Real Christianity: An Introduction
By Dr. Bob Beltz
Author, Real Christianity (Updated and Revised Edition)
In the following pages I am going to introduce you to a classic book by one of the most amazing figures in British history. His name was William Wilberforce. Perhaps you are reading this book because you are already familiar with the man but have never read his writings. That was certainly the case in my own experience. Then, several years ago, I had the good fortune of becoming part of the team that began production on the feature-length film Amazing Grace, which is based on the life of William Wilberforce. Early in the process of working on this film, I decided to read an abridged version of Wilberforce’s classic work on Christian faith.
As you can see from the title page, this was a work written at a time when publishers believed that you should deliver as much information in the title of a book as was humanly possible. In 1797, the year the book was first published, catchy titles were not in vogue. Since that time, I have often seen the title condensed to A Practical View of Real Christianity. But the intention of Wilberforce was much more focused: He addressed his work to a particular group of people, living at a particular time and place, embracing a unique religious system, which produced a specific religious experience. Hence, to create an accurate and complete title for his book, Wilberforce himself wrote that his text was intended to be A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians—not of just any group of professed Christians, but specifically professed Christians who were to be found in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country (i.e., England in 1797). It was the belief system of this specific group of people that was to be Contrasted with what Wilberforce called Real Christianity.
Because of the specificity of the book, it is difficult to fully appreciate the work at hand without some knowledge of the author and his times. It is not my intention in this volume to write a biography of Wilberforce. Others much better qualified to do so have already undertaken that task. I refer you to the postscript, where a brief biography adapted from Kevin Belmonte’s Hero for Humanity is included, and the bibliography, also graciously compiled by Mr. Belmonte.
My goal in this book is to “translate” Wilberforce’s classic work out of the linguistic style of the late eighteenth century into a book that captures Wilberforce’s message for a twenty-first-century audience. Wilberforce purists will cringe, I’m sure. But for those who do, it should be noted that Wilberforce, in his book, recommended doing exactly this with works from previous generations that had become inaccessible to the common man because of language or style. For instance, in chapter 6 of the 1824 edition of A Practical View, Wilberforce makes the following remark in reference to the 1707 four-volume set of books by Presbyterian pastor Richard Baxter:
The 1707 edition of Baxter’s Practical Works are a treasury of Christian wisdom, and it would be a most valuable service to mankind to revise them, and perhaps to abridge them, so as to render them more suited to the taste of modern readers.
My hope and intention in revising and updating this book is that a new generation of modern readers will discover this wonderful man and the timeless message he delivered.
Before you move on to Wilberforce’s own introduction, let me inform you that I worked from the fifteenth edition of the complete text of A Practical View of Real Christianity. This edition, printed in London by T. Cadell in 1824, is acknowledged as the last version of the book Wilberforce himself edited. The title page of this edition contains two quotes under its lengthy title. I’ll present them here as they appeared on the original page:
Search the Scriptures! -- John 5:39.
How charming is DIVINE PHILOSOPHY!
Not harsh and crabbed, as dull Fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo’s lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectar’d sweets,
Where no crude surfeit reigns. -- John Milton
Wilberforce knew that his readers would do well to follow John’s command in order to reap the rewards implied by Milton. I hope this modern version of Wilberforce’s work will have the same effect.
Read William Wilberforce's original introduction to Real Christianity
Read Chapter 1 of Real Christianity
Read Chapter 2 of Real Christianity
Read a biography of William Wilberforce
Order your copy of Real Christianity
CBN.com's Amazing Grace Special Section
Amazing Grace Official Movie Site
Excerpted from Real Christianity, by William Wilberforce, Revised by Bob Beltz, © 2007. Published by Regal Books. Used with permission.
1. Wilberforce used the word “religion” here.
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