Wanting a Heritage: A Review of Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings
(Editor Cindy Crosby, InterVarsity Press, 2007)


Heather Walker Peterson, May 28, 2007

Like adult adoptees seeking their biological parents, children of the boomer generation want more than what evangelicalism has provided.  They want a spiritual lineage.  Cindy Crosby has edited a devotional for those accustomed to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ but wanting a heritage in Christian tradition.

The concept behind the book Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings is interaction with commentary excerpts from the church fathers.  Crosby has formatted the book as fifty-two sections following the church calendar.  Quotations from a variety of ancient commentary precede every recommended reading from the Bible, except for the Psalms.  With these selections from The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, we as readers accompany our spiritual ascendants “deeper into the rich resources of Scripture, helping us to read holy writings with ancient eyes.” A recent migrant to a liturgical congregation, I was convinced until I tried it. 

I conducted my readings during the week of waiting for the Holy Spirit between the Sunday commemoration of Christ’s Ascension and the celebration of Pentecost.  I enjoyed dwelling on traditionally prescribed Scriptures (texts not included), receiving a better understanding of the holy days from Crosby’s short explanation of themes, and saying the ancient opening and closing prayers.  In the reflections of the church fathers, one gem revealed itself: Cyril of Jerusalem’s description of the Spirit’s raining on us as individual flowers, each a different kind and color, for I Corinthians 12:3b-13.  Otherwise, I was exasperated.

A postmodern wanting a heritage needs story and experience.  Bible commentary from the ancient church is just that—commentary.  Not only had I walked into a Bible study with no sense of place, I had entered multiple, without benefit of knowing their leaders.  Crosby supplies biographical sketches in the back, but I thirsted for more.  Augustine of Hippo, Chrysostom, and Bede I’d met before.  I quickly recognized that Hilary of Poitiers, to my embarrassment, was not a woman (the Celtic Brigid is the only woman excerpted—she gets in a prayer ).  But a sentence or two does not tell me much about who these people were and why they wrote and spoke.  I’ve had a college course in Christian theology, but I’m betting that many readers haven’t and would want to know why Hilary of Poitiers had to argue the shared nature of Father and Son.

A lineage-seeking member of the post-Christian era, I found myself clutching a handful of pages torn from Christian history, each without context.   After having quiet times with Ancient Christian Devotional, I’ve had to admit my ignorance of all but the most central church fathers.  Potentially, those familiar with ancient commentary could engage with the gathering of selections as if old friends.

Heather Walker Peterson is Assistant Professor of English at
Northwestern College, St. Paul Minnesota.



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