C.S. Lewis – Picture from pipesmagazine.com

“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.”

This is one of my favourite C.S. Lewis quotes, for many reasons. He has a significant point to make in this quote, one that is often missed (we’ll get to the pipe smoking idea below).

We live in a day when there are a plethora of Christian books that purport to be devotionals. Most of which are really bad and, to be blunt, should not be bought or read. The reason is they are so bad for you is that most devotionals, do a number of things that are REALLY bad for our souls:

  • they take Scripture out of context;
  • they make unwarranted biblical conclusions;
  • they are weak theologically;
  • they make no effort to take into account the full counsel of God when understanding the text in question;
  • they make bad and often superficial applications;
  • they are legalistic and works based in their applications;
  • they don’t point to the all-sufficiency of Christ and the gospel;
  • they make it seem that one can be a wise and knowledgeable Christian, one who “grows in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ”, by only committing to 10-15 minutes in a crappy devotional book. It’s not going to happen!

So my advice to most people is the same as Lewis’ – stay away from fluffy not gospel-focused devotional books and get into something deeper and better for you. Something that will, admittedly, take more work from you.

I’ve recommended books a number of times in previous blogs. Link to them here, and here. Go buy them and read them. But for now I would like to make sure you are aware of must read theology texts which will also be a tremendous help to you devotionally. (This is part of what actually defines good theology, it  will help you devotionally, but I digress.) These are texts that will challenge your mind AND will enliven your soul. I have listed them in order of ease of read (roughly). I guarantee that if you make it through this list  your soul will truly “sing unbidden” for all the days you have left.

  1. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine by Wayne Grudem – the standard College level text from a Reformed perspective.
  2. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrim’s on the Way by Michael Horton – a solid theological work from a committed Reformed theologian.
  3. Biblical Theology by Geerhardus Vos – a beautiful work of biblical theology from the great Princeton professor.
  4. Our Reasonable Faith by Herman Bavinck – a fantastic summation of Reformed doctrine from the great Dutch theologian.
  5. Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin — I simply cannot over-emphasis how good this work of theology is.

By the way, when you are ready to get your heart and soul singing like Luciano Pavarotti try these works:

  1. Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof
  2. Reformed Dogmatics (4 volumes) by Herman Bavinck
  3. Institutes of Elenctic Theology (3 volumes) by Francis Turretin

One more thing. There are some really good Christian devotionals out there. But not many. I would recommend these:

  1. For the Love of God: Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word (2 volumes) by D. A. Carson
  2. New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul David Tripp
  3. Morning and Evening by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
  4. The One Year Book of Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament by Nancy Guthrie
  5. The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotionals

If you would like to get a few recommendations for family devotionals, just leave a comment below!

Soli Deo Gloria

P.S. – If you struggle with legalism, break out a pipe. It’s not a sin! Lewis did it, Tolkien did it. Spurgeon loved a good cigar as did John Murray, Karl Barth, and, I think, J. Greshem Machen, plus many others. There are also many who have gathered in a Circle of Wisdom to discuss theology and smoke pipe.