Knowing and Doing the Will of God - A Review

One of the most common questions that I’ve had to answer as a Sunday School teacher has been, “How can I know God’s will?” This is, after all, one of the central questions of ethics. Christian ethics especially is centered around the idea that some actions glorify God and others dishonor him; some are sinful and others are sanctifying. This includes actions that Scripture clearly authorizes or prohibits (i.e., generosity and worship), but it also includes subjective situations that involve unique and personalized circumstances (i.e., should Sally marry Johnny or should I take this job).

41GF+FJWXPL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

I’m pleased to say that a new, concise resource to help Christians answer this question has recently been published by David Jones, an ethicist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. This volume is the product of a course he has taught multiple times to a variety of audiences, so it represents thinking that has been stretched, tested, and refined.

His book, Knowing and Doing the Will of God, is a concise, practical introduction to this vital activity by Christians of every age. Though this has come from a seminary course, Jones has written a book that is accessible to the average person in the pew. He manages to provide both a theoretical foundation and practical framework in under 100 pages.

After a brief introduction, this volume contains an additional five chapters. Chapter Two provides examples from God’s word of people discerning God’s will. He also shows how some of the examples in Scripture are not positive and offers background information about pagan practices for knowing the will of the gods, many of which are still with us today.

Chapter Three critiques some of the most prevalent means of attempting to know God’s will that are often advocated among Christians today. Jones writes, “Advocates of the contemporary view teach that since an individual will of God for Christians is presently hidden and unknown, it must be discovered over time by every believer in order to progress in spiritual maturity and to flourish in the Christian life.” (34) In other words, God has a special plan for your life and your task is to decode the secret plan that he’s got in mind for you. Jones debunks this approach, which is liberating as he puts the reader on to the main purpose of the Christian life: to pursue holiness and thereby glorify God.

Chapter Four outlines what Jones calls the Traditional View, which is evidenced throughout most of Christian history, especially in the Protestant tradition: namely, reading Scripture and applying that to life. Recognizing common objections to that view, Chapter Five deals with questions relating to prayer, the Holy Spirit, and Christian liberty in relation to knowing and doing the will of God. The volume concludes in Chapter Six, with encouragement to pursue basic Christian disciplines that will aid believers in knowing God’s will and acting upon it.

David Jones is an exceptionally clear and careful writer. He has published a number of books over the past two decades that are all thoughtful, well-researched, and accessible to modern readers. This volume is no exception. Knowing and Doing the Will of God is a useful volume that will benefit the church.

This is the sort of volume that belongs on a pastor’s shelf for loan to his congregants and on church resource shelves for sale to people who honestly long to serve God faithfully, but aren’t sure how to get from that desire to practical action. Knowing and Doing the Will of God would also make a helpful resource for a small group or Sunday School study. I was pleased to be asked by Jones to endorse this book, and I’m pleased to commend it to you as a resource for your personal or congregational benefit.

NOTE: I received a pre-publication copy of this volume with a request to endorse. I did so because I believe the contents are helpful and sound, not on the basis of the gratis book.

Every Good Thing - A Review

Some Christians seem to doubt the goodness of the world around. They take the opposition of “the world, the flesh, and the devil” to mean that somehow the material world around is sinful and must be repudiated.

This position has its roots in an exaggerated application of Jesus’ commands to seek the kingdom first and store up treasures in heaven. These commands are intended to call Christians away from the this-worldly focus that tends to consume our minds by virtue of proximity.

The anti-world attitude has been popularized in Christian hymns like, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through.”

We have reason to hope in the coming restoration of all things. This is an eschatological hope. However, that hope should inspire action in this world, not cause Christians to withdraw into a bunker mindset.

The balancing act between hoping in heaven and working in this world can be difficult, but it is absolutely necessary.

The recent book from David W. Jones, Every Good Thing, is a valuable resource for Christians seeking to balance heavenly mindedness with this-worldy goodness.

Every Good Thing is an intentionally introductory volume, which has as its main goal the reunification of the Christian life. We are called to be seven-day Christians, who apply biblical ethics to each decision, and every situation. We are driven, because of the demands of a biblical worldview, to see each area of our life as subordinate to the lordship of Jesus-Christ. Jones’ recent book helps with that reunification.

Summary

The book is brief, with a little over 100 pages of text, but in a small format. It is designed to be easily read, digested by a wide audience, with clear lines of application. The format is ideal for a short term book study in a small group or use as a text in a discipleship context.

The first of six chapters provides a foundation for the remainder of the volume, defining terms and outlining how Jesus’ life and ministry fits into the discussion of goodness and the material world. Chapter two deals with work and vocation. The topic is en vogue in conservative Christian circles, but mainly because it has been neglected for a number of years. This chapter charts a course for reuniting the Christian life through a better understanding of calling.

The third chapter seeks to balance out the idea of work and vocation with a discussion of rest and Sabbath. One of the possible side-effects of viewing work as an opportunity to serve God is that it will cause a restless, relentless push for productivity. That isn’t the point, as Jones stresses in the third chapter. Rather, rest and Sabbath are gifts from God to balance the goodness of human productivity with the joy of God’s provision.

Chapter four outlines a biblical theology of wealth and poverty. Here, Jones pushes back against attitudes that see spirituality as necessarily connected to financial prosperity. He fights the errors of the so-called Prosperity Gospel as well as the competing errors like asceticism. Christians need to value the world properly, which generally means walking a narrow road between extreme errors.

In the fifth chapter, Jones takes on the idea of valuing creation and stewardship. Environmental ethics has generally gotten a bad rap among conservative Christians. Part of this is that much of the environmental movement has gone head over heels for anti-human attitudes that run contrary to Scripture. However, there is a strong place in Christian theology for rightly caring for the creation God has entrusted to humans. Jones makes a good case for that in this chapter. He then closed in Chapter Six with some summary comments, pointing toward areas for further study.

Analysis and Critique

This book’s greatest limitations are in its format. The accomplished scholar will pick up this brief volume and wonder what it adds to the scholarly discussion. The answer to that is simply, nothing. No chapter is comprehensive. There are no footnotes. Every rabbit trail is not chased. A particular set of assumptions about Scripture and theological method are made and not defended. That is the nature of this book as an introductory volume.

Conversely, the greatest strengths of this book are in its format. The layperson or young theological student can pick this book up and gain a quick understanding of a conservative perspective on the relationship between Christianity and the surrounding world. It is grounded in a distinctly orthodox worldview, and intended to bring people into the conversation that might otherwise not be exposed to these important ideas. 

This book fills a desperate need for the Church. It helps form the connection between a Christian worldview and the world around. Jones has written winsomely and carefully. This is a book that would serve well in a number of settings in the local church, and would be a particularly useful tool in discipleship activities with young Christians.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the author with no expectation of a positive review.