Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review: The Man Christ Jesus

As Evangelicals we are committed to the deity of Jesus Christ.  It is one of the fundamentals of the faith, and for the first 20 years of my Christian life I was happy affirming the full deity and humanity of the God-man, but actually thought little about what His humanity actually meant.  Then about fifteen years ago a friend of mine challenged me to think more seriously about the humanity of Christ, and in particular how Jesus lived out His humanity as the perfect man walking in dependence upon the Spirit.  He contended that all too often we Evangelicals think about Jesus as having, as a consequence of His deity, resources that allowed Him to sort of float through hardships, “hitting the God button” and leaping over obstacles rather than having to slug it out like you and me.  Often this kind of thinking revealed itself in discussions regarding His peccability vs. impeccability. 

When I began to give this idea of Jesus living in complete dependence upon the Spirit more serious attention I found that my understanding of the Gospels grew immensely, and exhortations like the one in 1 Peter 2:21-23 took on fresh significance.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:21-23 ESV

 Captivated by this new understanding I looked around for books that explored the issue and found that there were not very many good ones available.  Well, that void has been partially filled.  Bruce Ware, professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has produced a theologically rich, yet eminently readable little book entitled “The Man Christ Jesus” (ISBN 978-1-43351305-3).  At 156 pages including Scripture indices and priced under $13 this book is a bargain.

Throughout the book the author makes a number of statements which caused me to pause, put the book down and meditate upon the glories of our great Savior.  For example, he writes in reflecting upon Jesus being the Spirit anointed Messiah:

“…the Spirit will remain on him and empower the work that he has yet to accomplish in his second coming.  Indeed, the incarnate Jesus, since he is forever human from the moment of his conception in the womb of Mary, forever has the Spirit upon him working through him to accomplish the work the Father has given him to do.” (pg. 41).

And in regard to the necessity of His bodily resurrection:

“If Christ died for our sin, and sin is to us both a penalty we cannot pay and a power we cannot overcome, then Christ’s death for our sin must both pay sin’s penalty and conquer sin’s power.  But since sin’s penalty is death, if it is true that Christ has “died for our sin,” [1 Cor. 15:3] what is the necessary expression that Christ has paid the penalty for sin fully?  He must rise from the dead.  If he remains in a grave dead, then the penalty of sin is still being paid, and thus its payment has not been made fully.” (pg. 131-2).

In terms of layout, the book has eight chapters, each of which covers a different aspect of Jesus humanity, beginning with the incarnation (includes a helpful discussion of Phil. 2) and ending with His present reign and future return.  At the end of every chapter the author has an application section as well as a series of discussion questions.  This format makes this book perfect for a home study group.  In fact I am using it this summer in our Young Professionals book club.  Summer is upon us.  Pick up this book.  Read it.  And sense a renewed passion for worship.  It is that good!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Every Good Endeavor: A Book Review

I have recently begun a series at church on A Biblical Theology of Work.  In preparation for that series, I read four books specifically addressing the topic; of the four, the book by Timothy Keller “Every Good Endeavor” (ISBN 978-0-525-95270-1; 286 pages including endnotes) was the best.  The book is laid out in three parts: God’s Plan for Work, Our Problems with Work, and The Gospel and Work; each of these sections is composed of four chapters.  Co-authoring the book is Katherine Leary Alsdorf, the Executive Director of Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work – a ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC where Keller is the pastor.

The strength of the book is its theological commitment to the historic reformed faith, presented in a clear writing style liberally sprinkled with illustrations drawn from the lives of various people, historic and contemporary.  In particular I was stimulated in my thinking about this topic by the emphasis on breaking down the “clergy/laity” divide which communicates a defective understanding of divine calling, resulting in the creation of two classes of Christians.  When this artificial barrier is allowed to exist we end up with a few individuals “in ministry” and everybody else who is forced to slog it out in their workplace – at best “doing ministry” a couple of hours a week.  The result of this way of thinking is that the majority of most peoples’ lives is spent doing something which they assume has no eternal value – how depressing and demotivating!

Keller shatters this false dichotomy in his introduction and then proceeds in section one with a very robust presentation of the glory of work drawn from the creation account of Genesis 1&2.  For example, my heart soared when I read statements like this: “Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer and sexuality; it is not simply medicine but food for our soul.  Without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness…Work is so foundational to our makeup, in fact, that it is one of the few things we can take in significant doses without harm” (pg. 37).   And again, “Work is our design and our dignity; it is also a way to serve God through creativity, particularly in the creation of culture” (pg. 55).  By showing the reader how his daily work connects to and imitates the creative work of God Himself, Keller provides great motivation to pursue our work with excellence.     

In the second section dealing with the problems of work, Keller does a good job explaining the effects of Adam’s fall upon our work.  He quotes philosopher Al Wolters who writes: “Do you find the two great tasks in life – love and work – to be excruciatingly hard?  This explains why”.  In tracing the outworking of the fall Keller not only explains its consequences for work, but spends a couple of chapters explaining its negative impact on the worker.  It is in this section that the sin of making work an idol is brought forward for the reader’s contemplation.

Finally, in the third section, Keller introduces the effect of the Gospel upon how the Christian is to think about and engage in work.  Helpful little subsections dealing with topics like “The Gospel and Business, The Gospel and Journalism, The Gospel and Higher Education, the Arts, and Medicine” set the stage for a helpful section of developing a Christian worldview.  Throughout this final section Keller repeatedly notes that Christian conversion does not change the work, but it does change the worker – and that change makes all the difference.

This book was not a difficult read and I recommend it to those who are struggling to find meaning in their work, as well as to those just entering the working world.  Understanding and internalizing the sound theology presented here will go a long way toward removing some of the sting of those thorns and thistles.