Christianity is a way of life with its own practices, rhythms, and habits!
Along these lines, I’d like to share with you a book by Martin Thornton called Christian Proficiency. (I picked up a used copy on abebooks.com, but it’s also published by Wipf & Stock.)
This book is a fantastic overview of the basics of a Christian way of life—a life of prayer. And, before we get any further, here’s Thornton’s summary of “the complete Christian life of prayer”:
- Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer)
- Holy Communion
- Private Prayer
- Mental Prayer
- Self-Examination and Confession
- Thanksgiving (and almsgiving)
- Recollection (and fasting)
Now, I know that the stuff underneath “Private Prayer” might look a bit complicated. (What’s “colloquy”? It’s “intimate, personal conversation between the soul and God.”) But pay attention to the top 3: Daily Office, Holy Communion, and Private Prayer.
This threefold rule/rhythm of a Christian’s prayer life is meant to allow for great freedom—especially in the “Private Prayer” department—while also sustaining us through times of dryness, temptation, suffering, etc.
One of Thornton’s main points is that we can’t have robust devotion without discipline.
“In fact discipline and devotion are not disparate for the one springs from the other … we are in danger of seeking devotion without discipline, which is rather like trying to put the roof on a house before we have dug the foundations. The ‘devotional’ section of the average bookshop usually contains little books of meditations and prayers and some of the great spiritual classics, but even these are of little use without a firm and efficient grounding in the practical life of prayer (p. 2).”
He points out how odd it is that we admire employees, athletes, and soldiers who endure despite hardships…
“None are doing brilliantly well but they are showing courage and stamina; we admire them in their hardship cheerfully borne, in their sinking of self-interest for the common good. Yet if we continue with our prayer when it is dull and arid, we are ‘insincere.’ If we assist at worship when we are ill [ahem, this was written well before COVID!], tired, and distracted, we are ‘irreverent,’ and when a man under intense temptation struggles, falls, confesses; struggles, falls, confesses, over and over again without despair, then he is a ‘hypocrite’ (p. 3).”
This way of looking at the Christian life might sound insensitive and demanding, but I would argue that it can set us free from the tyranny of everything depending upon our enthusiasm or emotions.
No, I’m not trying to say that we do any of these “works” to earn God’s favor. That’s wrong! I’m also not trying to say that our emotions don’t matter. Also wrong.
But, in our legitimate desire for emotional connection with God, it’s easy to overlook the spiritual value of reading our Bibles, saying our prayers, confessing our sins, going to church, taking Communion, etc.—whether we feel like doing so or not!
If that resonates with you, then go read Thornton’s book on Christian Proficiency!
Other Anglican books published by Wipf & Stock
I’ll be honest, Wipf & Stock doesn’t strike me as a particularly “Anglican” publisher (whatever that means), but, taking a look through their catalog, they’ve got a lot of Anglican resources, especially reprints of older works!
Some “ascetical” classics by Martin Thornton
In addition to Chrisitan Proficiency, Wipf & Stock also publishes these classics by Martin Thornton:
- English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology according to the English Pastoral Tradition
- Spiritual Direction
- Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation
Read the Bible with M.F. Sadler
Michael Ferrebee Sadler was a 19th-century High Church Anglican priest and theologian. He wrote a bunch of New Testament Bible commentaries, which are now reprinted by Wipf & Stock.
I’ve taken a look at Sadler’s commentaries on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and they look like a great addition to your commentary collection—thanks in no small part to the fact that they’re such a change of pace from most modern commentaries!
For example, Sadler is going to make liturgical and sacramental connections that most modern biblical scholars would shy away from. He’ll also quote from the Church Fathers a lot more. Yes, you can find these kinds of things elsewhere (like in the excellent Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, published by Baker), but if you’d like to read the Bible with a 19th-century Anglican priest, Sadler’s your guy!
Learn about ritual and ceremony from Percy Dearmer
Speaking of Anglican priests born in the 19th century, Wipf & Stock also publishes a reprint of Percy Dearmer’s classic The Parson’s Handbook, specifically of its 12th (!) edition, originally published in 1932.
What’s this book about? Well, consider the subtitle: “Containing Practical Directions for Parsons and Others as to the Management of the Parish Church and Its Services According to the Anglican Use, As Set Forth in the Book of Common Prayer.” And I agree with the publisher’s description that “what follows is an exhaustive delineation, sparing no detail, of the young priest’s ideas on how liturgy can be conducted in a proper Catholic and English manner.” If you’re looking for a guide to “classic” Anglican ceremonial, then this book is for you!
Learn the basics of the Christian faith with Alexander Nowell
Published in 1570, “Nowell’s Catechism” is an excellent window into what the 16th-century English Reformers were thinking about things mentioned in the Prayer Book, Thirty-Nine Articles, and Books of Homilies. For this reason, Martin Davie makes frequent use of Nowell’s Catechism in his recent commentary on the Thirty-Nine Articles.
If you, like me, wanted to track down a physical copy of Nowell’s Catechism to see what it says on various topics, then you should pick up a reprint copy from Wipf & Stock.
Speaking of the Thirty-Nine Articles, check out these commentaries!
Wipf & Stock also publishes some great classic commentaries on the Thirty-Nine Articles.
NOTE: Many of these are available for free online, but if you want physical copies today, Wipf & Stock has you covered.
That’s all for now!
In case you couldn’t tell, I absolutely LOVE giving reading recommendations. So, if there’s a particular kind of resource you’re looking for, please let me know by replying to this email! I’d be happy to help you find what you’re looking for.
Grace and peace,
Joshua Steele, Managing Editor of Anglican Compass