Review: The Purpose Driven Life

In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren has offered readers an easy-to-read volume of unreserved encouragement. Line after line seems designed for simplicity, inspiration, and warmth. Even the font and length of the book seem to be aimed at heartening the reader. The print was large and the pages many, meant to give the reader a sense of covering a lot of ground in just over a month. Warren obviously intended this book to be a pleasant and welcoming introduction to the purposefulChristian life.

Christians are likely to enjoy many features of this book – even theologically-minded and carefully-reading kinds of Christians. In fact, many people have read and celebrated The Purpose Driven Life, so I want to spend a little time highlighting some of the probable reasons it has been so highly acclaimed. However, there are also significant disappointments in this devotional book. Therefore, I’d like to ultimately present a couple of reasons why Christians should look elsewhere for quality Christian living material.[1]

The Book Tastes Good 

Warren began his book with the abrasive statement, “It’s not about you” (17). Such a statement is surely a good one for people to read and to think about. It is objectively true (and even intuitively true), but we do not naturally live as though we believe it is. American Evangelicals seem especially interested in accommodating self-centeredness within the Christian worldview. Because of this obvious dichotomy – either life is ultimately about me or God, it cannot be centered on both – Warren’s opening words are probably a little stinging and then undoubtedly quite refreshing for many Christian readers. And Christians are right to be glad that life is really and ultimately about God.

In line with this kind of thinking, Warren pressed his readers to “begin with God” and to discover “[God’s] purpose” for their lives (17). Warren also tried to help the reader understand that “God’s purpose took into account human error, and even sin.” Assuring the reader, Warren wrote, “God never does anything accidentally, and he never makes mistakes” (23). Again, the Christian reader is likely to enjoy and even benefit from such words. Christians know that God is the starting point (Gen. 1:1), and they also know that God’s purposes stand behind all things, even bad and sinful things (Ps. 135:5-12). Warren’s words here are likely welcomed truths for many Christian readers who may benefit from the reminder that God is always at work in our lives, even during hard and bitter times.

Throughout the book, Warren repeatedly wrote of the need to believe in Jesus, to obey Him as Lord, and to demonstrate love for God by acting on love for others. Christian readers are probably happy to see such calls to know and follow Jesus in meaningful ways. I know I appreciated these calls as I read the book. Warren also wrote about the importance of Christian fellowship, the value of genuine community, and the intentional effort needed to participate in a local church. Being a pastor, I thought Warren’s statements were often full of good admonishing words, useful for some of my own church members.

It was easy to see why many Christians find The Purpose Driven Lifeto be a great resource for their own spiritual growth and development. As a matter of fact, just as I was finishing the book, I met a Christian young man who said that this book was the most impactful book he’d read on Christians living. And yet, there were also some very troubling and disappointing features of Warren’s book. Let me mention a couple of the biggest reasons I think this book is actually quite bad.

But the Book is Poisonous

There are more than a few reasons to place this book in the category of “bad books.” I don’t mean it should never be read, and I’m no book-burning fanatic, but I want to sound a word of warning to those who might be interested in thinking sensibly about this book. We should be level-headed about all that we read, and this book is no exception. As a matter of fact, I have some readers especially in mind as I write these words of warning. I imagine young and immature Christians reading this book, not realizing the juice is mixed with cyanide. Worse yet, I imagine non-Christians reading this book, not realizing they’re being inoculated against the gospel of Jesus Christ, their only hope in life and death.

Let me outline two overwhelmingly bad features of The Purpose Driven Life. I hope you’ll consider my warning and then spend a little time thinking about the validity of such arguments. I also hope that you’ll consider the state of your own soul, and that you’ll give effort to knowing the gospel and the God who saves. Warren’s book is bad, first, because the gospel is absent. Second, Warren assumes his reader is a Christian from the beginning. These two combined qualities make this book awfully poisonous. Ingesting either one is dangerous, but the combination is eternally lethal. Let me explain.

Nonexistent gospel. Not every book should be expected to include the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to be clear on this point. But any book on Christian living, especially one that targets non-Christians, and even more particularly one that aims to define the “Good News” of Christianity, should absolutely include the substance of the Christian gospel. The gospel is the “Good News” after all. The gospel is the message of God’s plan to save sinners through the person and work of Jesus Christ.[2]

On day three of his forty-day devotional, Warren finished his brief chapter by telling the reader that God will one day “do an audit of your life, a final exam, before you enter eternity” (34). It was at this point that Warren seemed to begin his appeal for the reader to become a Christian. He wrote, “From the Bible we can surmise that God will ask us two crucial questions: First, ‘What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ?’ …Second, ‘What did you do with what I gave you?’” Warren went on to say, “The first question will determine where you spend eternity. The second question will determine what you do in eternity.” It was later, on day seven, when Warren seemed to urge his reader toward an evangelical response to the gospel. 

Employing his language of the purposeful life, Warren wrote, “Real life begins by committing yourself completely to Jesus Christ. If you are not sure you have done this, all you need to do is receiveand believe” (58). Warren explained belief by writing, “Believe God loves you and made you for his purposes… Believe God has chosen you to have a relationship with Jesus, who died on the cross for you.” Then Warren went on to describe the meaning of “receive” by saying, “Receive Jesus into your life as you Lord and Savior. Receive his forgiveness… [and] his Spirit, who will give you the power to fulfill your life purpose.” Then Warren invited the reader to “bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity.” And then he recommended a brief, innocuous prayer.

Later still, on day thirty-seven, Warren finally sought to define the “Good News” of the gospel. Urging his reader to share the gospel with others, Warren spent a couple of lines explaining the substance of the gospel message. He wrote, “The Good News is that when we trust God’s grace to save us through what Jesus did, our sins are forgiven, we get a purpose for living, and we are promised a future home in heaven” (294). That’s it… No explanation of sin, no clarification about who Jesus is at all, and no description of what Jesus did. Obviously, a Christian could expound on this anemic content and make the gospel clear. But throughout the full content of Warren’s book, these several lines are the whole of his supposedly gospel substance, and this is simply a non-gospel. 

Who is God? What is sin? Who is Jesus? Why did Christ die? For whom did Christ die? What does Christ’s death have to do with the reader? How is Christ’s work applied to the sinner? What relationship does God’s saving work have with my effort to live for Him? These are the crucial questions of the Christian life, and Warren answers none of them. He gives no substance to a message he calls “the Good News,” and this is poisonous to the non-Christian reader. He or she may think the gospel is a vacuous message, and he or she may even think the gospel has been received and applied by reading this book. He or she may believe that heaven is assured, simply because he or she has read this book. But this would be an eternally costly presumption. A gospel message with no substance is poison to those who receive it. 

Christianity assumed. A hollow gospel is bad enough, but Warren did not leave the reader to his or her own thoughts about the state of his or her soul. Warren offered complete and unreserved assurance to his reader, and this even before his hollow gospel was presented. Warren wrote his book as though every reader is objectively on their way to paradise and glory.

Ten pages and one day before Warren asked his reader “What did you do with Jesus Christ?” and five days before Warren lead his reader to “believe” and “receive” the blessings of salvation (without defining or explaining the gospel at all), Warren assured his reader of God’s special love. He wrote, “You were created as a special object of God’s love! God made you so he could love you” (24). 

The Bible is clear that God’s does love the world (Jn. 3:16), and God even loves sinners (Rom. 5:8), but God’s special love is only for those He saves in Christ (Eph. 1:4-6, 2:4-10; 1 Jn. 4:10). To say that everyone on the planet (at least every one of those who will read Warren’s book) is a “special object of God’s love” is to declare a universal application of God’s special love. How, then, is the reader to understand this assured promise? Is this not a promised assurance of God’s saving love?

Warren’s book is filled with this same kind of presumptuous assurance, giving the reader every reason to believe he or she is perfectly right before God and on his or her way to eternal blessings rather than cursing. Warren wrote, “God wants a family, and he created you to be a part of it” (117). Soon after, he wrote, “The moment you were spiritually born into God’s family, you were given some astounding birthday gifts: the family name, the family likeness, family privileges, family intimate access, and the family inheritance” (119). On what basis does Warren make such family promises? On the basis that the reader is simply reading his book, I suppose?

Warren made his presumption explicit when gave an unequivocal assurance of salvation immediately after his nebulous non-gospel presentation on day seven. After urging his reader to pray an innocuous prayer, he wrote, “If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!” (59). Warren bypassed the affirmation of the local church, supplanted any critical assessment of genuine conversion, and simply assured and congratulated his reader.

Far and away, the worst poison in this book is Warren’s intention that his reader to think that he or she has read, understood, and embraced the gospel. He intends his reader to embrace every promise God has made to those who are in Christ, without the substance of the gospel and without the benefit of critically thinking through whether or not the reader has actually understood and embraced the message of Christ.For these two reasons, I caution the reader. This book is poisonous. It could be quite lethal to the soul.


[1]For the interested reader, I suggest the following resources as superior Christian living and devotional materials. A Little Book on the Christian Lifeby John Calvin, Mornings and Eveningsby Charles Spurgeon, Thoughts for Young Menby J.C. Ryle, and Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Lifeby Donald Whitney.

[2]Lest I be accused of doing the same thing I am accusing Warren of, allow me to briefly layout the essence of the gospel message. God is the creator, holy and just. One day He will distribute perfect justice on all creation. Man was created in the image of God, the apex of God’s creation, but man rebelled against (sinned) God’s good authority. Humanity became God’s enemy, and people continue in rebellion by continually sinning against God in their thought and words and deeds. Despite God’s right to judge everyone for their rebellion, God showed love for sinners by sending Jesus – the Son of God who became a human – to live perfectly under God’s law and to die as the substitute for all who would trust and love Him. Through Jesus, God reconciled guilty sinners with Himself, no longer counting them as guilty but counting them as adopted and beloved children. To this glorious news, God calls everyone everywhere to repent (turn from sin and disbelief) and believe (trust and love and submit to) Jesus Christ. This is, in brief, the gospel. The whole Christian life is lived out by understanding this message more deeply and applying it more broadly and thoroughly to every area of life, normally in community with other believers (i.e. the local church) who are doing the same.

“Going Public” by Bobby Jamieson

Jamieson’s writing style and authorial posture make this book an enjoyable read for anyone interested in studying a biblical argument for the historic Baptist view of believer’s baptism and the relationship of Christian baptism to church membership.

I found this book to be a likable, direct argument for believer’s baptism as the theological and public signal of someone becoming a Christian. Jamieson’s repeated obeisance to Paedobaptist comrades throughout the book makes him hard to disregard as a rabid sectarian of sorts. He simply and amiably asserts the biblical explanation and defense for believer’s baptism. He then works through the logical implications of this doctrine is such as way so as to present believer’s baptism as essential to the structure of church membership.

Quoting Robert Stein, Jamieson describes “faith going public” by pointing to five “integrally related components” of conversion. “Repentance, faith, and confession by the individual, regeneration… and baptism by representatives of the Christian community.”[1] This last phrase carries quite a bit of freight, but this is the basic idea Jamieson explicates throughout the book.

Baptism is integrally related to conversion (necessarily post-dating punctiliar conversion and serving as the public oath-sign), it is the affirmation of Christian representatives, and it is normally carried out in the context of formal Christian communities (i.e. local churches). Jamieson’s book attempts (I think successfully so) to unpack this freight and examine the substance of it.

Baptism, Jamieson argues, is the initiating oath-sign of the New Covenant. It is the formal and public commitment of the new believer to associate him or herself with Christ and Christ’s people. Baptism is also the passport of the kingdom of Christ on earth. It is the affirmation of the new believer by those Christians who are already part of Christ’s visible kingdom on earth.

Jamieson also argues that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the effective signs of what and who a local church is, thereby making church membership structurally visible. All of this collectively forms the basis for arguing the logical implication that baptism (i.e. believer’s baptism) is necessary for church membership. Anyone who neglects this necessary ordinance (even for reasons of conscience and/or conviction) cannot avoid the charge of inconsistency and, ultimately, theological error.

Honestly, I found this book to be a refreshing articulation of what I have been trying to practice among my own church family. It is hard for me to interact very critically with it. I thought Jamieson did a good job of laying out his case, and I believe he also stayed within the boundaries of Scripture and suitable deductions from the diligent and faithful study of it.

I also thought that Jamieson’s book would be quite accessible to the unstudied Christian. I think most Christians would be able to understand the overall argument of this book, and I think the bite-sized chapters and sections would not be too difficult to swallow and digest.

If I might make one negative comment about this book, it would be related to the compliment I gave it above. While the chapters and sections were arranged in a simple and easy-to-follow fashion, I think there was a little too much redundant content. Each chapter began by “putting his cards on the table” with lengthy introductions that essentially presented the chapter’s content in brief. Jamieson offered the reader an option to omit an entire chapter so as to avoid too much repetition, but I wonder if this doesn’t merely make my point that the re-packaged content could have simply been omitted in the final publication.

Overall, I think this book was great. I unreservedly commend it to the reading list of every Christian and curious non-Christian. This book will help the reader better understand the biblical importance of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church membership.

[1]Jamieson, 38.

“Elders” by Jeramie Rinne

I think this is a great resource for both aspiring elders/pastors and formally recognized ones. This book was an honest and biblical introduction to what an elder is and what an elder does, applicable to every Christian.

If a man is considering becoming an elder himself, or if he is currently serving as an elder and considering his affirmation of other elders, this book will be a great help. Also, if a church member is considering what his/her expectations ought to be regarding his/her elders, this book will be exceedingly beneficial.

Rinne doesn’t assume anything (one of the great things about this book), and he asserts early on that one of the first “elder-related” duties is to “investigate whether you should in fact be an elder, based on the Bible’s qualifications.”

He goes on to say, “Don’t assume. Even if you have served as an elder before, allow God’s Word to vet your candidacy” (pg. 18). These are shocking and (hopefully) sobering words for anyone who is considering what it means to be an elder. The Bible lays out various character qualifications (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1) for those who would serve or are serving as elders, and Rinne walks through them all.

There is a conspicuous qualification for elders that is not necessarily related to a man’s character, namely the ability to teach. There is much more that an elder/pastor must do and even more that he can do, but the central focus of his task is teaching.

Summarizing the charge of pastoring (being an elder), Rinne says,

“Overseers [or elders] teach, pray, and serve so that their brothers and sisters might know Jesus more intimately, obey him more faithfully, and reflect his character more clearly, both individually and as a church family” (pg. 40).

This is the biblical job description and heartfelt desire of every godly elder/pastor who serves among a local congregation.

Rinne’s candid and biblical approach is commendable and refreshing. So much of what passes for Christian literature today is hardly recognizable as Christian. Church growth resources are pragmatic, concerned nearly entirely with strategy and systems. Against this backdrop, Rinne is a bright and beautiful light. He begins with the biblical definition and description of an elder, he continues by challenging elders to function according to the biblical mandate, and he ends with a biblical call to glorious service in Christ’s name.

In my own local church (as of July 2018), I am the only officially recognized elder. Other men are informally doing the work of elders, shepherding fellow church members, but the biblical office of elder is not clearly recognized among my congregation.

By God’s grace, we are seeing some significant growth in this area, and there are many church members who are beginning to understand the biblical teaching of what an elder is and what an elder does. I believe it may not be too much longer before we will be able to formally recognize at least a couple of other men among us as elders.

For now, I am prayerfully seeking to live out the call Rinne gives to elders throughout his book. I am teaching my people what qualifies a man to be an elder, and I am calling them to settle for nothing less (especially in me). I am seeking to know and be known by members of my congregation, though I am simply not able to know all of them as well as I can know some of them. I am striving to serve the word of God throughout the weekly activities of our congregational life, especially on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings (we do not currently have a Sunday night service).

Additionally, I am trying to call absentee members back into the fold, trying to lead with patience and kindness, and trying to be an example among the flock over which God has placed me. I do feel both the burden of pastoring and the weight of such a glorious task.

May God help me, and may He raise up many godly men to serve as elders/pastors among local churches.

See this book on Amazon by CLICKING HERE

“Evangelism” by Mack Stiles

This book was refreshing and simple, and the average reader can read it in less than 2 hours. It was as though Mack had observed all the ways evangelical churches often misunderstand the church’s role in evangelism and then measured these against the biblical emphasis on what the local church actually is and does. Mack’s simple layout and explanations of evangelistic methodology from the Scriptures was very easy to follow.

Anyone reading the book would have difficulty disagreeing with Mack’s direct and sensible statements about the local church. Additionally, I found Mack’s examples and stories compelling. I am not normally a story-guy, usually skipping past these in order to get straight to an author’s arguments, but I found myself celebrating God’s grace in each of these accounts of regular church members living in step with the gospel.

Mack’s basic premise might be highlighted by his statement,

“In a culture of evangelism, people understand that the main task of the church is to be the church. We’ve already seen that church practices are a witness in and of themselves. Certainly the church supports and prays for outreach and evangelistic opportunities, but the church’s role is not to run programs. The church should cultivate a culture of evangelism. The members are sent out from the church to do evangelism (pg. 65-66).”

Mack articulates elsewhere what the church is and does (p. 70), and I think this might be the very backbone of the book and the culture of evangelism Mack urges throughout. The humble approach Mack took with this book and the sincere application of biblical concepts (church, evangelism, discipleship, etc.) makes this resource fantastic for church leaders and members alike.

I have absolutely no negative critique for this book. It was to the point, heartfelt, thoroughly biblical, compelling, and inspiring. I appreciated Mack’s no-assumption policy with Christianity and his exemplary-ambassador model of evangelistic efforts.

As I mentioned above, Mack’s definition of a local church was extremely helpful. No matter what someone believes about this definition, often the practices of local churches convey something much different. One question Mack forces the reader to consider is, “What is the biblical definition of a local church, and how does this argue for the inclusion of certain practices and the exclusion of others?”

Many churches seem to think that the local church is responsible to create a whole slew of programs and structures by which the members of a given church can feel a sense of engaging their community for the sake of Christ. In effect, however, these programs are much more likely to insulate Christians from the community around them rather than facilitate evangelistic efforts.

Vacation Bible School, outreach events, church excursions, concerts, campus expansions, gymnasiums, coffee shops, community groups, home groups, upward sports programs, and a host of other things seem much more likely to segregate Christians from the outside world rather than create inroads to meet the world with the gospel. Obviously, there can be some examples of things like these encouraging Christian engagement with the world, but a broader observation is what I am making here.

In my own local church context, I have tried to simply let dying programs die and avoid putting anything else in their place. I have also urged my congregation to see themselves as ambassadors for Christ, and I have tried to model gospel conversations for those with whom I spend time during the week. I haven’t done as good of a job at some of the things Mack mentioned, but I plan to remedy this as best as I can.

May God create a culture of evangelism among FBC Diana, and may God help me to be a better example among my church family and in my community.

See this book on Amazon by CLICKING HERE

From Eden to New Jerusalem | A Book Review

I recently read T.D. Alexander’s “From Eden to New Jerusalem.” It was a wonderful introductory book on Biblical Theology. Every Christian would benefit from this book and its content.

Introduction

Alexander makes no difficult task of discovering his thesis in this book. He states at the outset that he seeks to answer two of the biggest questions of all time, namely “Why does the earth exist?” and “What is the purpose of human life?” The author provides answers to these questions by walking through the metanarrative of holy Scripture and helping his reader see the major themes that run straight through the entire story. In my own estimation, Alexander’s work was a delight; I believe he was successful at proposing a biblical and interesting answer to each of these questions. The purpose for human existence is a familiar question and answer to me, but the divine intent in creating planet earth is a concept that hasn’t been given much time in my own mind. This book added quality and content to both of these concepts for me. Alexander’s book is a marvelous and accessible text that brings the reader from Eden to the New Jerusalem by briskly walking through the Scriptures in a remarkable way.

Summary

The tall task of seeking to answer huge questions is matched by the author’s panoramic view of the Scriptures, as well as his firm grasp of the major themes in the overarching story. He demonstrates a keen familiarity with the Bible’s story-like composition as he calls the reader’s attention to the opening and closing of the canonical collection. Alexander points out the similarities found in the biblical accounts of creation at the beginning and re-creation at the end. Alexander says:

By providing a closely matched beginning and end, the opening chapters of Genesis and the final chapters of Revelation undoubtedly frame the biblical meta-story… Whereas Genesis presents the earth as a potential building site, Revelation describes a finished city. Underlying the construction of this city is the expectation that God will reside within it, sharing its facilities with people from every nation.[1]

In this way, the author sets the stage for how he intends to answer those two big questions. Genesis and Revelation do indeed provide a marvelous frame for the picturesque story of God’s purposes for earth and humanity. Alexander nearly repeats himself in his conclusion when he makes a more direct statement, offering answers to the original questions. He says:

As we move from Genesis to Revelation, a consistent and coherent pattern emerges, centered on the idea that God created this earth with the intention of constructing an arboreal temple-city. This unique metropolis, as God’s abode, will be inhabited by people who display the holy nature of God himself.[2]

Here, the author provides concise answers to the two questions: (1) the earth exists to be a dwelling place for God with humanity, and (2) humans exist to be appropriate image-bearers of God. Alexander’s arguments display designs that are introduced at creation and climax at recreation. He traced more than the two following concepts in this book, but these seemed to me to be the convergence of all streams.

The Temple-city. It seems clear that the purpose for earth’s existence (according to Alexander) is to be one massive “arboreal temple-city,” and this is what it will one day be. Alexander seeks to demonstrate this idea is not only how God intends the earth to be eventually, but that this is God’s intention from the very beginning. The author highlights the coherence and order found in the Garden of Eden. He also shows how God commissioned the apex of His creation (humanity) to cultivate the same characteristics throughout the earth. Of course, Adam failed in this task, but God’s purposes were not thwarted.

The Tabernacle and Temple were miniature replicas of the cosmic temple-city in which God dwelt with humanity. Alexander provides some parallels between Eden and the Tabernacle, when he says, “As divine sanctuaries, both are entered from the east and cherubim guard their entrances. The golden menorah that stood in the Holy Place may have been designed specifically to resemble the tree of life” (34). Such resemblance is also found in the later Temple, but these both point to a greater demonstration of God making His “tabernacle” or dwelling among humanity. Of course, Jesus Christ is a clear touch-point for humanity; He is “God with us.” Alexander points out, however, that this incredible condescension is not the last step in the progression of God dwelling among humanity.

The Church is metaphorically presented in the New Testament as the temple of God. In Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, and elsewhere the author points to the imagery of the temple-city as used to describe the assembly of God’s people in Christ. Of course, the Church is also presented as the “body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12; Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27), and Alexander argues for a logical progression. “Since Christ’s body is the temple of God and since… Christians are those who are ‘in Christ’, it naturally follows that the church, as the body of Christ, is also the temple of God” (71).

Still, the author makes clear that the temple-city to come is yet to be enjoyed, even by those who are counted among the church in the here and now. Citing the author of Hebrews, Alexander reminds his readers that the city we await is a “city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). Therefore, Alexander argues that the temple-city, of which God is the architect, will one day cover all the earth. In the new creation there shall be no chaos or disorder, but all shall be as God intended from the beginning. God will dwell with humanity in the worldwide temple-city called in Scripture “the new Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2). This divinely prepared city will undoubtedly be a marvelous dwelling, in which image-bearing humans will enjoy communion with their God.

Holy Priest-Kings. Alexander, in the concluding statements of his book (cited above), asserts that the purpose or end of humanity is to “display the holy nature of God” (188). God created humanity as image-bearers, and Alexander says, “To be made in the ‘image of God’ is to be given regal status” (77). He traces royal attributes in Adam, Melchizedek (the mysterious priest-king), Abraham, and the nation of Israel. Adam, who was the first vice regent of God on earth, failed to fulfill his role of image-bearer well, and the same is the case for those humans who followed him. The need for a more perfect representative is repeated again and again, and Alexander points out the issue when he says that no image-bearers can “be genuine priest-kings and simultaneously disregard God’s instructions” (84). The role of image-bearing can only be filled appropriately by humans who are reflecting the nature of the supreme King accurately.

Jesus is the key figure who reinstitutes God’s kingdom on earth, and Alexander recalls, “The establishment of this kingdom, one of the central ideas of the Gospels, is intimately associated with who Jesus is and what he does” (89). Jesus is the God-man, and His right representation of God’s holy nature brings the human purpose into marvelous focus. Like the concept of temple-city, the concept of image-bearing priest-kings narrows at Christ and also expands from Him.

The Church enjoys this image-bearing priest-king status in the same way that the Church enjoys the status of being the “body of Christ.” Therefore, Alexander argues, the Church is now the visible kingdom of God on earth. However, the fullness of what the image-bearing priest-kings will be is yet to come in the new heavens and the new earth. The author describes a future time, as presented in Scripture and brought about by God Himself, when humanity will appropriately display the holy nature of God. As Alexander says, “Then, and only then, shall we know life as God intends it to be” (192).

Marc’s Review

There was so much to enjoy about this concise book. I appreciated Alexander’s ability to trace concepts and themes from one end of the Scriptures to the other. I was thrilled to see the end result of God’s masterpiece as Alexander helped his own readers understand how to focus in on the overarching story of the Bible. In my judgment, Alexander did meet his own stated goal of answering the two big questions of life. The purpose for the earth is to be an “arboreal temple-city,” and the purpose of humanity is to “display the holy nature of God himself.” Of course, the two answers are more fully developed in this book and even more so throughout the Scriptures.

Alexander was able, I believe, to demonstrate the biblical view that God intended something like a temple-city from the beginning. The correlations between Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 21-22 are tremendously striking indeed. Alexander highlighted continuity and further development of this concept throughout the biblical text, and it was not forced or manipulated. I would even argue that the emphasis Alexander placed on certain key elements, such as the detailed décor of the Temple and the building metaphor in association to the New Testament Church, helped open my own eyes to be better able to see more of the same semblance elsewhere.

The theme of image-bearing priest-kings was also strongly communicated. I was familiar with the ‘Image of God’ in the creation of Adam and Eve, and I was familiar with the notion that God commissioned Adam and Eve as something like ambassadors or delegates to rule as extensions of the supreme King. What I did not know so well was that this same concept was repeated in others before the coming of Christ. I was fascinated to see that the delegation of God’s vice regents was actually quite a staple of the Old Testament storyline. Alexander has helped me to understand that Christ’s role as the ultimate Priest-King is and was more expected than surprising. This too has expanded my understanding of who the Church is today and what she is to do. The implications of Alexander’s highlighted themes are many, to be sure.

Conclusion

Overall, I found Alexander’s arguments to be clear, biblical and compelling. Each of the concepts mentioned above were thoroughly outlined from the Scriptures themselves, and logically sound. God from intentionally established the purpose for earth and humanity before creation, and God has been moving these purposes forward throughout history. The Bible’s overarching story is a spectacular display of God’s wisdom and power, as He has been building a city in which to dwell with a holy people. Both the people and the city are the products of God’s intentional and affectionate attention.
I would recommend this book to every adult Christian. It will help the reader understand how the Bible tells the story of God’s redeeming work from creation to re-creation.
Alexander, T. Desmond. From Eden to the New Jerusalem. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2008.

[1]14

[2]188

Making Sense of the Old Testament | A Book Review

I recently finished reading Tremper Longman’s “Making Sense of the Old Testament.” I recommend it to any Christian who feels unfamiliar with and distant from the Old Testament. This book is accessible to any adult reader and helpful for any Christian who wants to begin discovering the riches found only in the Old Testament.

Introduction

Making Sense of the Old Testament” is a great introduction to the Old Testament generally and a wonderful guide to equip modern readers for entry into the foreign landscape so characteristic of the Old Testament. The author keeps a fast pace and covers quite a lot of content in an effort to raise the reader’s gratitude for and acquaintance with the Old Testament. Longman states his these in the preface, “My argument in this volume is that it is vitally important for us to work at our appreciation and understanding of the Old Testament” (11).

Summary

Below I have provided a brief summary and overview of the book. It is broken down into three sections, each with its own contribution to author’s overall stated task.

Section One

Opening with several reasons the Old Testament is really quite attractive to Bible students who spend much time and effort there, Longman paints with broad strokes to begin forming a picture that will entice the reader rather than repel him. He says the Old Testament is full of “gripping stories,” “heart-wrenching poems,” “images of God,” “and guidance for life” (13-17). One of the most important and appealing attributes, among those Longman lists, is that of providing background to the New Testament (17).

Quickly after this inviting depiction, Longman admits and points out a few difficulties that the reader is bound to face when he begins his journey through the Old Testament text. It is long and diverse, it is very old (no pun intended), and it is culturally alien to most any modern reader (18-21). Indeed, these do inhibit an easy immersion, but these may also add to the joy of discovery. As Longman mentioned the last of his distancing difficulties, he gets to the heart of the matter when he says that many readers simply do not know what to think about the time in redemptive history that predates the Cross of Christ (22).

His book is intended to stimulate (not discourage) Old Testament readership, so the author spends the remainder of the book attempting to equip and encourage the reader for the task. Longman notes nine principles for proper biblical interpretation to help the reader navigate his way across this unfamiliar terrain: discover the author’s intended meaning; read Scripture in its context; identify the genre of the book and the passage; consider the historical and cultural background of the Bible; consider the grammar and structure within the passage; interpret experience in light of Scripture, not Scripture in light of experience; always seek the full counsel of Scripture; discover how the Scripture passage presents Christ; and be open-minded and tolerant of other interpretations (23-54).

Section Two

The next two sections deal with the matter of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. Any reader of the Bible will inevitably have to come to some perspective on this issue. The second section of Longman’s work focuses primarily upon the continuity of divine character and work. In fact, it is the very nature of God as “Yahweh” that unifies both Testaments under one theme. Longman said that he does not allow any single theme to “totally subsume” the Bible, but he then went on to explain that God as covenantal self-revealer is just that kind of singularly unifying theme. Longman says, “I do not believe the Bible can be totally subsumed under any single theme… However, there is a unifying theme, and that is God himself. To the question ‘What is the Bible about?’ the obvious answer is that the Bible is about God” (59).

Further explaining the reality that God communicates through the use of concrete images and metaphors, Longman then went on to introduce the reader to some of the more prominent metaphors in Scripture. God is “Covenant King” (59-71), “Divine Warrior” (71-85), and “Immanuel” (86-102). Each of these are powerful and profound depictions of God’s character and nature, and each reveals God in real time and in real relationship with humanity. Furthermore, each of these are metaphors that God uses to reveal Himself in both the Old and New Testaments. This denotes significant continuity.

Section Three

The last section continues to address the continuity and discontinuity between the two Testaments, but here the author also attempts to tackle a particular difficulty. Most New Testament Christians (to say nothing of modern unbelievers) will likely have a very tough time saying anything consistent about the law of God in the Old and New Testaments. The author presents the spectrum of ideas from within the Christian community in the form of two polar opposites – C. I. Scofield and Rouses Rushdoony. Longman quotes Scofield (a dispensationalist), who wrote,

“The most obvious and striking division of the word of truth is that between Law and Grace. Indeed, these contrasting principles characterize the two most important dispensations—Jewish and Christian… Scripture never, in any dispensation, mingles these two principles” (p. 105).

On the other end of the spectrum, Longman describes the theonomist position (of which Rushdoony was a proponent). Longman said that those who hold the theonomic view “argue that the Old Testament laws and penalties are still in effect today” (105). As was mentioned, each of these views oppose each another, but the author’s point was to draw a stark contrast in order to provide a third option.

Dividing the law of God into three categories (moral, civil, and ceremonial), Longman went on to skim the surface of how modern Christians might understand these laws and apply the Old Testament generally to life today. The Old Testament exposes the reader to him or herself as the characters of the narrative illustrate real thoughts, words, and deeds. In these historical accounts, the reader may gain insight and learn lessons. In the poetic portions of Scripture, the reader may let his or her soul run free among the sweeping emotional highs and lows found there. In the wisdom literature, the reader may understand precepts for living life well before God; and in the prophetic portions, the reader may heed the warnings and cling to the hopeful promises.

Marc’s Review

This book was accessible, helpful, and full of good reasons for the reader to take up and read the Old Testament. In my estimation, Longman achieved his goal of making a case for working at an appreciation and understanding of the Old Testament. It will certainly take work, but the author has argued well that the effort is well worth it.

The great benefits of this book are many, but the introduction to some critical Scriptural concepts was fantastic. Continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments, God as Covenant King and Divine Warrior, God’s presence among humanity, Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament types, and the Christian’s relationship to God’s Law were all essential concepts that the Bible student will have to address if he or she is to progress in understanding the biblical text. Longman’s book does a great job of providing an introduction to these concepts and others.

Additionally, the nine interpretive principles will be a marvelous help to any new Bible reader. The average Christian does not need to know what “Biblical Hermeneutics” means, but he or she needs to have them when interpretative work is being done. Longman’s principles serve as exactly that, and even the most elementary of readers can pick up and use these simple principles.

Still more impressive about Longman’s book was the accessibility of it. As a pastor, I have been discouraged to learn just how infrequent many Christians read anything of real value. The likelihood that many Christians will read a book on biblical interpretation and understanding is slim (at best), and that statistic only goes down if the book they open is slow or difficult to follow. This work was very fast-paced. There were several times I was forced to move on to the next topic before I was completely satisfied with Longman’s address of the previous one. However, the average reader will likely appreciate the quick bursts and introductory-level content.

Conclusion

I am glad to have read this book, and glad to review it. It has been a fresh reminder of many wonderful and challenging things. I will recommend this book to those in my congregation (as well as other Christians) who are interested in reading the Old Testament with greater understanding and higher appreciation. In this book, Longman has succeeded in helping his readers make sense of the Old Testament.

 

Longman, Tremper, III. Making Sense of the Old Testament: 3 Crucial Questions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.