Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Book Review: The Last Word

This is the second book with this title that I've read and reviewed this year, the other being John Stott's farewell at Keswick. This volume is an older book, originally written in 1996 and republished. The author is Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes, who we recently had at our harvest weekend, and who has appeared on Top Gear!

The Last Word for Benn is Jesus' teaching in the upper room, found in John 13-17. The book is broken into five sections - the last demonstration; the last question time; the last gift; last perspectives; and lasting joy. Through these sections, the shorter chapters work through John's gospel in turn, expounding the essential message of Jesus' farewell discourse.

Benn helpfully identifies straight away the key focus of these chapters, the thing that makes sense of them: 'The death of Christ is the focus and backdrop to the dramatic and powerful actions and words of these chapters.' Indeed, 'it is the laying down of Jesus' life which brings glory to God.'

Similarly, he deals with the questions of the disciples, which are our questions too, by bringing us back to Jesus' teaching: 'We find not only four questions from troubled hearts, but four answers for troubled hearts from the lips of the Lord Jesus himself.' Perhaps the most useful section was the two chapters dedicated to the person and work of the Holy Spirit - a subject of much confusion in the church today.

Benn is a great Bible teacher, with great turns of phrase ('we have all known people who have confused uprightness with uptightness'), as well as a pastor's heart to illustrate and apply the teaching directly to the heart of the reader. To some extent, Benn covers the same section of John's Gospel as Don Carson's book 'Jesus and His Friends' but this is much more accessible and easy to read!

One slight complaint about the book is that the same illustration is used virtually verbatim on pages 65 and 141, without any indication that it has previously been used. In an original sermon series this wouldn't be just as obvious or noticeable, but when you're reading through the book and find the same story twice, without even a wee phrase like 'you remember my colleague from earlier who...' It's a minor issue, and doesn't detract at all from the book's value or importance, just a slight niggle from the reader's perspective!

Overall, this is a useful short introduction and overview of John 13-17 which is very pastoral in applying the teaching of Jesus to our lives and situations. It's packed with personal illustrations which are helpful and illustrate the points effectively. A good book for preachers as they seek to understand what is being said, as well as the Christian who wants to take these chapters as their personal Bible reading and wants some help with the passages.

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