I wanted to make you aware of and recommend to you a new book that was just published by Crossway.
In Strangely Bright, Rigney seeks to answer the question: Can we enjoy the things God made while also treasuring God above all? For centuries, the church has wrestled with some version of that question. If, as the Westminster Confession of Faith says, man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, does that mean we are not supposed to enjoy the things He’s made? And, if we are supposed to enjoy the things of this world, how can we go about that without committing idolatry or treasuring the things of this world more than God?
Rigney advocates for an integrated approach, following Charles Simeon’s theology of “enjoying God in everything and everything in God.” According to Rigney, God actually intends for us to delight in and enjoy deeply the things He made. For example, the garden of Eden exemplifies the fact that God wants us to enjoy the things He made in a variety of ways such as sensible pleasure (the fruit was good for food and a delight to the eyes), relational pleasures (Adam enjoyed his wife- “At Last!), and vocational pleasures (they were to enjoy working, keeping, and expanding the garden).
This book is beneficial in a number of ways. First, Rigney addresses head on the tension between the biblical command to love the Lord above all else and the day-to-day reality of loving the things of this world. Rather than shy away from or downplay this tension, Rigney argues that it’s a false dichotomy. That is, we don’t have to love God supremely by making creation out to be bad, but instead we can fully enjoy the things of this world and connect that joy to the Lord. For example, we can enjoy a glass of cold water on a hot day, quenching out thirst, cooling us off, and experiencing the goodness and relief that the water brings, and connect that experience with the goodness of the Lord. As we taste and experience that the cup of cold water on a hot day is good, we want to do so in a way that helps us taste and see that the Lord is good. So Rigney’s call is not to disregard and devalue the things of the world in order to enjoy God, but rather it’s a call to enjoy the things of the world in a way that helps us enjoy God even more-enjoy God in everything and everything in God.
Another benefit of the book is its practicality. It would be easy for a book like this to remain in the realm of pure classroom discussion and knowledge for knowledge sake. But Rigney writes for the church. He wants to help pastors, laypeople, church members, everybody, learn how to enjoy God and the things God has made in a biblical way. Therefore, he provides practical examples of how that works-enjoying God and His creation without committing idolatry-throughout the book. Especially helpful is the last chapter in which Rigney spends the entire chapter engaging with an extended example of how to enjoy God in everything and everything in God by considering how to enjoy a baseball game for the glory of God.
Though many other benefits could be listed, at least one more is worth mentioning. Rigney’s thesis and approach is thoroughly biblical. From beginning to end, Rigney doesn’t just cite passages in order to give the book the appearance of being biblical; no, he grounds everything in Scripture. His desire is to honor the Lord by treasuring Him supremely, by enjoying the things of this world as He intended, by recognizing the necessity of the new birth and salvation for true enjoyment, by explaining how we are to be obedient to the call of self-denial and to be generous, and by orienting our minds and hearts to the fullness of pleasure that is to be found in the world to come.
As helpful as this book is, there is one flaw that must be mentioned. Occasionally, Rigney presses metaphors and analogies too far. For instance, in trying to explain the fullness of the symbolism behind Jesus referring to Himself as the bread of life, Rigney claims that “it’s not merely that God’s creation reveals who Jesus is. Human culture reveals who Jesus is. Jesus says that he is the bread of life, not the grain of life. Grain is something that God makes. Bread is something that people make out of the grain that God makes. That’s what culture is—a mixture of God’s creation and man’s creativity.” Here he has pressed the metaphor too far. Jesus calls Himself the bread of life, and the context supports this, because He is making an allusion to the mana from heaven that the Lord gave to the people of Israel in the wilderness. The Lord didn’t give the people of Israel grain, so Jesus doesn’t refer to Himself as the grain. It’s hard to imagine that Jesus was intending to make a point about culture by referring to Himself as the bread of life. Rigney does this on several other occasions as well, but thankfully, they are sporadic and not something he consistently does.
Overall, readers will find this book challenging and helpful. Rather than continuing to experience some sort of cognitive dissonance, knowing we are to treasure God above all else and yet also knowing that we do love the things of this world, reading this book will help people understand how we can truly treasure God supremely while also rightly enjoying the things of this world in a way that isn’t idolatrous but instead helps us to love and enjoy God more.
Crossway has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book through the Blog Review Program.