Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Review: The Power of Words and the Wonder of God

The Desiring God conferences appear to be powerful times of teaching and fellowship - at least if their books are anything to go by. This, the edited and expanded transcript of the proceedings of the 2008 conference, entitled The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, gives a taster of the conference and a permanent record of the Bible teaching on offer.

As Justin Taylor, one of the editors (along with John Piper) asks in the introduction: 'What do words have to do with Christianity? Almost everything. At every stage in redemptive history... "God is there and he is not silent." God's words decisively create, confront, correct and comfort.' (p. 15) Taking this thought on, he asks: 'If God is a God of words, and if Jesus and his gospel are inseparable, then how should we - those who seek to follow him - use our words?' (p. 18) The aim (and indeed their prayer) is God-glorifying: 'May our great and glorious God graciously use these imperfect words to equip and encourage you in a path of using life-giving words to honour his name, edify the church, and call the lost to the gospel of Jesus Christ.'

There follows the six main speakers, with their particular chapters. Paul David Tripp kicks off by thinking about the War of Words: Getting to the Heart for God's Sake. Exposing the power of words, he shows that 'The book of Proverbs is, in ways, a treatise on talk. I would summarise is this way: words give life; words bring death - you choose.' (p. 24) Reminding us that Jesus is the Saviour for the big sins as well as the little ones, our words as well as our deeds and thoughts, he gets to the heart of the problem: 'Here is what you and I need to understand: word problems are heart problems.' (p. 30)

As he concludes though, there is grace: 'There's an organic consistency between what is in my heart and what comes out of my mouth. The struggle of words is a struggle of kingdoms; a war between the kingdom of self and the kingdom of God. The kingdom that rules your heart will dictate your words. But there is grace - glorious, powerful, enabling, forgiving, and delivering grace - for this struggle.' (p. 44)

Sinclair Ferguson gives a masterly exposition of James 3:1-12 within the context of James' letter as a whole, and the wider scripture under the title of The Bit, the Bridle and the Blessing. There is much to rebuke the comfortable and relaxed Christian of today, who pays little attention to their speech and silence, and his twenty resolutions on the use of the tongue from James would be well adapted into anyone's life. Ferguson also uses a wonderful illustration of the change that is required, which comes about from a renewed heart and a transformed tongue, as he speaks of his Scottish accent being noticeably different and out of place in his adopted home of the United States: 'The most important single aid to my ability to use my tongue for the glory of Jesus is allowing the Word of God to dwell in me so richly that I cannot speak with any other accent.' (p. 64)

Is there Christian Eloquence? is the question that John Piper tackles, asking if it is possible to use words well, or if it is disallowed on the grounds of the worldly wisdom that Paul renounced in his gospel preaching in Corinth. Through careful argument and close exegesis, he shows that the cross itself stands against worldly wisdom, and thus the message of the cross is in similar vein. Nevertheless, in the Scripture as a whole there is a great variety of literary devices, 'and it seems to me that God invites us to join him in this creativity of eloquence.' (p. 76)

In what may be one of his favourite topics, Mark Driscoll looks at the whole area of controversy in his chapter, 'How Sharp the Edge? Christ, Controversy and Cutting Words.' In one sense, it didn't appear to be anything new or different to the same things he regularly says in his podcast sermons (which also seem to be repetitious at times), but he made some clear points: 'Throughout God's Word, the Scriptures, God speaks tough and tender words to his people.' (p. 81) He calls for us to follow in this way: 'Indeed, some Christians are always angry and won't stop fighting. But it is equally true that some Christians are rarely angry and won't start fighting. The former are always renounced while the latter legion gets away with perennial cowardice in the name of nicety.' (p. 93)

In his desire for catergorising and labelling of people (shepherds, sheep, swine, wolves and dogs) and how to relate to them based on their labels, it seemed as if there wasn't much room for grace, or for change. I'm sure Mark would desire for sinners to become saints, but the way he approaches the whole thing in the chapter left a big gap.

Daniel Taylor uses his chapter to consider Story-Shaped Faith, in realising that 'God is telling the world a story' and finding ourselves in that story, and telling that story to others, inviting them to join in.

In the last chapter, Bob Kauflin changes the tempo, adds a melody and asks 'What Happens When We Sing?' He suggests that music helps us to remember words, to engage emotionally with words, and to demonstrate and express our unity in the church.

Alongside these chapters, the book contains a bonus resource of a transcript of the authors / speakers in conversation. For me, it was useful to see these men engage with their topics further, and interact with each other's questions and themes. Within that section, Piper argues powerfully for the use of the internet to spread resources: 'And if you're going to do it for one person [researching and writing on a pastoral theme] you might as well put it on the Web and just multiply your usefulness.' (p. 141) To that end, he is certainly consistent, as this book and indeed most of his books are available for free from Desiring God in pdf format - sometimes it's not ideal for the Kindle (whole pages appear on the screen of the Kindle which makes the print very tiny), but what a generous sharing of these words for the study of the word of God!

All in all, I really enjoyed this volume, and would heartily recommend it for pastors and preachers, in particular, who use their tongues for God, but also for any Christian to think about the sanctifying of your words. You can get it free in pdf here, or for the Kindle, or in dead tree format.

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