I received this book from Crossway through NetGalley.com. As I started reading this book, I knew that I was in for a thoughtful dialogue. Part of the reason I selected it, was that I had Brian Litfin as a professor at Moody, and I really respected his work. Also, I am a fan of language and words, and at the outset I felt that Litfin has a good grasp of using words to communicate helpfully. In this age of Facebook activism and Invisible Children hooplah, this book adds some meaningful truth to the discussion on preaching the gospel with concrete words vs. abstract actions.
Litfin writes that his goal is to…”lay out a more accurate map of what the Bible actually teaches on this subject.” Litfin wants to give us some directions and ideas that can help us be intentional and meaningful when communicating the good news. “Our goal,” says Litfin, “throughout this book has been to offer help in thinking biblically about the enduring question of “word versus deed” in the Christian’s calling. He writes, “All of the Bible can be arrayed, so to speak, up and down the ladder of of abstraction. The substance of the Bible’s message is theology (abstract) applied to life (concrete). There is not much in the Scriptures that cannot be located somewhere on this continuum.” Approaching the Bible with this map, largely realizing that the Bible is not about us, Litfin explains will help us live the gospel in our lives.
My favorite parts were as follows:
He deals with the idea of moving from abstract to concrete in thoughts and words. His examples here of how the Bible works on the abstract and concrete level were a great help to me. I had thought of this issue before, but having Litfin describe it here provided me with some needed foundation. In essence, Litfin points out that there are specific commands and directives in the Bible, mostly to the reader, his or her family, and the body of Christ, and there are abstract ideas that point us to loving our neighbor and right stewardship. To live what the Bible says, one must deal with the whole, and not just focus on “key texts” that aren’t very concrete.
I also thoroughly appreciated the ending where he deals with the key texts. I have heard these bible passages quoted by my college and young adult friends often. It is good to see them correctly applied. Litfin doesn’t grind his interpretation into the ground, but gives us a clear example of how to apply his lesson of word vs. deed. The texts he works with are Jeremiah 29:4-7, Luke 4:16-21, and Matthew 25:31-46. We are shown how to apply his earlier lesson to really interpret a passage and not just use it wrongly in our argument.
I paused often while reading to think of the youth culture, and how this book speaks to them. How does going from abstract to concrete work with them? How does verbal and non-verbal preaching look for them. How do we as youth leaders help students to move around on this abstract ladder. I think this is where we can teach theology to youth and expect more from them. Let’s get abstract with them in order to form their thoughts about God and His truth. I don’t know how often I’ve told boys to respect girls and save it for marriage, but they don’t get it in their hearts. Litfin concludes his book by calling us to meet the ultimate needs of the people we are with. We must point them to Jesus. In a concluding section he goes through a list of people and shares how we can encourage them to take another step closer to Christ. “A lonely teenager with few friends may need a patient, enduring friendship that models the love and grace of Jesus, leading ultimately, as God gives the opportunity, to a verbal witness of the gospel.” That part encouraged me as I work with those type of teenagers.
Litfin is correct in describing the culture, especially with young adult Christians. The quote so often attributed to St. Francis, about non-verbal preaching has come up in many conversations with friends, so Litfin helpfully dissects the thoughts behind some of this babble. When he writes about those that are always for the gospel as our deeds focus mostly on our work with unbelievers and creation. As a young adult male, I have conversations where guys are all about work in Africa but their inner life of the spirit seems lacking. Not to mention their care for family members or members of the body of Christ. They know all the lingo of activism and social Gospel, but they’re missing most of the concrete directives and truth about how they should treat their pastor and girlfriend. I recommend this book to any person that has an interest in the arena of preaching the gospel, or has had a conversation about what to do with the AIDS crisis in Africa. This book hit home for me because my wife is often asking about how we help people with all the needs that they have. She feels guilt because she is not giving out micro loans and sending money for water. Litfin correctly shows in this book that we should have a healthy view of what the Scripture calls us to in all of our complicated lives. We need to live as husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, and fellow believers, not just social activists. In these days of online quasi-activism and being “green,” it is good to have words that back up all the action. Live all of the Bible, from the abstract to the concrete. Don’t just focus on the celebrity of being an activist in Africa.