Devotional books often seem to get a bad rap. Even the term “devotional” is derided – the connation being that of sentimentality. The heart may be warmed but the mind is left empty. What exactly is a devotional book? Here is a definition from Wikipedia – “Christian devotional literature is religious writing that is neither doctrinal nor theological but designed for individuals to read for their personal edification and spiritual formation.” I think this definition captures a big part of the problem. How can Christian literature be neither doctrinal nor theological and yet a blessing? For writing to edify and be conducive to spiritual formation it must be drawn from God’s Word (theological) and deal with Biblical topics (doctrinal). To describe Christian devotional books as non-theological or non-doctrinal is a contradiction in terms.
Devotional pieces are typically brief – somewhere in the region of a page to half a dozen pages. While such writing is not theologically deep or exhaustive it can certainly be helpful. Most often this kind of writing is applicatory in focus – the author is seeking to drive something home in terms of character, responsibility, worship, etc. Ultimately the scriptures are given in order to make us wise unto salvation and to know how to outwork that salvation. Devotional literature is written in a short and pithy manner with this end in view. A devotional book may present doctrine poorly; it may use over stylized language; it may be shallow, but that comes down to the author and not an inherent problem with this particular genre.
I think devotional books meet numerous needs – they are helpful for people who want bitesize truth to meditate upon – there are times when someone may not be up to tackling weightier volumes; young people and new Christians can be blessed by something relatively brief and easy to manage; they provide useful material for family worship; conveying truth in a succinct and punchy way assists people to digest and remember what they have read. We should certainly seek to work through more substantial books but let us not fall into a kind of bookish arrogance. I listened to a guy on YouTube the other week telling everyone how he had read a large tome of systematic theology three times in the year. It hasn’t helped him to overcome pride.
Here are some devotional books I have enjoyed over the years:
Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon
Daily Readings from All Four Gospels by J.C. Ryle (Compiled by Robert Sheehan)
Awake My Heart by J. Sidlow Baxter
For the Love of God by D.A. Carson (2 Vols)
The Thought of God by Maurice Roberts
God’s Light on Dark Clouds by Theodore Cuyler
A Breath of Fresh Air by Thelma Jenkins