Rediscovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes by Zack Eswine.
Zack Eswine has become, perhaps, my favorite current theological writer. I connect with his writing at a very deep level. I often feel as though he’s writing directly to me. And yet at the same time, I feel that he’s truly writing himself. He’s spilling his soul on every page, pouring out his heart for both the glory of his Savior and the good of the church. Such is what you’ll find in his splendid collection of reflections on “the gospel according to Ecclesiastes,” entitled, Rediscovering Eden. I relied heavily on this book throughout my own study of Ecclesiastes this summer as I endeavored to show a group of teenagers the uncanny and unexpected ways in which the gospel deals with life’s messes head-on. Ecclesiastes itself is a book in which the Preacher doesn’t stick to the conventional methods of delivering sermonettes, but rather, “addresses the exceptions to account for what is.”1 That’s really what Ecclesiastes is about, a book that “determines to show us how to find our way, amid the broken sacred of the world.”2 Throughout, Eswine continually refers to creation as “once-Eden,” an adept moniker that, I think, perfectly captures the essence of the now: a world that once was perfect and beautiful that is now fallen and corrupt, and that groans to be restored and remade. It is to this brokenness that Christians are uniquely called and uniquely gifted by the Spirit to enter and sit and preach the good news.
Ecclesiastes seems like one of God’s ways to say to us, This world and your life are more broke than you now realize and what God created for us is more satisfying than we believe . . . God intends to reveal himself as the One Who Goes There. He intends to equip his people with a voice and language and method that has the capacity to do the same. ‘Getting prepared by God to find a language adequate for handling life as it is’: this is the calling set before us in Ecclesiastes.3
Eswine’s handling of Ecclesiastes is tremendous, investigating each uncomfortable statement of the Preacher in order to show that it is God himself who’s calling us “into this discomfort and wants us to see that God is there.”4
Scandalous Stories: A Sort of Commentary on Parables by Daniel Emery Price and Erick Sorensen.
Without question, some of the most interesting and intriguing bits of the Gospel accounts are those in which Jesus teaches the crowds through parables. Oftentimes, Jesus’s illustrations leave many confused or concerned, with his powerful teaching of the gospel of the kingdom coming to them in unexpected and unseemly ways. Each parable acts almost like a heavenly thief, accosting the listener’s preconceived notions of religion and faith and speaking new life into their ears. As Chad Bird rightly says in the foreword:
The parables upend all our notions of a God who plays by our rules . . . The only hero of the parables is the messianic madman who gives away the gold of forgiveness like it’s candy; who hides oceans of grace in a drop of faith; and who continually crowns the last, the least, the little, and the lifeless.5
The parables of Christ have received their fair share of erroneous interpretations throughout the centuries, many insisting on putting us at the center of the narrative, therein turning them into moralistic stories that seek to us how to behave or get along better. But, as with the rest of Scripture, Jesus himself is the interpretive key by which we are to unlock the parables’ true meanings. Such is why I’m thankful for Daniel’s and Erick’s efforts in crafting Scandalous Stories: A Sort of Commentary on Parables. Though this work is light, it’s hard-hitting when it comes to demonstrating the capsized-logic of grace that runs rampant throughout all of Jesus’s heavenly stories. And that is its best quality. It doesn’t waste time with copious amounts of exposition. Dan and Erick cut to the quick of each story, revealing both how we’re naturally prone to read them and how they should be read. Scandalous Stories is a welcome edition to my library — you’d do well to add it to yours as well.
The Sinner / Saint Devotional: 60 Days in the Psalms by Daniel Emery Price.
I don’t think it’s too much to say that one of the leading influences in my ministerial life the past several years has been the combined ministries of Christ Hold Fast and 1517. Both of the predominantly Lutheran parachurch organizations have made it their pristine endeavor to showcase God’s flawless grace for incredibly flawed people. Such is what you’ll find in The Sinner / Saint Devotional. This work, edited by Dan Price, is a collection of sixty devotionals exploring the remarkable gospel truths found in the Psalms. The psaltery, the Scripture’s hymnal, is, perhaps, the most visceral book on the Christian experience ever composed. The words of the psalmists are timeless encounters with some of the severest of human adversities. They display for us the indelible truth that the Christian faith is predisposed to give hope to the hopeless. Even when we fear what surrounds us, “it’s not antithetical to our faith when we admit our fears,” says Elyse Fitzpatrick.6 Nearly all of the 150 psalms are the cries of God’s disciples enduring untold anguish. As is evident throughout, the struggles of the psalmists have no bearing on whether or not they’re truly redeemed. So writes Donavon Riley:
The righteous person is not the one who never struggles, never falls into sin, and is applauded for his saintliness. A righteous person is righteous because he trusts only in what Jesus does, and therefore God declares him to be righteous for Christ’s sake.7
Regardless of what comes our way in this life, because our righteous standing is wholly outside of us, our confidence is sure notwithstanding the winds and waves that crash and crush our hope. God’s peace “is a gift and not a product,” encourages Bruce Hillman, which is why “you can’t work your way into it,” and neither can you really lose it.8 The peace of God is there for us forever in the person of Jesus Christ. And he has promised to never leave or forsake us.
I am so thankful for this devotional. It’s stuffed with gospel truth and continually points me to Christ. You’d do well to add this to your bookshelf.
The Saviour of the World by B. B. Warfield.
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield is still considered one of the leading theological minds of the 20th century. Many still reckon him to be the last great Princeton theologian. His contributions and influences on a number of crucial Christian doctrines and apologetic arguments are still being felt today. It was with a deep reverence, then, that I worked my way through Warfield’s The Saviour of the World. This little work is a collection of nine addresses centering on God’s plan of salvation of the lost, all of which attest to the truth that there’s no one outside of this divine plan. “A sinner may be too vile for any and every thing else,” says Warfield, “but he cannot be too vile for salvation.”9 The gospel of God is precisely orchestrated for sinners, and sinners are all that there are. “There is none so lost,” he continues, “that he may not be found by him, and, being found by him, be also found in him.”10 What’s more, God’s gospel of salvation is wholly complete.
All has been done by him. His saving work neither needs nor admits of supplementary addition by any needy child of man, even to the extent of an iota. When we look to him we are raising grateful eyes, not to one who invites us to save ourselves; nor merely to one who has broken out a path, in which walking, we may attain to salvation; nor yet merely to one who offers us a salvation wrought out by him, on a condition; but to one who has saved us, — who is at once the beginning and the middle and the end of our salvation, the author and the finisher of our faith.11
All throughout Warfield’s discourses, the Lord’s sovereign hand in the salvation of sinners is made abundantly evident. And his sovereignty continues to this day, this moment. “Christ our Saviour is on the throne,” Warfield comments. “The hands that were pierced with the nails of the cross wield the sceptre.”12 Such is the lavish comfort of the gospel that’s afforded and attended to sinners. Praise be to the Savior of the lost.
Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus by Jared C. Wilson.
Of the many authors I repeatedly visit and, likewise, eagerly anticipate future works, Jared C. Wilson has become one of the leading candidates. What’s more, after having met Jared at the inaugural “Normal Pastor Conference” in Orlando, Florida a few years ago, his writing has becoming even more engaging. He’s not a reclusive theologian pontificating on pedantic biblical matters — he’s an impassioned author whose mission is to write for pastors and disciples, for the good of the church, and for the glory of God. Jared has often referred to Gospel Deeps has his personal favorite of all the books he’s authored, which is quite a statement when you consider all the titles he’s had published. Gospel Deeps is a rich exploration of the multifaceted gospel of God. “The further into the gospel we go,” Jared writes, “the bigger it gets . . . The further into Christ’s work we press, the more of our vision and the more of our heart it fills.”13 This is a sentiment which I’ve grown fond of over the years: the notion of discipleship as more of a cave dive and less of a mountain climb brings a heightened (deepened) and nuanced picture of what means to be a disciple.
Every angle of the gospel we look at ends up showing us a different reflection of God’s glory . . . The gospel in fact is scaled to the very shape of God himself . . . To know God better is to know better that eternity won’t exhaust his knowability.14
The pursuit of the knowledge of God is one that grows deeper and deeper the longer we’re engaged in it. There’s no limit to the depths of Jesus’s gospel. It’s a glorious dive into his undiscovered fullness of grace and truth. So let’s go exploring.
Supernatural Power for Everyday People by Jared C. Wilson.
It is interesting that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is still visited with no small amount of hesitation and ambivalence. It seems there’s no equilibrium to be found between the poles of a Pentecostal spirit and a cessationist heart. Despite all the conversation and controversy over the Trinity in recents years, the Holy Spirit often remains overlooked and disregarded. That’s where books like Jared Wilson’s Supernatural Power for Everyday People step in and shine. Throughout the pages of Supernatural Power, Wilson endeavors to demonstrate the Holy Spirit’s incalculable influence on our everyday lies. “I am firmly convinced,” writes Jared, “that too many Christians spend most of their lives trying to carry out their everyday routines in their own strength.”15 I, too, am persuaded that like many other doctrines and truths of Scripture, we cherry-pick that which we like and ignore that which we don’t like. We’re very often selective disciples. We’re attuned to that which fits into our lives or which sounds good to our ears. But anything that’s uncomfortable or unsuitable to our current lifestyle is met with deaf ears. “If we don’t hear God,” Jared continues, “it is not because God is not speaking, but because we have gone deaf.”16 I fear we have gone terribly deaf to the things of the Spirit of God, most likely because we’ve let our Bibles become caked with dust.
We may struggle to hear his voice, but very often that is because the dust is so thick on our copies of his Word . . . If you want to know what God has done and is doing and is going to do, read the Bible. If you want to know how to live and how to love and how to survive and how to thrive, read the Bible. If you want to know what God thinks about you, read the Bible . . . Your time in the Bible is the primary means by which the Holy Spirit empower you to live your life.17
Jared’s words in Supernatural Power are incredibly prescient for the current Christian climate. They’re momentous words that direct us back to the pivotal ministry of God’s Spirit, the Spirit that embraces and empowers our everyday lives.
Well, that’s pretty much it. What do you think of my list? What books did you complete in 2018? And which ones are you planning on completing in 2019? I, for one, am looking to finish a few more non-theological works. Feel free to discuss below — I’d love to hear from you!
Zack Eswine, Rediscovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (Phillipsburg, PA: P&R Publishing, 2014), 9.
Ibid., 37, 39.
Daniel Emery Price and Erick Sorensen, Scandalous Stories: A Sort of Commentary on Parables (Irvine, CA: 1517 Publishing, 2018), xi–xii.
Daniel Emery Price, The Sinner / Saint Devotional: 60 Days in the Psalms (Irvine, CA: 1517 Publishing, 2018), 97.
B. B. Warfield, The Saviour of the World (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1991), 24.
Jared C. Wilson, Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 20.
Ibid., 60, 132.
Jared C. Wilson, Supernatural Power for Everyday People: Experiencing God’s Extraordinary Spirit in Your Ordinary Life (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2018), xv.
Ibid., 67, 71.