(Book Review) The Imitation of Christ


Imitation of ChristReviewed by: Caleb Hoelscher, English Education major at Taylor University.

 


Introduction

Title: The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language

Author: James N. Watkins

Publisher: Worthy Inspired

Publication Date: January 2015

Format: Hardcover

Length: 288 Pages

OVERVIEW

Truth is timeless. It transcends generations, economic trends, fads, authority, culture, and every other temporal thing. In fact, it transcends the very people who write it. This is certainly the case with Thomas À Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, a book that is second only to the Bible in sales, despite being written more than five hundred years ago. Now, James N. Watkins has compiled and edited the timeless classic in today’s language for twenty-first century readers. But does his paraphrase do enough to appeal to its new audience? Unfortunately, not entirely. Although the truth is timeless, some of the applications are not. Watkins cannot be faulted too severely for this, since in the time of the original writing there was nothing in the way of technology, advanced philosophy, universal education, political freedom, and free enterprise. It’s hard to “push” modern applications upon writings that are five centuries behind historically.

Watkins’ reworking of The Imitation of Christ is organized by the character traits of Jesus that the reader is prompted to imitate: teachable, wise, self-sacrificing, and humble, just to name a few. Written from various perspectives (be it Christ Himself or a disciple), the writing aims to encourage readers to apply these characteristics to their lives. This is where the book finds its greatest challenge: Watkins finds few point-blank ways to demonstrate the modern application of À Kempis’s work. Since it is all a direct paraphrase, the devotionals are often slightly abstract, utilizing generalized and theological language. It leaves modern readers hungry for concrete examples, asking themselves, “How? How do I imitate Christ at the office? At my school? At my church? In my family?” This is what readers crave but the book is rather shallow in providing.

This is not to say Watkins does not prove his merits as a writer and scholar in this book. It is safe to say his paraphrase is both accurate and well written. In fact, someone looking for a study companion while reading the original will likely find it useful for deciphering the archaic language. However, as a contemporary devotional book, it falls short, simply because today’s world is in stark contrast to À Kempis’s world five hundred years ago. Readers need relevant, tangible examples from the twenty-first century to connect with timeless truths. This is interesting reading, but it doesn’t provide directions for how to change contemporary game plans for life.

ASSESSMENT

Rating (1 to 5)

3 out of 5 stars

Suggested Audience

Adults and students of the writings of À Kempis

Christian Impact

In this direct paraphrase of The Imitation of Christ, Watkins resurrects À Kempis’s classic to inspire a new generation of Christians to exemplify Christ in all they do and say.

Caleb Hoelscher is an English Education major at Taylor University. His passions include language, music, and the people who produce them.


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