A New Kind of Devotional Reading
A confession: I find much that passes for “Christian inspiration” cloying and vacuous.
On the other hand, I quite like what many of my colleagues found utterly painful in seminary: real theology.
Hey, I can’t help it. As Saint Gaga says, “I was born this way.” But, it turns out, I am not alone. In his marvelous introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation of the Word, C.S. Lewis commends theological writing as devotional reading:
For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.
A couple of things stand out here: Lewis noted decades ago that the “devotional” books were not necessarily aids in growing our devotion to Christ. How many popular devotional books are little more than nuggets of popular wisdom with a dollop of Scripture? That describes vast majority I’ve encountered, at least.
Also, this helps us understand why a layman without any formal theological training turned out to be such an excellent theologian: he read extensively in the primary sources – like On the Incarnation of the Word – rather than getting trickle-down doctrine from lowest-common-denominator books designed for consumer ease rather than depth and truth.
Lewis’ experience resonates with my own. What about you? Have you tried theology as devotional reading? What makes your heart “sing unbidden? If you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with Lewis’ corpus, his work – such as Mere Christianity, or Screwtape Letters – would be a wonderful place to start. You just might find them more devotional – drawing you closer to the heart of God – than those page-a-day readers that the publishers push on us year after year.