Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Book Review: God With Us
To clarify, this isn't a proper review of God With Us. I cannot judge--cannot judge fairly or well--the theology of a book that I can't begin to comprehend. The theology of this book could be perfectly, completely sound. That is it could contain biblically sound doctrine; it could contain truth-treasures within its pages. So I hesitate to say that this is a 'bad book' especially since if you label a Christian book a 'bad book' most people would assume, perhaps naturally assume, that you're critiquing the doctrine of a book, the theological merits of a book. Making a statement that this book goes against the Word of God. That isn't the case here. That is not my argument or position.
Honestly, I wish the author had condescended more in his writing. For it is my opinion that this book is too challenging to be a practical recommendation. There are different ways a book can be challenging. The subject could just be WAY, WAY, WAY over someone's understanding or comprehending. In that it doesn't matter HOW it's presented. Or it could be written in such a way--presented in such a way-- that it's difficult to understand, difficult to follow. In the case of GOD WITH US, I felt it was MADE too difficult. That the author further complicated the subject matter. That instead of making it easier to understand, instead of reaching out to you and me--the average Christian without professional theological training--he chose to talk to a select few.
God With Us is an intimidating book. For starters, it uses Latin a little too casually. It sprinkles in foreign words--I'm assuming Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Though I only am certain on the Hebrew and Latin--a little too often. In that if you don't understand these words, these ideas or concepts, you've lost the flow of the argument all together. It's not a simple matter of, well, I don't understand that sentence OR that paragraph, but I'll start on the next one and see if I can pick up what it all means by context. It isn't a matter of guessing what a word means and continuing on with the book. For it requires too much pretending, too much guessing, to work. For there are just too many unknown words in each sentence, each paragraph, each page. (For example, for every ten pages of text, I might clearly grasp eight or nine sentences.)
The book is about the attributes of God. This wasn't my first attempt to read on the subject. In fact, this is one of my favorite areas to read about--the character of God, the attributes of God, the names of God, etc. I've read books by J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and John MacArthur--to name a few--on the subject of God. And I've benefited by this study. I do believe the proper study for mankind is God--not man. But I think this book, God With Us, is overly complicated.
I think one reason it is overly complicated is because it is trying to do too much. It isn't trying to be a book. It is too clever to be just a book. It wants to be a text book, I think. On every single page--at least it felt like it was each and every page--Oliphint drops names, uses quotes, introduces new ideas, and makes arguments. Sometimes he's quoting people he disagrees with, sometimes he's quoting people he agrees with. Sometimes he becomes so focuses in presenting different viewpoints--perhaps to stress that his is the correct viewpoint?--that it becomes almost impossible to see what really matters. When a reader can't easily see which points are the main ideas. When the book becomes a maze of philosophical and theological ideas sprinkled with sentences that are comprehensible, it becomes a mess.
The introduction has seventy-nine footnotes.
Chapter one has eighty-four footnotes.
Chapter two has 103 footnotes.
Chapter three has eighty-five footnotes.
Chapter four has a mere seventy-six footnotes.
Chapter five has 121 footnotes.
Maybe if you're in the field and are familiar with even a fourth of the names he's mentioning, familiar with who they are, their theological position, their associations, etc., then perhaps the argument might make sense to you. Especially if you've had classes on logic and rhetoric. Or even debate.
I can easily say that I found it easier to read Stephen Charnock's The Existence and Attributes of God, a book first published in 1682. I expected a language barrier--of sorts--when I read it. But with work and patience and pen (for taking notes) I was able to benefit from reading it.
I was disappointed with God With Us. I wanted an intelligent book, true, but intelligent and comprehensible. I wanted a straightforward book that presented basic, essential truths about God, about Jesus. I wanted to find a challenging book that would help me think more, appreciate more. I wanted a book with substance, I appreciate books with substance. I wanted a book to help me celebrate Christ, to rejoice in Him and His works. I wanted a book as rich and deep as some of the other books Crossway has published in the past.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible