Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review: Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel

Posted by: 
Book Reviews

I’m pro-marriage. Coming from someone who’s been single for 33 years, that might sound a bit weird, but it’s true! I’m passionate about marriage because I’ve learned, through the teaching of the Bible and the wise men who expound it, the real meaning of marriage: it’s a metaphor for Christ and his people. A living picture of the gospel. That’s something to get excited about! But sadly, it’s also something many people have forgotten — not only in the world, but also in the Church. We’ve dwindled marriage down to companionship, lovemaking, and childrearing. Of course, marriage is all of those things, but it MEANS so much more. God designed it and gave it to mankind as the most vivid way to proclaim the gospel and live out its principles.

Ray Ortlund wrote Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel in hopes of recovering “joyful confidence in marriage as God originally gave it to us.” Although this book can be read in one sitting, it’s not “theology lite.” Ortlund’s writing is serious and poetic, with tightly packed truths that demand our attention. The book is divided into four sections that paint a sweeping portrait of marriage from Genesis to Revelation.

Marriage in Genesis

The first book of the Bible reveals both “the glory of marriage and the brokenness of marriage.” Eden was the scene of the world’s first wedding, where the crown jewels of God’s creation became “one flesh.” Ortlund spends a good chunk of time talking about the beauty of complementarity, which is not only a major theme in the creation account, but also a necessity in marriage. Knowing our modern sensibilities when it comes to gender issues, Ortlund wants us to recognize and rediscover the “stroke of divine genius” in God’s design for husband as head and wife as helper — the framework for marriage that remains to this day. He also stresses how the fall in Genesis 3 wrecked the dynamics of this first marriage (and all marriages after it) with man seeking to dominate his wife, and woman seeking to subvert her husband. But Genesis 3 also comes with a promise of restoration, not only between sinners and God, but also between husbands and wives.

Marriage in the Law, Wisdom, and Prophets

Ortlund first discusses how the Mosaic Law sought to repair the damage done to marriage after the fall. Some of the laws that seem odd or downright unethical to modern readers (think levirate marriage) were actually quite civilized, especially compared to other Near Eastern cultures. He’s also quick to note that stories of polygamy and other deviations of marriage in the Bible are descriptive, not prescriptive; the original design of marriage still stood, even when God’s people got it wrong. But despite the struggles that come with marriage post-fall, the biblical writers want us to remember its original glory. Proverbs and the Song of Solomon celebrate marital love and sex, and offer warnings to protect marriage from sexual sin, which further proves how important the metaphor is to God. Ortlund then touches on the prophets, where the true meaning of marriage begins to unfold. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea “retell the whole of Israel’s history in a new way — as a tragic romance,” with God as loyal husband and Israel as unfaithful bride. Human marriage points us to a “super-reality,” as Ortlund says; that is, God’s faithfulness to his people, and his resolve to see this divine marriage through to eternity.

Marriage in the New Testament

Enter Jesus, our bridegroom. Seeing as he’s the ultimate reality to which all marriages point, what did he think about marriage? When asked about divorce, Jesus went retro, reaching back to Eden to affirm the original design of marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Although Jesus fulfilled the law, eliminating civil and ceremonial customs, one thing that remained unchanged is marriage: one man, one woman, for life. The apostle Paul, too, used Genesis 2:24 as the standard for marriage: once in 1 Corinthians 6:16, and more famously in Ephesians 5 (a passage often recited at weddings), where he explains how marriage reflects Christ and the Church. Paul reiterates the “dance of complementarity,” as Ortlund calls it, between husband as head and wife as helper that was first established in Genesis. Finally, Ortlund takes us to Revelation, where the institute of human marriage comes to an end and the better reality to which it pointed all along begins: the marriage supper of the Lamb, where Christ and his people are united forever. Ortlund notes that God made the heavens and earth for the marriage of Adam and Eve, but he will soon make a new heaven and new earth for the ultimate marriage of Jesus and his bride, the Church.

Marriage in the World Today

Ortlund ends with a sober reminder from Scripture: “Let marriage be held in honor among all” (Hebrews 13:4). Especially now, in a culture where people “don’t believe in marriage” or seek to redefine it, we need to “build a pro-marriage counterculture, where faithfulness and beauty and lasting love point the way not only to a better human society but also, and far more, to the eternal love of Christ.” Because the one-flesh union of man and woman is such a vital and vivid representation of the gospel, Christians have every reason to protect marriage, both their own and in general. Every departure from God’s design for marriage is a departure from the gospel; thus, Ortlund encourages Christians to defend God’s vision for marriage and sexuality with confidence and humility.

If I may have the final word: Marriage is not the gospel, but it is God’s chosen metaphor for the gospel, a motif that runs through the veins of Scripture from the very heart of God, giving us insight to his fierce love and devotion toward his people. That’s why I love marriage! And that’s why I recommend this book. I hope it will encourage married couples to take seriously their role in displaying God’s love to the world, and inspire single people to cherish marriage, knowing it holds the mystery of the gospel for them as well.

Review: Home

Posted by: 
Book Reviews

Home, for me, is Utah. My happiest memories were made in this valley just west of the Wasatch Mountains — a stone’s throw from my favorite hikes, hangouts, and loved ones. This year I’ve had an opportunity to travel to some of the world’s most beautiful places, but nothing beats coming home. On the other hand, Utah is smoggy, always under construction, marred with temples built to false gods, and the winter can overstay its welcome. Utah is simultaneously not my home. Its best qualities are glimpses of my future home on the new earth and its worst qualities keep me hungering for more — something better.

In her new book, Home, Elyse Fitzpatrick calls this hunger “homesickness.” It’s feeling restless, nostalgic, and unsatisfied in our own home, knowing we’re made for some other place — namely heaven. Fitzpatrick, aware of the glaring limitations, does her best to describe this place — not by giving overly speculative details, but by exploring sweeping themes in Scripture.

One of the major themes is resurrection. Fitzpatrick challenges us to reimagine heaven as a REAL place — physical bodies on a physical earth. None of this bodiless, harps-on-a-cloud business. The Bible gives a better picture: the resurrection of Jesus guarantees our own resurrection, which means we’ll live with God and our fellow saints in time and space. Heaven isn’t just the place we go when we die, where our spirits await reunion with our bodies; ultimately, heaven will be right here on a redeemed earth, when everything is made new. (She actually spends a good chunk of time talking about the meaning of “new” and how amazing it’ll be to live in a place where nothing gets old.) The new earth will not be completely unrecognizable, in the same way that Jesus’ resurrected body shares similarities with his old body. This continuity gives us a lot to imagine in terms of what we’ll know, love, and remember once we get there — not to mention the countless new wonders we can’t even begin to imagine!

And then there’s this awesome chapter on the city of heaven. Fitzpatrick lingers here because of how many people imagine heaven being this sort of farmland — spacious and rural. John the Revelator makes it pretty clear that heaven is a city, not only in terms of architecture (think the enormous cubed metropolis described in Revelation 21) but also as the hotbed of culture and, most importantly, the gathering of PEOPLE. Of course, this will be unlike any city we’ve ever known, completely free from the sinful things that drive us away from cities today. But she wants us to really think about the “garden city” God himself describes in his Word. As someone who enjoys escaping into the mountains, Fitzpatrick did a good job of helping me look forward to life in the big city.

I really appreciate the chapter on suffering, which is a recurring theme throughout Home. Fitzpatrick admits she wrote this book following a time of intense personal and ministerial troubles. She needed a reminder of her future home. But because she feels like her sufferings pale in comparison to fellow believers in Christ, she includes testimonies from those whose faith persevered through various trials — including disease, divorce, and the death of loved ones — as they held onto the hope of heaven. The theme of suffering reminds the reader that life isn’t always rosy… but heaven will be.

Another treasure was chapter ten, which describes how the Church is a foretaste of heaven. If we’re doing it right, “the church should be a place where we get glimpses, whiffs, whispers of [heaven] from time to time.” Jesus speaks to us through his Word, the sermon, and becomes “accessible to our senses” through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I’m so thankful to be part of a church family that affirms that truth: each week foreshadows a greater communion to come, when we gather together with saints to worship God — only then it will be unhindered by sin.

For Fitzpatrick, writing this book was a reminder — the expectation of our future home. I think we all need that. We need books and pastors and friends to keep our eyes fixed on the horizon of heaven. We need to know SOMETHING of the place we’re headed — not only for ourselves, but also for the people looking for hope in all the wrong places. In either case, I think Home will help.

Review: True Friendship

Posted by: 
Book Reviews

Drawing inspiration from the Book of Proverbs, Vaughan Roberts paints a picture of biblical friendship in his tiny book, True Friendship. Roberts said he designed the book to be read in roughly an hour (but encourages readers to meditate on it for much longer). I’ll stick with the brevity theme and write a review you can read in three minutes, with a quick breakdown of each chapter.

True friendship is crucial

We’re designed for friendship with God and each other. As God’s image-bearers, our capacity for relationships is rooted in the community of the Trinity. So friendship is essential to Christian living, not only because it makes us more like Jesus, but because true friends help us to live wisely. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Married or single, male or female, pastor or layman, we all need friends to walk beside us as we pursue God.

True friendship is close

Lots of us have hundreds of online friends, but still lack “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Roberts encourages us to pursue a range of friendships, but to keep especially close those friends who share our highest goal of glorifying God. Jesus made time for many people, but shared special moments with his disciples. We can build friendships in the same way, keeping in mind the risks and rewards that come with having close friends on this side of eternity.

True friendship is constant

King Solomon said, “A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17). Roberts takes this wisdom to heart, urging us to be intentional about maintaining and strengthening our friendships. This could be as easy as weekly get-togethers with loved ones, but it also requires walking alongside them in their sorrow, or reconciling after a misunderstanding.

True friendship is candid

Our truest friends are those who speak the truth in love, showing us where we’ve failed, yet steering us toward Christ. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). Likewise, we ought to be vulnerable with our friends, sharing our greatest weaknesses, temptations, and doubts. Only then can we encourage one another with the gospel, and grow together in God’s amazing grace.

True friendship is careful

Candidness, however, is no excuse for a careless tongue. “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil” (Proverbs 15:28). Roberts warns against gossip. He also reminds us that every person is unique — some need a stern rebuke, while others need a gentle word (and a true friend will know the difference). He also warns against jealousy in friendship, which is often rooted in unhealthy codependency and, ultimately, self-love.

True friendship is Christ-centered

Or “Christ-centred,” as Roberts says. (Those Brits…) The final chapter reminds us that no relationship with fallen humans can meet our deepest needs. Our friends are not messiahs; they can’t save us from our sins, they can’t reconcile us to God. But good friends point us to the one who can: Jesus. He demonstrated the greatest love, and proved to be the greatest friend, when he laid down his life for us (John 15:13).

For more on Vaughan Roberts, check out his story on Living Out.

Review: Same-Sex Attraction And The Church

Posted by: 
Book Reviews

One clue that I was gonna love Ed Shaw’s Same-Sex Attraction and the Church Both Wesley Hill and Rosaria Butterfield, two leading (but very different) voices on the topic, endorsed the book. Their praise is printed alongside blurbs from Russell Moore, Justin Taylor, and Michael Horton — familiar names among evangelicals. I’m also told this was given to 10,000 people who attended this year’s Together for the Gospel conference. So I wanted to see what the buzz was about.

Dude, Ed did not disappoint. [Insert a million heart emojis here.]

Shaw has written something beautifully honest, yet surprisingly optimistic. As someone who experiences same-sex attraction, Shaw balances the STRUGGLES of his sexuality with the OPPORTUNITIES it’s given him to serve the Church and become more like Jesus. But the book is more than a personal narrative; it’s a call for the Church to change how we view celibacy, to make it easier for same-sex attracted Christians who want to remain faithful to God’s design for marriage and sexuality.

To do this, Shaw takes us through nine “missteps” the Church has taken that make it HARDER for people to remain open to celibacy. I think it’s helpful to list all of them here:

•   Your identity is your sexuality
•   A family is Mom, Dad, and 2.4 children
•   If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay
•   If it makes you happy, it must be right
•   Sex is where true intimacy is found
•   Men and women are equal and interchangeable
•   Godliness is heterosexuality
•   Celibacy is bad for you
•   Suffering is to be avoided

Shaw tackles each topic with biblical aplomb, showing us where we’ve adopted a worldly perspective and how to realign our beliefs with God’s Word. I found myself cheering for him as he urges the Church to redefine family the way Jesus does — not by blood but by adoption into God’s family. I smiled at the passages that see friendship (not just sex) as a means to true intimacy and fulfillment. I applauded his courage in challenging us to change how we measure holiness — to recognize that same-sex attracted Christians need not become heterosexual to experience real sanctification, and to understand that when God causes ALL THINGS to work together for good, that includes same-sex attraction. With every misconception Shaw obliterated, I became evermore joyful in my singleness. It’s crazy that a book can do that.

I felt especially convicted by the first and last chapters. With regard to the first misstep (see above), I realize how sexuality has become a bigger part of my identity than I’d like to think. That’s due in part to the culture’s influence on my worldview, but it also has something to do with writing so much about sexuality; I talk and think about it more than ever before. But ultimately I want to be known as a Christian, not a gay or celibate or [choose your adjective] Christian. With regard to the last misstep, Shaw reminded me that suffering plays an important role in becoming more like Christ (1 Peter 4:12-19) — something I can easily gloss over in my attempt to look at the bright side of life. Honestly, the struggle of same-sex attraction has lessened the more I’ve come to see singleness as the HAPPY ALTERNATIVE to marriage, but that doesn’t mean there’s no suffering in the Christian walk. I hope to never give that impression, because the Bible certainly doesn’t.

OK, personal stuff aside. Same-Sex Attraction and the Church is for all of us — to remind us WHY we believe marriage is reserved for a man and woman, and HOW we can serve those in our churches who, because of their sexuality, have chosen to remain celibate. Or, as Shaw says, “to rebuild the plausibility structure so that we can live in light of the Bible’s clear teaching.” He reminds us that the gospel is, indeed, GOOD NEWS! This book deserves more than a sales pitch, but seriously, BUY IT NOW! I walked away totally encouraged and convinced that, yes, the Church can make celibacy a good thing. I even read the appendices!

For more on Ed Shaw, check out his story at Living Out.

Review: Forbidden Friendships

Posted by: 
Book Reviews

One of my dear friends is a divorced mom of two. When I was planning a trip to California last year, she invited me to stay with her family to save on hotel costs. I was super excited to spend time with them — catching up on life, staying up late, not being jolted awake by the evil knock of a housekeeper the next morning. Unfortunately, her pastor had other plans, because he worried what other people might think about a man staying with a woman. Despite having no doubts about our integrity, despite my being attracted to men, and despite the fact that I’d actually be staying with a FAMILY (not a woman), he asked me to stay at his house instead. Not because it really made sense, but because it met the rules and expectations Christians have invented to “protect” male-female friendships from sexual immorality, or in this case, the mere appearance of it.

In his book, Forbidden Friendships, Joshua D. Jones explores these issues, confronting the Church’s fear of opposite-sex friendships and showing us what the Bible actually says about them.

In the past century or so, Christians have been conditioned to avoid meaningful relationships with the opposite sex out of fear they could lead to lust, fornication, or adultery. Jones notes Freud’s influence in causing us to believe all male-female relationships are somehow sexual in nature. As a result, we’ve “tried to pursue sexual purity via gender segregation” and set outrageous extra-biblical boundaries between men and women. He notes one Christian college that prohibits physical contact between the sexes, and where men and women are required to use separate staircases! Jones says these boundaries have harmed rather than helped the Church in achieving sexual purity and obeying our call to love one another as the family of God.

What’s more, these rules are new to Church history. Jones says modern-day Christians are far more leery of opposite-sex friendships than our spiritual ancestors were. From missionaries to revolutionaries, history proves that mixed friendships flourished when rooted in mutual love for God. When it comes to the Bible, the Apostle Paul seems to have had many close female friends, mentioning Nympha by name in his letter to the Colossians. John’s second epistle, or letter, is written to a woman whom he loved dearly. Jesus himself kept company with women, often breaking social taboos regarding male-female relationships (ex. his encounter with the woman at the well). The Bible gives us freedom to pursue mixed friendships and be a witness to the world of how men and women can relate to each other as new creations in Christ.

Of course, we can’t be naive to the very real temptations and sins that can arise in relationships with both men and women. We are, after all, still sinners. Jones admits we need to guard our hearts, especially in a hyper-sexualized culture. But like everything else in this world, mixed friendships need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Rather than react in fear, we ought to obey in love — learning what it means to see friends as brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers in Christ.

It’s easy to tell when I’ve enjoyed a book because the margins are filled with hearts and smiley faces, and Forbidden Friendships has my graffiti all over it. This is a message churches need to hear — although, I must admit, the flow of his arguments felt a bit sloppy to me. But you know what I love about Jones? He has a bright view of singleness and celibacy. This, of course, endears him to me. He understands it’s possible to be happy without sex, but that we can’t thrive without intimate relationships with both men and women. He believes the disappearance of mixed friendships is a result of a bigger problem: the devaluation of friendship in general. And he knows this has ramifications for single and same-sex attracted Christians, where friendship within the family of God is essential to living and loving fully.

So, should I have been able to stay with my lady friend and her family? Honestly, I’m thankful for the pastor who welcomed me into his home; he and his wife were kind and hospitable and I enjoyed getting to know them. But I don’t think it accomplished what he was aiming for. One day I ended up alone with the pastor’s wife for the entire morning. (And, of course, that was OK!) I think Jones would encourage us to let love and wisdom dictate these decisions, and that one’s personal boundaries don’t necessarily apply to everyone else in every situation. The bottom line is this: if we’re serious about being the family of God, then we’re free to pursue male-female friendships that center on Christ. As Jones says, the cross bridges the divide between the sexes.

For more, check out the author’s interview with my friends at The Rugged Marriage.

Review: Spiritual Friendship

Posted by: 
Book Reviews

Talk about being behind the curve. Most Christians who identify as gay or same-sex attracted devoured this book and tweeted their reviews months ago. Luckily, Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship is pretty timeless; after all, its themes are rooted in the musings of a 12th-century monk and, as the author suggests, the Bible itself. So there was really no rush. (Not like the rush to binge-watch Fuller House on Netflix, which I did.)

As he makes known in the subtitle, Hill is a celibate gay Christian. His first book, Washed and Waiting, started the conversation that launched a thousand other conversations (and blogs) about how those who experience same-sex attraction can live faithfully as Christians. Spiritual Friendship is a sort of sequel, fleshing out some of those ideas, raising more questions, and presenting friendship as a way for gay people to find love in the Church.

Part one explores friendship’s role in culture and Church history. Hill notes that, until very recently, friendship held an honored place among Christians, most notably in the long-lost tradition of “vowed friendships” between people of the same sex — ceremonies that bound two friends together, making them accountable to each other in the sight of God and man. Hill believes we should recover this practice, although it’s unclear how that would look in modern churches.

The concept of vowed friendships is what’s getting lots of buzz — and some beef — especially in Protestant circles, where tradition takes a backseat to the Bible. (Sola scriptura, you know.) We simply don’t find such ceremonies in Scripture. What we do find, Hill suggests, is a robust theology of friendship. He gives several examples of profound friendships in the Bible: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Jesus and his disciples. Friendships that look a lot like family. Friendships that model the love and devotion we’d expect of God’s people, but that we don’t often see in the Church today. Even if he can’t persuade us to revive certain (some would say, obscure) traditions, Hill does convince us that Christ-centered friendship is something we MUST pursue and promote.

Part two explores practical concerns for celibate gay folks in the Church, including an entire chapter on suffering for the sake of friendship. Hill doesn’t gloss over the disappointments and struggles that celibate gay Christians face — especially the fear of losing friends due to marriage, relocation, or our own weaknesses (i.e. codependence). He also talks about the problem of falling in love with your friends — something many gay Christians have experienced (and some straight ones, too, I imagine). Although I relate to Hill’s realism and raw emotion, I did start to worry that Spiritual Friendship would be a repeat of Washed and Waiting — a book I loved but felt lacked a certain hope. Thankfully, the final chapter eased my fears. The last pages are filled with hope, along with stories of how Hill has found healing through the gift of friendship. He rounds out the book by giving us ways to redeem friendship in the Church — advice I’d encourage all churchgoers to heed.

This book is thoughtful, often beautiful, but not everything I dreamed it would be. I think that’s because this conversation is still so new. The Church has really only begun to talk out loud about the complexities of living faithfully with SSA. That’s where I hope this blog and others like it will be of some help, as we continue to explore everyday ways to find happiness in our pursuit of holiness. For anyone who wants to better understand the hopes and fears of celibate gay Christians, Spiritual Friendship is a good place to start. And, Lord willing, there will be many more conversations, books, and blogs to come.

Review: People To Be Loved

Posted by: 
Book Reviews

Preston Sprinkle’s book, People To Be Loved, is proof that truth and love can coexist. Not only does it address one of the most important issues of our day, but it’s also a reminder, as the subtitle suggests, that homosexuality is more than an issue — we’re talking about people made in the image of God.

This is a quick, accessible read. By “accessible” I mean it feels like you’re ACCESSING the author’s brain as he relays his journey — how he has settled (or not settled) on issues surrounding homosexuality and gay people. His love for LGBT folks is evident, as is his passion to help the reader understand Scripture, including the original languages and cultural contexts.

Throughout the book, Sprinkle takes a gentle stance on the immorality of homosexual practice, making sure we understand it’s just one of many temptations or sins people deal with. He walks us through the “clobber passages” (the few verses where the Bible deals specifically with homosexual practice) and explains what they do and do not say about the CURRENT question facing the Church: Does God condone loving, monogamous, sexual relationships between two people of the same sex? Because no one verse can answer that question — indeed, the Bible doesn’t address it at all — Sprinkle instead provides a “big picture” view of marriage and sexuality in Scripture.

The second half explores practical and pastoral questions regarding homosexuality. One of my favorite sections is a response to Denny Burk’s push for Christians to view same-sex attraction itself as sin — a position both Sprinkle and I believe has no biblical merit. I also appreciate Sprinkle’s plea for churches to value single people — something my local church does so well, but something I know is missing in many congregations, not to mention the culture at large.

There are some “fuzzy” parts where Sprinkle could have dug deeper, such as how to view Christians who affirm same-sex sexual relationships (ex. backslidden, heretics, or wolves) and matters of church discipline for those engaging in such relationships. I’m surprised that, as a biblical scholar, he leaves these questions, for the most part, unanswered. At the same time, I’m not surprised that, as a writer, he sticks with the intent of the book: always siding with people, not with “issues” or quick, easy answers. These are questions that I, too, would have a hard time answering. But I’m a layman. I would’ve loved for him, as a scholar, to press into these questions a little more.

Overall, I’m pleased with this book. It’s free of propaganda, canned responses, and tweetable sound bites. Sprinkle does an excellent job pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of common arguments from both “affirming” and “non-affirming” people. It feels like the book is written for both crowds, which means anyone can learn from it. I hope that you do!

Review: Happiness

Posted by: 
Book Reviews

When I decided to launch this website, I knew Randy Alcorn’s new book Happiness would be a must-read (and must-review). I don’t know if Randy knows this, but he and I are kindred spirits. First there was his book, Heaven, one of the happiest books I’ve ever read, and parts of which I’m sure were taken telepathically from my own brain. (Kindred spirits, you know.) Now there’s Happiness, which is a fitting “sequel.” Also, thanks to Randy, I’ve got tweets lined up for weeks. (No, seriously. Pretty much 90 percent of my tweets for the next few months will come from this book.) Here are my main takeaways from each of the four sections:

Our Compelling Quest for Happiness

If happiness is the one thing ALL people desire, and the one thing only God can ultimately provide, why aren’t churches talking more about it? In part one, Alcorn gives evidence from throughout Church history that happiness is something that saints have always, until very recently, pursued and preached. But he’s also careful to define his terms so that readers understand that the only kind of happiness we should pursue is that which results in glorifying God. That is, we won’t find true happiness in sinful pleasures (or GOOD pleasures that we’ve turned into idols, such as relationships), but we can — and should — seek happiness in God and the gifts of his creation.

The Happiness of God

This section tackles one of the most neglected attributes of God: his happiness. It didn’t take long for Alcorn to convince me that the Triune God is happy in himself and his creation — and that believing this is vital to understanding our own happiness. Many churchgoers imagine God’s default demeanor is one of anger and disappointment, which affects our worship. Alcorn asks us to imagine how our lives would look (and how the world would see us) if we knew that the God we serve is happy. Then we’re given evidence from Scripture that God is, indeed, happy — and he delights to make us part of his story.

The Bible’s Actual Words for Happiness

In what Alcorn calls the most important section, he takes us through passages of Scripture that use the Hebrew and Greek words for happiness, letting the Bible build its own case. One main point here is that these words should often be translated “happy,” but translators and publishers are fixated on the more traditional word “blessed.” We’re comfortable with the SOUND of Psalm 1 (“Blessed is the man”) and Matthew 5 (“Blessed are the poor in spirit”), but we can easily miss the MEANING of the word “blessed” in these contexts: HAPPY! Alcorn takes us through dozens (out of hundreds) of verses where the original languages denote happiness, making it clear that it’s one of the Bible’s most prominent themes.

Understanding and Experiencing Happiness in God

This section could be called “How To Be Happy.” It includes Scripture reading, prayer, corporate worship, repentance, forgiveness, service to others, gratitude, and a focus on our future hope. Now, these are strategies we already know. But with what we’ve learned in parts 1-3, we start to see these not just as things we ought to do, but things we should delight to do. When our DUTY becomes our DELIGHT, Christianity starts to look and feel the way it should: a religion of joy.

This book is a commitment, weighing in at more than 400 pages. But it takes about that long to debunk the myths surrounding happiness. In both the church and the culture at large, happiness needs to be redeemed — it’s demonized by churches, hijacked by prosperity preachers, and misunderstood by unbelievers. With the Bible and Church history on his side, Alcorn puts happiness back in its rightful place and gives us permission to pursue it as an integral part of our walk with God — a God who himself delights with us.