Posted by: jmark | March 30, 2015

Book Review: The Things of Earth – Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts by Joe Rigney

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If, as some church historians say, the Reformation was a discussion that took place in Augustine’s head, then this book is a discussion that takes place in the head of John Piper.

Piper famously calls Christians to delight in God and all that God provides, whilst simultaneously calling Christians to ‘wartime living’—leaving aside the pleasures of this life for a greater goal. How do you reconcile these two?

Or to put it biblically—How do we “Set our minds on things above” (Col 3:2) and yet “Taste and see that God is good” (Ps. 34:8)?

Sometimes Christians aren’t very good at balance, a ‘both/and’ approach to the Christian life. We like things to be black and white, to have simple boxes to put everything in. Which is it—the things above or enjoying the things God has given? Can a Christian be really spiritual and still enjoy a good Lamb Pathia from the local Indian restaurant? (I have a vested interested in the answer to this one!)

Joe Rigney set out to answer this question and to provide a balanced approach to living the Christian life. The subtitle of the book sets out his stall: “Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts”

Rigney starts in a wonderful place—the Trinity. Having investigated the rich delight of the members of the Trinity in each other, he roots and grounds the pleasures of earth in this delight. The Triune God is overflowingly good and the cause of all that is good, so that as we are enjoying the good things we can let the good things take us godwards.

These early chapters on the Trinity are perhaps the best of the book—its not that the book goes downhill, its just that the subject matter is so wonderful, and so wonderfully conveyed.

Rigney moves on to the creation itself, using Jonathan Edwards as a guide he sees the whole creation, not simply as the stage on which the drama of redemption is set, but as part of the communication of the goodness of God. “Every enjoyment,” he writes “has the capacity to be a ‘tiny theophany’, a touch from God’s finger”. “The infinite and eternal God created something that is not God, but nevertheless really and truly reveals and reflects that God.”

Having established the basic principle of the worth of the created order as revealing the richness of God, Rigney in succeeding chapters unpacks this to show how this enjoyment is connected with our mission, how idolatry of creation makes a gift into a god, how live a life that connects pleasure to God without being a pious pain in the neck, How to practice proper self denial, how to live when there is more pain than pleasure and much more.

This is a rich book, packed with great thoughts, and helpful and balanced application. In one particular section he asks what is our enjoyment of culture doing to us—“If you were to conform your actions and attitudes to those of your favorite characters, would your life be better or worse than it is now? … If you’re in a one-on-one conversation, yet you find yourself saying things in order to get a laugh from the viewers at home (or the viewers in your own head), then it may be time to take a hiatus from some of your favorite shows.”

Rigney writes well – pithy sentences, quotable lines, and makes you think by putting things in fresh ways. The book is in some ways his own journey from an overly-literal application of wartime living to a realisation that the war is bigger than we think and fighting is both engaged in, and fuelled by enjoying the good things God has for us.

This is a book to read if you love life and want to love God more. This is a book to read if you love God, and want to love life more. One of my books of the year.

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