. Chesterton and art of the American First Nation peoples. It it is informative but fails to achieve the kind of deep insights that would make it much more compelling read.

The Everlasting People: G. K. Chesterton and the First Nations
By Matthew J. Milliner / IVP Academic

What does the cross of Christ have to do with the thunderbird? How might the life and work of Christian writer G. K. Chesterton shed light on our understanding of North American Indigenous art and history? This unexpected connection forms the basis of these discerning reflections by the art historian Matthew Milliner. In this fifth volume in the Hansen Lectureship Series, Milliner appeals to Chesterton’s life and work-including The Everlasting Man, his neglected poetry, his love for his native England, and his own visits to America-in order to understand and appreciate both Indigenous art and the complex, often tragic history of First Nations peoples, especially in the American Midwest. The Hansen Lectureship series offers accessible and insightful reflections by Wheaton College faculty on the transformative work of the Wade Center authors. 160 pages, softcover.

Interesting Articles or Blog Posts

Author Philip Yancey shares his experience meeting Mikhail Gorbachev after the fail of the Berlin Wall. He observes the stark contrast with Putin’s Russia to the spiritual hunger he saw first hand on his visit. “In future years, historians will pick over the various reasons for the nation’s recent shift. As I listen to the alarming news reports from Russia now—assassinations, mass arrests, war crimes, nuclear threats—I keep replaying the gripping scenes I witnessed in 1991: dazed Pravda editors grasping for truth, the Supreme Soviet begging for Bibles, and even KGB agents issuing a public apology. It seemed as if an entire ideology was melting around me. Instead, it went underground, only to reappear in a sinister form.”

Blogger Curt Hinkle shares the theological lessons he learns from his love of woodworking.

“The first thing that comes to mind is creativity. Everyone is created in God’s image as we know from the creation story (Genesis 1:26-27). Notice I said everyone – don’t miss the significance of that. Everyone means everyone – people we like and people we view as enemies. Billy Graham and Karl Marx. All humans were created in God’s image. That sets humanity apart from all the rest of creation (see Tov Meod).”

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