Friday, April 09, 2010

Book Review: God's Word (The Alan Stibbs Trilogy)

Alan Stibbs was the Vice Principal at Oak Hill Theological College, and as part of his vast pile of publications, he produced three short books entitled Understanding God's Word, Expounding God's Word, and Obeying God's Word. The three books have recently been published in one book by Authentic Media and 10 Publishing, and it came with me on my recent holiday (so in effect, I actually read nine books, not seven!)

Understanding God's Word does what it says on the tin. From the fixed starting point (found in each of the three volumes), that of the divinely inspired Bible, the 'next thing of supreme importance is its right understanding.' Because the Bible is God's word, we want to give our greatest effort to understanding what he is saying, and Stibbs outlines some useful pieces of advice for getting to the meaning of the text. Some particularly helpful insights for me were the declaration that every single word matters - that God divinely inspired the particularly appropriate words to communicate what he wanted to say, therefore we shouldn't miss out words or misunderstand what they are saying.

The most helpful thing, and something I don't think I have ever seen or heard spelled out, but which makes perfect sense - that prophecy is essentially the word of divine omniscience - that prophecy is more than prediction (although we normally think of it in that way), that prophecy can be backsight, insight, and foresight. For me, seeing this has clarified the Genesis account - obviously no one was around when the world was formed, on the first five days of creation - but God was there, and his divine knowledge was given / revealed to Moses, who wrote down the creation account. This isn't foresight, but rather, in Stibbs' word: backsight.

Expounding God's Word builds on the foundation of understanding what God is saying, and moves to the teaching it to others. Stibbs is firmly in the expository preaching camp, calling for exposition not imposition on God's word. Following a brief discussion of the task of preaching, the remainder of the book consists of a series of worked examples of expository preaching, from verses, narrative texts, and longer passages. There are some helpful insights and useful structures to build sermons from for the preacher.

Obeying God's Word moves from understanding God's word to doing what it says. Stibbs insists that the only way to confirm our confession of divine inspiration is by consistent and conscientious use of the Bible as our rule of faith and conduct.

One portion particularly resonated with me, in the face of the current Anglican concerns. Stibbs insists that Eve's disobedience (Genesis 3) is still a pattern of our disobedience: first, we depart in thought (to doubt the authority of the Bible), second, we depart in word (to deny the truth of the Bible), and third, we depart in deed to act in disobedience and deliberate defiance of the plain instructions of the Bible. The slippery slope is set, and we can see how easily we fall away from God's word.

All in all, the three books had some useful points, and things that I have certainly benefited from being reminded of (or of hearing for the first time set out clearly). Yet at times his style of writing seemed to be dated (he was writing the books in the 1950s), and that made it harder to follow. For that reason, they may not be top of my recommendations this year, but if you see it on sale, grab a copy and learn from this grandfather of the modern evangelicals in the UK.

(For a time it was £2.50 in The Evangelical Bookshop, Belfast, and may still be that price!)

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