Book Reviews -- Reviewing Titles from Jerry Bridges
|Copyright © 2003 - All rights retained by author|
|Reviews Written by: C. W. Booth|
While the title of the book is Trusting God, it would be appropriate to describe the theme of the book as a primer on the sovereignty of God. One major aspect of trust and sovereignty is manís willingness to be obedient to God even in the middle of adversity, as the bookís subtitle suggests, and this too is explored in some detail.
Analysis of the Book
When any writer concentrates on presenting what the Bible says on a given topic, quoting the relevant passages in context, and explaining their meaning using other parallel passages as an interpretive guide, they generally meet with success. This is one such book. Bridges stays to the topic, finds apt passages from the Word, provides brief interpretations, and cites examples from his own life that reflect the truth of Godís Word.
This is not a book on Calvinism. Nor is it a work of academic fine points. It is a book that presents the foundational truth of Godís sovereignty in a readable fashion. There is also some attempt to provide the balancing aspects also found in Godís Word about manís responsibility. For the person who desires a good introduction to this topic, this is the book.
What would a "book review" be without also providing a critical evaluation? Perhaps the greatest flaw in the book is its style. The material is redundant, and the same point (often using the same passages) is made persistently from chapter-to-chapter. That should not stop one from reading the book, however, as the reader finds himself musing, "didnít I just read that?", he might want to skim forward to fresh material.
Perhaps the most important paragraph in the entire book is found on pages 28 and 29.
As Godís rule is invincible, so it is incomprehensible. His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). His judgments are unsearchable, and His paths are beyond tracing out (Romans 11:33). The sovereignty of God is often questioned because man does not understand what God is doing. Because He does not act as we think He should, we conclude He cannot act as we think He would.
Someone once said that we humans would be more able to trust God if we just stepped back and looked at the big picture; like looking at a Monet, up close you just see dots, but at a distance you see the entire scheme. The problem is, we cannot step back and see the entire scheme, that is only the domain of deity. We must trust not on our ability to see, but we must be willing to obediently follow without our being able to see, relying on only our ability to hear and do the Word. If we could see the entire picture, all the purposes behind every tragedy and every happenstance, then we would no longer need faith, for we would have sight.
Another key to successfully living the faith (trust) we have in God is the following quote from page 52, "Trusting God is not a matter of my feelings but of my will." This has long been a theme of such notable counselors as Dr. Jay Adams, and a point of doctrine with which I too heartily agree. Further in the book Bridges writes, "We mistakenly look for tokens of Godís love in happiness. We should instead look for them in His faithful and persistent work to conform us to Christ." (page 150)
Earlier I mentioned that Bridges balances the passages that express Godís absolute sovereignty with those passages that express manís responsibility. One of the best examples of this balance is found on page 109. Here Bridges explains from Acts 27 that even though Paul received a prophetic vision that the ship he was sailing on would be doomed to sink, all the men would be saved. However, even though Paul had the prophetic word of the sovereign God that everyone would be saved, Paul still felt it was his responsibility to later stop some of the sailors from secretly abandoning ship prematurely with the words, "Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved." Sovereignty and manís responsibility. Bridges does an equally good job showing this same principle at work in the act of prayer.
It takes Bridges far too long to identify that "trust" is actually "biblical faith". Much confusion could be prevented early in the book if Bridges had shown from the Word that trusting God is the same as having faith in God, and that our faith (our trust) comes by hearing the Word. Instead, Bridges gets mired in just a few places with an irrelevant assumption, "it often seems more difficult to trust God than to obey Him." (page 17) Of course, we know that until we have faith (trust) in God, we can do nothing to please Him, and so, we cannot be obedient. Therefore, Bridgesí assumption that it is easier to be obedient to God than to trust Him is a false (unbiblical) assumption that makes the beginning of the book unnecessarily murky. Biblical faith (trust) always comes before obedience. And faith comes via the Word of God, which is the knowledge of Him.
A second shortcoming of the book is the fact that Bridges very often cites Romans 8:28, that all things work together for our good, but he waits until page 120 to remind us that the definition of "good" is found in verse 29, "to be conformed to the likeness of His Son". God does work all things for our good, that is, He works all things so that we will be molded into holier reflections of Christ. Too often it is assumed that "our good" means "our happiness" or "our prosperity", and the proper meaning is simply buried too far back in the book; though, still I am grateful that he does eventually draw our attention to verse 29 at all.
Yet a third shortcoming is a quote from Dr. John Piper that Bridges just throws into the book, though it adds nothing to the content. Bridges justifies the quote, "The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever", by listing references from eight passages of Scripture; he does not quote from any of them. When looked up, these passages all seem to state that God is to be glorified by His creation and through His redemption plan for mankind, but none of these verses state that God has revealed to us His "chief end" for Himself. To state that a man knows why God exists, and what Godís ultimate eternal plan is for Himself, without a clear statement to that effect from Scripture is a matter of presumptive speculation that only leads to arguments and possibly to misguided philosophies. The book would have been better without this quote.
This book makes an overall good introductory text into the doctrinal topic of the sovereignty of God. It bases much of its doctrinal assertions on direct quotes of Godís Word and does a fair job of balancing the passages about Godís absolute sovereignty with the passages about manís responsibilities. For anyone who is beginning their first adventure into the theological woods of sovereignty, this book is a good trail marker that will get them started in the proper direction.
Addendum - The Study Guide
Bridges provides a Trusting God companion booklet which describes itself as a "study guide on the best-selling book." Before we critique the study guide, let us examine the general concept of "study guides" in a bit more depth.
What is the purpose of a Study Guide for a book of theology? At their best a Study Guide will elaborate on doctrinal points made in the primary text or do a step-by-step exegesis of the Scripture referenced by points made in the book that were not fully developed. The Guide will help convince the reader (or student) of the accuracy of the interpretations of the quoted biblical texts and therefore strengthen the conclusions drawn. In short, a "study" guide will genuinely guide the student through some in-depth Bible study.
The Study Guide for Trusting God does not adequately meet that purpose, nor does it appear to have been intended to do so. This volume redundantly quotes paragraphs and large sections from the book, often word-for-word, and asks for the student to formulate certain opinions. The study guide does not often prompt these opinions to be generated from in-depth study of the Bible passages but through searching one's own feelings, experiences, and emotions as they are evoked by the paragraphs quoted from the book.
The "study guide" also asks a series of leading opinion-based questions which are targeted for discussion-group use. This is accomplished by asking "have you ever experienced?" type questions, or, "have you ever felt like this?" While it can be valuable to evaluate your own emotions as you experience life's events and then personally evaluate your reactions against God's Word, such group-oriented introspection has the potential to become little more than aimless amateur group therapy.
This volume is not technically a guide to Bible study. It is possibly misnamed. It may not have all the value that a serious student of God's Word may desire. It also seems unlikely that use of this volume will facilitate a deeper understanding of the doctrines of sovereignty nor does it appear probable that it will foster a much deeper knowledge of Scripture.
Do read the actual book Trusting God, but do not assume that the self-named "study guide" will provide much additional benefit, and instead, consider grabbing a Bible, a good commentary, and perhaps a treatise on the Doctrines of Grace (or for the truly brave, Calvinís own writings) if you really want to study the matter more fully.