I have no idea how long ago I received my review copy of Abide by Jared C. Wilson, but it has had me on a guilt trip every since it came in the mail box.
See: Jared and I sort of met because we both started blogging at Evangel, and I think we weren’t supposed to like each other. He’s a Boar’s Head Tavern guy; I’m obviously a PyroManiac. He’s not really one of the “YRR” crowd even though he has some friends there, and somehow I am – even though I prolly don’t really have any friends there except Zach Bartels and Tad Thompson, may a blessing be upon them. And my guilt trip has come from the fact that Jared’s book deserves a good review, and I haven;t had time to make one. Until now.
I think Jared actually “gets” it. He’s not a theology wonk, and he doesn’t memorize the Puritans or anything like that, but as a pastor he gets it that people need Jesus, only Jesus, and what Jesus has done because that’s the only real hope in the world.
You could do a lot worse than to wake up one day and find out that Jared was your pastor.
So in that context, Jared’s people at LifeWay sent me Abide, and I was supposed to review it. It comes in a box, and in the box is a workbook and two discs. To be totally forthright in this review, I could not get the video DVD to work, so maybe there’s some content on there that ought to make me rend Jared limb from limb. I’ll leave that to someone else to discover; you can feel free to put your content-substantiated criticism of the DVD in the comments.
Abide is not a Bible study. Sorry LifeWay – there’s no way to frame this as a book which is first and foremost, as someone someplace has said, what God hath said. This is a book which is a lot about what Jared says. I’m not sure that Jared would say that exactly about this work, but here’s what he does say about it in his one-page intro:
I hope you’ll find this book not just practicval helps for your spiritual disciplines, but the games-changing proclamation of the good news. That good news is even that in your setbacks and struggles, God is at work in you according to his good pleasure.
So in Jared’s view, somehow this book is about the Gospel. And that’s what you gotta like about him: Jared is a guy who thinks the Gospel is the main thing – but take note: he doesn’t think it’s the only thing.
Some people will take this (wrongly) to mean that Jared is off the island; he’s some kind of syncretist or synergist or some other kind of bad man – but they would be wrong. The Gospel has consequences, and those consequences are necessary. For example, the people who might start the war drums up against Jared would all agree, univocally, that one necessary consequence of the Gospel is that it must be proclaimed. It does not make one a papist or a pelagian to admit that because of the facts inherent in 1 Cor 15:1-4, people must be told that Christ died for our sins, etc. Proclamation is a necessary consequence of the Gospel – it is something we must do, or we are not actually what we might otherwise say we are.
Now, what one would think one ought to do is start with the Bible, quote Jesus in some sense about the necessary stuff which are consequences of the Gospel, and viola – Bible Study. That’s how every right-minded reformed writer goes about it: Bible, therefore us.
That’s not what Jared has done here. Instead, Jared has written a series of reflections on the Christian life, and he has asked his readers to think about these things with him – including some relevant small passages of the Bible on these subjects. In that respect, this is a study which is far more devotional than it it strictly didactic.
Now, this is where most people head off the reservation: in their attempts to think about the Christian life, they mostly lecture the reader using their own private biases, and pose questions about the Christian life which take for granted that the Christian life is itself a sort of error-fest.
In contrast, Jared takes the culture we live in and contrasts it with the necessary consequences of the Gospel. Now, in doing this, Jared doesn’t set to prove or defend his short list of Gospel consequences (scripture, prayer, fasting, service, community) – and that will undoubted also draw the ire of some. I also admit that I was very much underwhelmed by the conceit of “rhythms” to describe these things. It smacks of some sort of feng shui, as if these things are not actually necessary but are helpful. To that I say “eh”.
But along side that are statements like, “we read the bible asking ourselves how we might use it rather than how it might use us,” which should convict any good man; regarding prayer, “As busy as we think we are, none of us have as large a burden placed on us as Jesus did;” regarding the church as a community, the plain statement, “suburban churches often reflect and emulate their cultures rather than challenge them.” And Jared’s challenge to you is that you think about this problem seriously – which is to say, as if you really had to do something about it.
A friend of mine has said that too many books talk too much about “ought” and not enough about “is”. I think if Jared’s book has anything to offer at all, it should how the “is” must migrate to the “ought” – not just by the force of a systematic theological view, but because this is who Jesus calls us to be.
It would be wrong of me to say that I think everyone will benefit from this book. I think in fact most people will not benefit from this book – because they don’t know to read well, and they really don’t know how to think through practical theological issues from a pastoral standpoint – that is, from the standpoint that you must speak to people and not just at them.
Abide is not perfect by a long shot. Why Jared lists “fasting” instead of “worship” in his list of spiritual disciplines I cannot guess; why he calls these activities and the means by which we ought to practice them “rhythms” seems either intentionally antagonistic toward the people who might benefit from this book most (that is: those locked up in their properly-systematic boxes), or perhaps ignorant of the baggage that word would have in this use.
But! Jared has done something here you need to try to come to grips with. Even if you read it and disagree with it, it offers the right challenge to your Christian life and offers the right answers. It doesn’t steer you away from the right-minded view of the Gospel and its consequences: it makes you think about why you didn’t do anything about it today.
And any book that will do that is worth reading.