The World-Tilting Gospel
Kregel Publications, 2011
I want to start a new feature on this blog, if I can keep up the pace. I have occasionally done extended reviews of books, blogging through them, but I think I would like to start reviewing a book a month in more of a one-off, hit-and-run fashion. But a nice kind of hit-and-run. These reviews will be unabashed attempts to promote a book I think needs to be far more widely circulated and read. Critical reviews will have to find another venue, or submit to the chapter-by-chapter treatment.
And the book I chose for my shakedown cruise is The World-Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips. I just finished it last Sunday, and did so with a satisfaction that I will attempt to explain on this wise.
The first thing to note about the book is that it addresses the basics of the faith and the basics of Christian living in a way that doesn’t assume too much. Too often we think that certain truths “go without saying,” when that is not the case at all. New believers come into our churches and are not so much discipled as they are propped up by friendliness, peer-pressure and buzz words. After a few years of this, we assume that since they are an older Christian now, they “must know” all that one-two-three stuff. But they don’t, and the apostle Paul knew that to go over the basics was an important safeguard (Phil. 3:1). Phillips knows the same thing.
Phillips begins with the facts of creation and sin, moves on to God’s plan of redemption for us, discusses what justification and regeneration mean (and why they are important), and then concludes with a detailed and very helpful discussion of sanctification and Christian living. If there are any pastors who are looking for a good introductory book for new Christians and/or new members, this book ought to be on their short list. For any older Christians who are mentoring younger ones, this would also be a good book to read together.
The second thing is that Phillips writes with the kind of pungency that I really enjoy. If the material is new to you, this expressiveness makes it all the more memorable. If the material is not new, you enjoy meeting your old friends in their beater jeans. When a writer loves the clatter of pick up truck words on a washboard dirt road, he leaves the reader with phrases bouncing memorably around in his head. “You aren’t a little alive any more than you are a little dead” (p. 180).
Phillips has the rare blend of being able to take truth seriously without taking himself seriously. It comes out in the earthiness of his expressions — “brain jerky for theologians” (p. 26). “sleep-diver Eutychus” (p. 67), “sin puts a virus in our wetware” (p. 69), “that make God out to be some sort of cosmic fog bank” (p. 80), “if you’re just matter in motion . . . Run around little cockroach” (p. 158).
The third thing is that Phillips frequently surprised me with some passing observation, something I had never thought about before, or expressed in a way that shed new light on it.
“So Adam was alive when he drew his first breath . . . but that very breath was God, breathing ‘into his nostrils the breath of life'” (p. 177)
“What is the one piece of furniture missing in the tabernacle? There’s a washbasin, a couple of altars, the table for the Bread of the Presence, the Ark . . . what’s not there? A chair!” (p. 131).
This is a really good book. Even if you are not in a position to read it right now, authors like this need to be encouraged. Buy it right now, and read it as soon as you can.
John Piper once paid me the compliment of saying that the kind of mistakes I make are just the sort of mistakes that he would expect a Presbyterian to make. Well, that’s true, I guess . . . Since I cannot finish the review without coming up with some kind of criticism, I will turn that comment into a kinda compliment, directed in another direction. Dan Phillips is a baptist, but he had the good grace to limit the kind of mistakes that a baptist would make to two or three pages. It is like driving through Worley, Idaho, with many miles of gorgeous scenery to the south and to the north.
Anyhow, an unpurchased copy of the book awaits.