By Ryan Patrick Hoselton
Until recently, I doubted the merit of meditating on historic Christian writings. I can easily absorb these texts out of intellectual interest, but when it comes to growing spiritually, I reach for the Bible or contemporary devotional writings. However, my attitude has changed after being challenged to spend a month meditating daily on a collection of historic Christian texts. Here are three of my thoughts on why this exercise is enormously valuable to Christians today.
First, the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of believers is atemporal. He produces spiritual fruits and gifting in every Christian no matter what era he or she inhabits. Thus, to take for granted that Christians today can offer superior resources for spiritual growth and that texts from the past are outdated and irrelevant is to undermine the Spirit’s work throughout history. This posture is also proud and self-righteous because it rests the criteria and source for vital spirituality in one’s culture rather than in the Spirit’s work.
Second, studying historic Christian texts can emend abuses in spirituality today. If a believer limited his or her devotional resources to a particular period, he or she will inevitably adopt the damaging principles and practices of that era. The reason why men like John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Andrew Fuller offered such excellent and discerning spiritual insight is because they drew heavily from past writings to correct the errors of their day. Meditating on historic devotional texts also helps believers today to avoid imitating the mistakes of previous generations.
Third, meditating on historic Christian texts is beneficial as a companion to studying Scripture because the believer can observe how others have reflected on the Word of God and put it into practice. God designed the church to learn from each other—Paul exhorted the members to actively be “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Col. 3.16). Each individual believer, even though he or she may study and meditate on Scripture tirelessly day and night, needs the example and instruction of others. This cycle of mutual learning and growing should extend beyond one’s local and temporal church body to the church in other ages. Christians from the past have valuable lessons on how to interpret and apply Scripture in worship and action for believers today.
God has provided ample resources for the church to grow in holiness and love. Of course no text compares to the Scriptures to “train yourself for godliness” and correct false thinking and practices (1 Tim. 4.7). But God also uses the example of godly men and women of the past to encourage Christians today, and we would greatly benefit to imitate them as they imitated Christ.
Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are expecting their first child in August.