Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Taking God at His Word

Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and MeTaking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kevin DeYoung is one of my favorite authors and his works prove themselves time and again to be immensely approachable but not light.  He covers topics with a striking balance of depth and clarity and I am time and again blessed by his work, be it published books, blog articles, or sermons and lectures.  This time DeYoung sets out to tackle the topic of God’s Word.  This is a subject of great breadth that you would think could not be covered very well in just 130 pages, but that is just one of many pleasant surprises DeYoung delivers to his reader in Taking God at His Word.

From the beginning it is apparent that DeYoung’s ultimate aim is not the head of his reader.  He will address doctrine, often and explicitly, but these aspects are means to an end.  His aim is something far greater than simple mental assent.  He begins his work with Psalm 119 because, more than just sound doctrine about the Word of God, he wants the reader to have stirred affections for the Word of God. “Too often, Christians reflect on only what they should believe about the word of God. But Psalm 119 will not let us stop there. This love poem forces us to consider how we feel about the word of God.”

DeYoung gives the Spirit-inspired psalmist as an example of how we are to desire the Word of the Lord.

Over and over, the psalmist professes his great love for the commands and testimonies of God (vv. 48, 97, 119, 127, 140). The flip side of this love is the anger he experiences when God’s word is not delighted in. Hot indignation seizes him because of the wicked, who forsake God’s law (v. 53). Zeal consumes him when his foes forget God’s words (v. 139). The faithless and disobedient he looks upon with disgust (v. 158). The language may sound harsh to us, but that’s an indication of how little we treasure the word of God. How do you feel when someone fails to see the beauty you see in your spouse? Or when people don’t see what makes your special-needs child so special? We are all righteously indignant when someone else holds in little esteem what we know to be precious. Extreme delight in someone or something naturally leads to extreme disgust when others consider that person or thing not worthy of their delight. No one who truly delights in God’s word will be indifferent to the disregarding of it.

DeYoung clearly articulates the traditional Protestant understanding of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God.  He also does well in clarifying what is meant by this and its differences from the caricature often attributed to this position by its detractors as a mechanical dictation with no respect for the humanity and personality of the scribes who did the recording.

Inerrancy means the word of God always stands over us and we never stand over the word of God. When we reject inerrancy we put ourselves in judgment over God’s word... Defending the doctrine of inerrancy may seem like a fool’s errand to some and a divisive shibboleth to others, but, in truth, the doctrine is at the heart of our faith. To deny, disregard, edit, alter, reject, or rule out anything in God’s word is to commit the sin of unbelief.

Furthermore he adds,

The phrase “concursive operation” is often used to describe the process of inspiration, meaning that God used the intellect, skills, and personality of fallible men to write down what was divine and infallible. The Bible is, in one sense, both a human and a divine book. But this in no way implies any fallibility in the Scriptures. The dual authorship of Scripture does not necessitate imperfection any more than the two natures of Christ mean our Savior must have sinned.

DeYoung outlines the majority of his book based on the acronym SCAN and devotes a chapter each to the attributes of Scripture of sufficiency, clarity, authority and necessity. “Or to rearrange the order of the attributes, we could say: God’s word is final; God’s word is understandable; God’s word is necessary; and God’s word is enough.”

DeYoung points out that sufficiency is the aspect of the doctrine of Scripture with which those who believe in the Bible are most likely to struggle.

If authority is the liberal problem, clarity the postmodern problem, and necessity the problem for atheists and agnostics, then sufficiency is the attribute most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians. We can say all the right things about the Bible, and even read it regularly, but when life gets difficult, or just a bit boring, we look for new words, new revelation, and new experiences to bring us closer to God.

DeYoung’s quote from Calvin summarizes his argument for the clarity of Scripture. “God does not propound to us obscure enigmas to keep our minds in suspense, and to torment us with difficulties, but teaches familiarly whatever is necessary, according to the capacity, and consequently the ignorance of the people.”

DeYoung makes strong arguments for the necessity of a proper belief in the clarity of Scripture and argues that there is much at stake, including human freedom, human language, and knowing what God is like and who God is for.  I am still torn as to whether DeYoung overstates his point a bit in this section or if I just do not have a firm grasp on the gravity and scope of this particular position.

DeYoung’s chapter on authority is wide-ranging, addressing tradition and Tradition, natural and special revelation, and the difference between Sola Scriptura and solo scriptura.  His position is not hard to guess based on his being a minister of a reformed church but what the chapter lacks in surprise it makes up for in solid, clear, Biblical arguments for the authority of Scripture over Tradition, the Roman Catholic position, and experience, the Protestant Liberal position.

Not only are the Scriptures clear and authoritative and sufficient, they are absolutely necessary.  “The Scriptures are our spectacles (to use Calvin’s phrase), the lenses through which we see God, the world, and ourselves rightly. We cannot truly know God, his will, or the way of salvation apart from the Bible.”  Why?  Because, apart from God’s condescending revelation of Himself to us, we can never ascend into the heavens to know Him.  We cannot, as Michael Horton likes to say, overcome the estrangement that exists between us, created and fallen beings, and the Creator who is sinless and holy.  He must make Himself known and He does this, ultimately and perfectly in His Son, and as a record of this and a revelation in its own right, through the Scriptures.

So where do we go to learn the things God has revealed? Do we look to the trees? What about the inner light? How about community standards? Maybe human reason and experience? The clear testimony of 1 Corinthians is that only God can tell us about God. Just as the spirit of a person discloses the thoughts and feelings and intentions of that person, so also no one can make known the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:11). The only Being knowledgeable enough, wise enough, and skillful enough to reveal God to you is God himself.

Taking God at His Word culminates with an argument for a high view of Scripture supported by pointing to Christ and His own personal view of Scripture as revealed in Scripture.  He argues that we, as Christians, should hold the same position on the Bible as Christ showed Himself to have(makes sense, right?).  While I might disagree with some of the particulars, for example his take on Christ’s reference to Jonah precluding any reading of Jonah apart from literal history, I feel DeYoung made a great case, from the Scriptures, that Christ held to an extremely high view of the written word of God and, accordingly, so should we.

DeYoung closes his work, as he regularly does, with an admonition.  This one is simple.  Stick with the Scriptures.  He gives many reasons why but this admonition, for the believer, is clear.  Come to the fountain and thirst no more.  Come to the feast and hunger no more.  Come and be filled.  Stick with the Scriptures.  That is where we find Jesus.  For what more could we ask?

Taking God at His Word is a great defense of a traditional Protestant position on the Scriptures but, more importantly, is a great encouragement to trust in and seek the Lord diligently in the Scriptures.  Refreshing, challenging, and encouraging, this book will bless whoever takes the time to read it.

I received an ARC through Crossway’s Beyond the Page program to offer a review.

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