Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Interrupting the Ordinary

Out with the Old?

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Jan• 09•14

There’s one thing that really bothers me about the blogosphere. It is obsessed with the new. We want the latest news, the most innovative commentary, and the most recent reactions to whatever the next new controversy is.

We can even get that way with reading Christian books. I love getting bright, shiny new copies hot off the press. And as an author, I want people to get excited at my own new releases. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with reading the new. But new isn’t always best.

The funny thing is that the evangelical Christian subculture can also be a little slow on the uptake. There’s a small percentage of books that get so widely read that you find both your grandma and the mom in the minivan pick-up line at school recommending them to you. This process can take a while. But all too often, these “Christian” bestsellers are doctrinally damaging.

And so, even now I find myself needing to be prepared to give an answer when someone tells me about this great, new book they read, Jesus Calling. (I’m not reviewing Jesus Calling here, but here are some good reviews by Todd Pruitt, Michael HortonKathy Keller, and Tim Challies if you are interested.) This book was published in 2004, but now there now are countless off-shoots, just like with The Power of the Purpose-Driven, Yes You Can Bet Your Best Life Heaven is For Real friends that enjoy the same fame.

As I was thinking about an upcoming MoS podcast that we are going to do on this subject, I was thinking of the importance of being able to recommend another book that may appeal to someone who enjoyed Jesus Calling. Coincidentally, ahem, I mean providentially, I received a message from a pastor asking me if I had any devotional books that I could recommend in place of Sarah Young’s book. He mentioned that he didn’t like condemning a book without providing a suggestion for something else. This was indeed fresh on my mind, but I had sort of an old, new rendition of an even older book to suggest.

I think that one reason people are attracted to Jesus Calling is that they want to learn more about communion with God. That is a good thing! The Puritan Paperbacks series by The Banner of Truth Trust has a great abridged version by R.J.K. Law of John Owen’s Communion with God. It is laid out very nicely, and its short chapters are conducive for use as a daily devotional. There is great teaching on the person and work of Christ in this book. Here is an excerpt that I found a great source of meditation:

The mutual love of God and the saints are similar also in that their communion of love is in Christ and through Christ. The Father communicates all his love to us through Christ and we pour out our love to the Father only through Christ. Christ is the treasury in which the Father places all the riches of his grace taken from the bottomless mine of his eternal love. Christ is the priest into whose hand we put all the offerings that we wish to give to the Father. So God’s first and chief love is his Son, not only as the eternal Son who was the delight of his soul before the foundation of the world, but also as the Son is our Mediator and the means by which the Father’s love is conveyed to us (Matt. 3:17; John 3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 15:9; 17:24). In Scripture we are said to have access to God and to believe in God only through Christ.

The Father loves us and ‘chose us before the foundation of the world’. And that love of the Father led him to ‘bless us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ’ (Eph. 1:3,4). From his love, the Father sheds or pours out the Holy Spirit richly upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:6). In the pouring out of his love, there is not one drop falls on us except through Christ… (20)

Although I love to read new reflections and applications about God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, I also treasure the old. And I think this not-so-new version of an old classic is a wonderful daily reading on communion with God.

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  1. Doc B says:

    “There’s one thing that really bothers me about the blogosphere. It is obsessed with the new.”(/i)

    You could say the same thing about much modern worship and be just as right. “The tyranny of the contemporary,” I’ve heard it called.

    I guess it carries over.

  2. Aimee, you bring up a good question, what to answer in lieu of Jesus Calling. Is there another suggestion besides this one? I am 54, head of a women’s ministry at a large Reformed church and even I have a difficulty plowing through Owen’s wording. I believe one of the reasons people enjoy Jesus Calling is because they are given a good model, samples of journal responses from mediating on God’s Word.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      The language in this abridged version is much easier than straight up Owen, that’s why I recommended that one for a devotional replacement. But, we have prerecorded the podcast since I’ve written this, and Carl Trueman suggests Starr Meade’s Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds, which I have reviewed here: It’s good for all ages, really. Also, any of Nanay Guthrie’s stuff is good. I will post when that podcast is out.

  3. Tim says:

    I read the Christianity Today article on Jesus Calling and wondered why anyone with half a lick of doctrinal sense would read it. For an alternative on understanding our relationship with Jesus, I suggest a modern book: The Jesus I Never Knew, by Philip Yancey. For someone wanting to know more about Jesus as recorded in the gospels, I’d recommend Mark Galli’s Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God.

    Thanks too for the Owen excerpt. Great reminder that every single bit of our relationship with God is through Jesus. Every. Single. Bit.


    • Laura says:

      Hi Tim. “I read the Christianity Today article on Jesus Calling and wondered why anyone with half a lick of doctrinal sense would read it.” – Amen! I wrote a sordof review of Jesus Calling awhile ago, and made ever effort to be very diplomatic even though I think the devotional is rubbish. Yet, I got a e-mail from a personal friend telling me how terribly critical and arrogant my post was!! If I’d been as blunt as you (haha) I have no idea what my friend would have done. ; )

  4. Angela says:

    I have also enjoyed a devotional by Nancy Guthrie called “The Abundant Life Day Book” which is written with a similar style to Jesus Calling but Nancy makes clear in the intro that it’s a literary device only. That may be a good recommendation for people who aren’t quite ready for Owen. :-)

  5. Going to put “Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds” on my Amazon wish list, and gulp, get into Owen at some point. I tend to only use Scripture for devotions.

    I am reading “Compassionate Jesus” by Christopher W. Bogosh now. You all had Bogosh on Mort. of Spin. He has great insights on medicine and faith–I am looking at familiar passages in a clearer way now. I am reflecting about and blogging on “Accidental Pharisee” now by Larry Osborne; I am repelled by Pharisees in the Reformed camp, but looking at my own life and the beams in it.

  6. I will forever stand by and recommend The Valley of Vision edited by Arthur G. Bennett. Though it may not appeal to some, I feel that a prayer/devotional from this book per day springs forth a great deal of worship when meditated/journal-ed on. Also, it acquaints the heart with an older school of thought (which seems to be picking back up among evangelicals, thanks to the many authors such as John Piper and you, Aimee, that point back to the puritans) and overall has taught me more about my affections than any other devotional I have read.

    Thanks for sharing some John Owen. He will always hold a sweet place in my life as my husband and I are preparing for our 2nd child this spring and we are naming him after John Owen:)

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Melissa, I continually return to the Valley of Vision to help me pray. Love that book! I also use some of those prayers to pray for a Bible study or small group.

  7. RStarke says:

    Your strategy is great, Aimee. In trying to put a positive spin (ha!) on why, wwwhhhyyyyyyy women respond to these books so much, I agree with you completely that women sense something lacking in the sterile “do a workbook and fill in the right answer five days a week” method of reading Scripture. The negative spin is that there hasn’t been a lot of good, contemporary, simple, *orthodox* stuff out there.And because nature abhors a vacuum (and Satan loves them), we get stuff like Jesus Calling and anything by Rick Warren.

    I think there’s a new renaissance happening in solid yet simple, rich yet clear writing that can reach women who have been taught they can’t read the Puritans (or don’t want to). Women like Nancy Guthrie, Kathleen Nielsen, and you too, are forging the way. I’m very, very grateful for you all!

  8. Tim Keller says:

    Actually, all the R.J.K.Law abridgments of Owen are extremely helpful. i suggest the newest one–On the Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded. And then the sequel- Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ.

  9. Jeff says:

    I’m reading The Glory of Christ and find it not that difficult, but I was wondering if there is an abridgement, as much as that kind of bothers me. The hardest thing for me about the Puritan writers are that they number everything, sometimes three lists down. So there is a main point which has three different aspects. Then the first aspect will have four points to that. Then the first point may have five ways to do that point. If you ever stop reading, when you pick it up again, it’s hard to know where you are. I did buy the abridgements of Communion… and Sin and Temptation, just because, and noticed they took the numbered lists out. So that alone should make it easier.

    I have a blog post on Devotionals that I would recommend, but have found many more since then.

    However, I agree with C.S. Lewis when he says, ‘“For my own part,” wrote Lewis, “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.”’

    Calvin’s Institutes would be terribly daunting to some, but the short sections and easy to understand writing make it readable in a year.

    On the writing of new books, for one thing, the Puritans never wrote about housewives. And a quote for you:

    “There is no end of books, and yet we seem to need more every day. There was such a darkness brought in by the fall, as will not thoroughly be dispelled till we come to heaven; where the sun shineth without either cold or night. For the present, all should contribute their help according to the rate and measure of their abilities. Some hold up a candle, others a torch; but all are useful. The press is an excellent means to scatter knowledge, were it not so often abused.

    All complain there is enough written, and think that now there should be a stop. Indeed, it were well if in this scribbling age there were some restraint. Useless pamphlets are grown almost as great a mischief as the erroneous and profane.

    Yet tis not good to shut the door upon industry and diligence. There is yet room left to discover more, above all that hath been said, of the wisdom of God and the riches of his grace in the gospel; yea, more of the stratagems of Satan and the deceitfulness of man’s heart. Means need to be increased every day to weaken sin and strengthen trust, and quicken us to holiness.
    Fundamentals are the same in all ages, but the constant necessities of the church and private Christians, will continually enforce a further explication. As the arts and slights [expertise] of besieging and battering increase, so doth skill in fortification. If we have no other benefit by the multitude of books that are written, we shall have this benefit: an opportunity to observe the various workings of the same Spirit about the same truths, and indeed the speculation is neither idle nor unfruitful.”
    –Cited from Thomas Manton’s letter to the reader in The Works of Richard Sibbes, 3:3.

    I look forward to the podcast, as I do all of them. You do a great job.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Thank you, Jeff. I always feel dumb after recording an episode.
      And I agree, reading doctrine does make my heart sing more, hence my recommendation. I prefer to read commentaries for my “devotion time,” or whatever you want to call it.

      • Jeff says:

        I mumble and don’t like the sound of my voice, so I can’t stand to listen to it at all. You do a good job. It’s probably more difficult than most people would imagine. Carl Trueman is like a quote machine.

        I also feel strange calling it “devotional time” (also “devotional [type] reading”), but it’s better than quite time. I always say, ‘For lack of a better term’.

        Pleasantly amazed to see Timothy Keller commenting. His new book on suffering is on my list.

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  12. Jenni says:

    Yes! I enjoyed and benefited from the PP of Owen’s Communion with God SO much, and return to it regularly. I’ve been wondering myself what to suggest as an alternative to Jesus Calling, as I too hate to condemn a book without offering an alternative. This is a wonderful idea, Aimee! Thank you!

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