I don’t know for certain, but my guess is that the early church did not need a lot of books or sermon series with titles involving words like “dangerous” or “extreme” or “radical.” If we need these books today, it is only to battle the complacency that can come when Christianity is a majority religion or an accepted religion. When Christianity is in the minority or when it is the object of persecution, life is already plenty dangerous.

Yawning At Tigers
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But our temptation is toward complacency and sometimes we do need a good shaking up, a good talking to. Drew Dyck delivers this in Yawning at Tigers which carries the subtitle You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying. The title conjures up an image of a tiger in a zoo, taken from the wild, penned into a little cage, pathetically pacing back and forth. When he is caged up we can approach him confidently, safely, at our own time, without any hesitation. But this is not God as he reveals himself in the Bible.

Dyck shakes up our complacency in two broad ways. In the first half of the book he looks at the way we can inadvertently shrink God down to our size, to a manageable size. We tend to do this by neglecting or redefining his holiness, by ignoring or writing-off his wrath. To combat this, Dyck draws the reader to God’s majestic holiness, his (dare I say it?) dangerous holiness—the kind of holiness that caused Isaiah to fall on his face and Uzzah to fall dead on the ground. Through several chapters he examines God’s holiness from several different angles and reveals this holy God as being infinitely better than any safe and manageable God we may prefer.

In the second half of the book he shows that we can also attempt to tame God by diminishing his love. Just as God’s holiness is too terrifying, his love is too unbelievable, so we try to make it make sense in light of our fallibility. “We take the infinite, divine love described in Scripture and place limits on it. We make it reasonable. We project our own faltering brand of affections heavenward and assume God’s love is as flawed as ours. Even as we pay lip service to God’s boundless mercy, we tabulate our shortcomings and wonder whether we’ve exhausted his grace.”

The book packs a powerful one-two punch with the emphasis on holiness followed by meditations on love. Dyck is a good writer—a very good writer—and his prose is lively and always interesting. The whole “God is dangerous” theme could easily be overplayed, but he doesn’t allow that to happen. He turns constantly to the Bible and to a host of good sources to back and extend his claims.

With all that said, I have some concerns about the book’s sources, which raises a question I’ve often considered: How much must a book be taken on its own merits and how much do we need to be concerned with secondary sources? In this case Dyck quotes a few books, authors, or people that I would be hesitant to promote. While he quotes them in such a way that they advance good points, a reader following footnotes might find himself reading books that may prove as unhelpful as Dyck’s book is helpful.

I also find myself concerned with some of his discussions on the immanence of Jesus. I understand that Christians are constantly attempting to properly account for both the transcendence and immanence of God, the fact that God exists beyond time and space and the fact that he is fully within it as well. One way the emphasis on immanence can go too far, at least as I understand it, is to suggest that we see Jesus himself in the faces of the poor or the downtrodden. That manifests itself in quotes like this: “When I touch a poor child, I touch Jesus Christ. When I listen to a poor child, I’m listening to God’s heart beating for all humanity.” There are traces of this in Yawning at Tigers and I think it is unnecessary; the book would have held up very well without it.

Those concerns aside, Yawning at Tigers accomplishes what it means to. It convicts us of the ways we have diminished God and encourages us to see God as he really is. It’s a sweet and powerful book and one that both blessed and encouraged me.

 

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Day eleven comes courtesy of a guest writer: David Murray.

This day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:9).

Holiness and happiness are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. Holiness produces true happiness, and true happiness strengthens holiness. The proof?

In Nehemiah 8, God’s people had rightly mourned over their sins. But there came a point when their weeping went on too long and too deep, and God said through Nehemiah, “This is a holy day. Therefore let it be a happy day.” The logic is inescapable. Happiness is not only compatible with holiness, it is an essential part of it. Without happiness, holiness is incomplete. Indeed, it is no longer holiness.

But what kind of happiness are we talking about? Nehemiah defines it as “the joy of the Lord.” It is a joy that comes from God and is centered in God. God gives it and God is it.

And as if we needed another reason to pursue, accept, and enjoy the happiness of holiness, Nehemiah adds the motive: “For the joy of the Lord is your strength!” Holy joy, Christ-centered joy, strengthens us. It produces defensive and offensive strength. It powerfully protects us from evil and it empowers us to fight for good. Holiness, happiness, and hardiness. A blessed trinity from the Blessed Trinity!

Ever blessed God, You are so holy and so happy. Help me to believe that my greatest happiness is found in holiness, and that happiness, true Christ-centered happiness, is my greatest help to holiness. Increase my joy in Jesus that I may increase my strength to resist sin and fight for purity. Amen.


What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

Today’s devotional comes from David Murray, a pastor, professor, author, and dear friend. He blogs at HeadHeartHand.

We have no shortage of excellent books on the subject of holiness. J.C. Ryle’s Holiness has stood the test of time while R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God and Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness represent two modern classics. We might well ask whether we really need more books on the subject. Kevin DeYoung’s The Hole in Our Holiness answers with a resounding “Yes!”

DeYoung believes there is a hole in our holiness, a gap between gospel passion and the pursuit of holiness. The hole is simply this: that we don’t really care much about holiness. “Passionate exhortation to pursue gospel-driven holiness is barely heard in most of our churches. … I’m talking about the failure of Christians, especially younger generations and especially those most disdainful of ‘religion’ and ‘legalism,’ to take seriously one of the great aims of our redemption and one of the required evidences for eternal life—our holiness.”

J. C. Ryle
J. C. Ryle

I have thought about this often over the years and am inclined to agree with DeYoung’s assessment. All the way back in the nineteenth century J.C. Ryle was teaching that holiness “is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world.” But then, as DeYoung says,

My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has saved us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us toShouldn’t those most passionate about the gospel and God’s glory also be those most dedicated to the pursuit of godliness? I worry that there is an enthusiasm gap and no one seems to mind.

We would do well to ask the reason for this gap, and here DeYoung proposes several answers: In the past Christians equated holiness with abstaining from a few taboo practices such as drinking and dancing; our churches have many unregenerate persons in them who are necessarily uninterested in holiness; we emphasize a culture of cool that pushes the boundaries with language, entertainment, alcohol, fashion, and whatever else is deemed cool; labeling something as unholy or ungodly feels judgmental; we fear legalism and are frightened by words like diligence, effort and duty; we face the reality that pursuing holiness is hard work; and finally, many Christians have tried and just plain given up.

Through nine short chapters, DeYoung goes on to show what the Bible says about holiness, to answer some of the contemporary objections to it, and to offer challenges in a few of the areas where we may be accepting and even celebrating unholiness. The chapter titled “Saints and Sexual Immorality” is especially to the point as he challenges us to see that maybe, just maybe, we’ve allowed the world to squeeze us into its mold in the area of sexuality. This is true not only in our sexual ethics and behavior, but also in the things that entertain us and the things we laugh and joke about.

One of the book’s strengths is in its constant encouragement that we actually can be holy. What God calls us to he also empowers us to attain. Yet too many of us have tried holiness and have found it too difficult, too insurmountable a calling. DeYoung says rightly that “There are a hundred good things you may be called to pursue as a Christian. All I’m saying is that, according to the Bible, holiness, for every single Christian, should be right at the top of that list.” I couldn’t agree more.

While Ryle, Sproul and Bridges have written books that are almost timeless, DeYoung’s humor and references to culture keep it bound in the here and now. But this is exactly what makes it such a great complement to those other works. It does not replace them, but stands beside them.

If holiness really is meant to be at the top of the Christian’s list of priorities, then we do well to equip ourselves by regularly reading about the subject. The Hole in Our Holiness will challenge, equip and encourage you to put sin to death and to be relentless in your pursuit of holiness. I don’t think I can pay the book a higher compliment than that.