Every month Christianaudio.com gives away a free MP3 audiobook. I am trying to actually listen and review the books before the end of the month that the books are free. I barely made it this month.
Many of these books are current, but some of them are older Christian classics. The Normal Christian Life is of the classics variety. It was originally published in English in 1957, but was based on a series of lectures given in Europe in 1938-39. Watchman Nee was a Chinese Christian leader that spent the last 20 years of his life in prison both for his faith and because he was a business owner during the cultural revolution.
Essentially The Normal Christian Life is a long discussion of the role of grace and law in our lives as Christians and our job as Christians to die to self so that Christ may live through us.
One of the benefits of listening to authors that are outside of the western world is the different perspective that they bring to Christianity. This different perspective comes out both in different methods of analyzing scripture but also different cultural lenses of seeing scripture.
Watchman Nee is not easy to categorize as a theologian. Some of his statements seen quite Calvinist, especially around his focus on Grace. Others seem very Arminian, especially on our role in dying to self and our active participation in our faith. He also is in the ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ camp. And Nee was definitely influenced by Pentecostal theology. But other teachings outside of this book, especially around eschatology are definitely outside normal Christian orthodoxy teaching (a sort of Protestant Purgatory).
The first section of the book was the densest biblical teaching. Much if it was good and useful discussion around the role of the law and grace focusing primarily on the first half of Romans. Occasionally he interprets the text as complicated metaphors in a way that I think is clearly reading into the text. But still the resulting ideas are pretty orthodox.
The second section is mostly about the need to die to self so that it can be Christ that lives in us. In this case in think he is taking a clearly intended metaphor and trying to read it literally. I wish he was more concrete here about what he means by both dying to self and letting the raised Christ live through us. But the general message that we cannot overcome the power of sin in our lives by ourselves and that it is only through God’s power that the power of sin can be overcome is helpful.
The last section is I think the most practical and helpful. It is about how we are actually to live now that we have been freed by Christ’s death and resurrection.
It is here that he has a short section on prayer. Nee suggests that we should not pray for things like patience or self control or to be a better parent. Instead we should pray to have more Christ in our lives. This will in turn give is more patience, or self control or make us into better parents. The point, I think, is that the goal is not patience or self control but Christ. Getting patience does not get us Christ. But getting Christ will give is patience eventually.
Overall this was a good book but not a great one. It was a bit too reparative and unfocused. I am glad I pushed through the first section to get to the final section or I would not rate it nearly as highly as I do now. But I certainly would not put it on my list of top books from the 20th Century. And if it were not free I am not sure I would recommend it as much. But there were some valuable sections to the book.