Friday, February 26, 2016

Brief review: Thou shouldst enjoyeth this fresh version of ye old classic, Imitation of Christ

I grew up reading the King James Version of the Bible. Sermons, Sunday school classes, small group Bible studies were all KJV-centric.

Until around the 70s. That’s when Ken Taylor’s Living Bible came on the scene.

Before then there were translations available other than the KJV, but, at least in the tiny circle I traveled, they were frowned upon. With the Living Bible, attitudes shifted.

On my own, I discovered and started reading in the New English Bible (NEB) and The Modern Language Bible; The New Berkeley Version (MLV).

Suddenly, old familiar passages took on new, clearer meanings.

Since then I’ve read the Bible in and own several versions. The most recent are the New International Version (NIV), English Standard Version (ESV), and Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

Along with the Bible, there are a few classic texts that have been devotional favorites for decades, even centuries.

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis is a standout. This devotional from the 15th century has been translated into more languages than any other book, except for the Bible.

Written originally in Latin, many of the available English versions are rendered into near-KJV style. Meaning, there are a lot of thees, thous, and -eth endings.

I have a version on my Kindle that claims to be copyrighted in 2015 by à Kempis, which is odd since he died 1471. It cost only 99 cents; don’t judge me.

It’s clearly not a “modern” version and the publisher (Skyros) doesn’t indicate the translator. Such are the vagaries of reprinting public domain books.

I have another “real” copy in my library, which is currently in storage, so I can’t tell you who the publisher or translator is. But I do know it, too, is full of thees, thous, and -eth endings.

And that’s why, I must confess, I’ve never read it, other than a few pages.

But now there’s a fresh alternative!

Christian author James N. Watkins has compiled and edited a new edition of The Imitation of Christ (Worthy Inspired). It is based on William Benham’s 1874 translation.

Not only is the language modern, the book is organized topically into 90 readings under such headings as Loving, Self-Controlled, Forgiving, and Humble.

The structure allows one to use the book for daily meditations, reading straight through or dipping into topics as needed.

At the end of each reading, references to the original locations of the text are offered.

For example, reading 72, “On the Reading of the Holy Scriptures,” is from Book I, Chapter V. In my Skyros edition, the opening paragraph reads:
“It is in truth which we must look for in Holy Writ, not cunning of words. All Scripture ought to be read in the spirit in which it was written. We must rather seek for what is profitable in Scripture, than for what ministereth to subtlety in discourse. Therefore we ought to read books which are devotional and simple, as well as those which are deep and difficult. ”

Okay then.

Watkins more clearly renders this same section:
“We must look for truth in the Holy Bible, not curious concepts. All Scripture should be read in the spirit in which it was written. We must first search for what is profitable for our own spiritual lives rather than mining Scripture for a sermon, talk, or Bible study. We ought to read simple devotional books as well as those that are deep and difficult.”

Frankly, I prefer Watkins’ version. While the content may be deep, the reading of it is not difficult. I like that in a book.

The original is written from the alternating perspectives of “The Christ” and “The Disciple.” Watkins has added these headings to make it clear who is speaking in each passage.

Purists may miss an index correlating the readings in Watkins book to a chronological listing of the original sections. But this is a minor issue.

For those who already love The Imitation of Christ, reading this version will be like moving from the KJV Bible to one of the newer translations. Fresh insights will emerge!

For those, like me, who have been put off by the old-fashioned and archaic language of earlier translations, Watkins’ version offers an opportunity to finally experience a great classic of Christian devotional literature.

Thanks, Jim!

P.S. Not only does it read well, but it's beautifully designed inside and out and would make an excellent gift for any occasion.


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

you already a fan of The Imitation of Christ? What version are you most familiar with? What other devotional books have you found useful? What other Christian classics are you a fan of? Is there a favorite classic you would like to see in a newer, fresh version? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

By the way, in the spirit of full disclosure, Jim is a long time acquaintance, excellent writer,  and a great guy. You can learn more about him by visiting

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