Verdict: Though RED LETTER DEVOTIONALS provides insight into Jesus’ words in Scripture and some good advice on how to live according to those words, it is ultimately hindered by inclusion of the author’s personal viewpoints and his failure to truly fulfill his aim of providing logical evidence that Jesus is divine.
The idea of RED LETTER DEVOTIONALS is a useful one. It’s divided up by date, so that each day of the year, readers can become familiar with the words of Jesus, then internalize a short, related lesson. Every devotional follows a similar format: first a quote, ranging from one sentence to nearly a full page; then a bit of contextual summary or explanation; and finally a short prayer that drives home the takeaway of the scripture. In this, the author, James Frederick Ivey, has a stellar sense of pacing: He pairs shorter quotes with longer explanations but, for longer passages, generously spends several days’ worth of text addressing their teachings, so that readers don’t become fatigued with information overload at the outset. This renders each day’s dose of scripture easily digestible and keeps readers willing to return to the devotionals.
The usefulness of the scripture-a-day book falters, however, when one considers Ivey’s aim: to “give readers daily reminders of how logical and reasonable is the concept of the Biblical God and the truth of Christian scripture.” He notes that “quantum physics has proved that God exists” and attempts to use Christian apologetics—the seeking and finding of evidence that validates the message of the Bible—to prove that Jesus is a divine being. Yet, his arguments feel flimsy. In one passage, Ivey says that because Jesus thought to title himself the “Son of Man,” a moniker that a mere carpenter might never come up with, in Ivey’s opinion, it offers evidence of his true nature, the Son of God. More than once, the author relies on such circular reasoning: How could a simple carpenter know or do some such thing? Therefore, he must be divine. And as a seeming justification for his lack of any real proof, Ivey later claims, “Absolute proof of the existence of God and the ultimate nature of the Christ might overwhelm us to the point of insanity.” There are several logical fallacies at play in such arguments, and readers are ultimately left feeling unsatisfied with Ivey’s evidence, unable to share in his understanding, and uncertain whether he can be trusted as a narrator to their daily ministrations.
In fact, Ivey’s reliability is brought further into question when one considers the personal viewpoints he relays throughout RED LETTER DEVOTIONALS. He makes judgments on Americans, other religions’ worthiness, entertainment, and women. On this latter topic, he admits in the introduction that his “perfect world has mostly males as leaders” but tries to temper that claim by calling women “God’s best creation” and deserving of worship from men. But why is God’s best creation be unfit to lead? Later, the author observes that “female bodies look like giant spiders when their owners have lifted weights for a time. Certainly one of the finest characteristics a man should possess and cultivate is gentleness toward women.” In such a case, the author’s intentions are good and admirable—he supports the notion of a “gentleman,” which is sometimes forgotten in today’s society—but his delivery strikes a discordant tone with this reader, who happens to be a woman who lifts weights.
But if readers can overlook the personal musings in RED LETTER DEVOTIONALS and hold their skepticism at bay, they’ll surely appreciate Ivey’s insight into and explanation of the various Gospels, their authors, and their similarities and differences. He is clearly knowledgeable on these topics, and readers will come away feeling as though they’ve learned more about their religion or, if they aren’t Christian, about another faith. Furthermore, the prayers at the end of each devotional can help set a humble, thankful tone for the day, and lessons scattered throughout the book can give readers much to ponder and apply to their own lives, such as when Ivey writes, “When you are faced with a difficult situation, try to discern what the real situation is. … We know not what is in the heart of our neighbor.”
~Christina Doka for IndieReader