Friday, November 29, 2019

Book Review: Truth We Can Touch

Truth We Can Touch. Tim Chester. 2020. [January] Crossway Books. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

From the introduction: Thought Experiment 1 Imagine your church stopped celebrating Communion. Nothing is announced. It just stops happening. Everything else goes on as before. You gather each Sunday to sing God’s praises and hear his word. You meet midweek to study the Bible and pray together. You get involved in evangelistic initiatives and serve your local community. But Communion doesn’t happen. How long do you think it would be before you noticed? What difference would it make to your life? To your life together as a church? Would you miss it? All good experiments have a control sample, and this one is no exception. As a control, imagine what would happen if your church stopped singing. Again, no announcement is made. But next Sunday there’s no music group or organist; there are no hymn numbers or songs on the screen. The Bible is read, prayers are offered, a sermon is preached. But there’s no music. Same questions: How long do you think it would be before you noticed? What difference would it make to your life? To your life together as a church? Would you miss it? Here’s my hunch. In the no-singing scenario there would be an uproar after the very first meeting. A group of people would surround the leaders demanding to know what was going on. People would be pointing in open Bibles to Colossians 3:16. Veiled threats would be made. But what about the no-Communion scenario? I fear that many Christians could skip Communion without missing very much, and perhaps without even noticing for some time.

Truth We Can Touch is about TWO church sacraments: baptism and communion. Is the book necessary? Do we really, truly need yet another book about communion and baptism? The author would argue YES. Because both are vitally misunderstood OR undervalued in terms of priority. The truth is that Christians often find communion and baptism to be confusing--and most books are so focused on the HOW or even HOW OFTEN that the WHY or SO WHAT is lost altogether.

This is not your typical book about the sacraments. This isn't a book about sprinkling or immersion, infant baptism or believer's baptism. Nor is it an argument about wine or grape juice. What should communion MEAN to believers? How should taking communion impact your life? What should baptism MEAN to believers? Should having been baptized change your life on the day-to-day?

So what is the purpose of this one? He writes, "I want to argue that our primary focus when we think about baptism should not be on our faith, but on the object of our faith—Jesus Christ. I think this is consistent with both an evangelical paedobaptist position and a Reformed credobaptist position. If you’ve grown up in the kind of Baptist circles where the focus is all on the commitment we make in baptism, then this emphasis may initially appear unfamiliar. But I hope you will see that, while it is true that baptism is in part a sign of faith, first and foremost it points us away from ourselves to the promises of God and the work of Christ. As we recognize this, we will discover how God uses baptism and Communion to strength our faith and reassure our hearts. I want us to learn to appreciate baptism and Communion. Christ gave them to us to nurture our faith. I want us to understand how we can approach them so they do this. They do more than simply work on our minds to teach or remind us—otherwise Christ would merely have given words to say or truth to remember. Working out what the “more than” involves is the theme of this book. What is the added value of physical acts? Or, to put it another way, why water, bread, and wine? Why not just thoughts and words?"

I think he does a MARVELOUS job answering these questions.

I don't usually seek out books about baptism and communion. First because I don't want to be lectured. Second because they tend to go technical and theoretical. But this one does neither. It is a book that is ENTIRELY practical and further more grounded in Scripture. By focusing on the WHY and the SO WHAT, instead of being dry and scholarly, it becomes relevant and personal.

 My absolute favorite chapter was "Enacted Grace" in which he tells the HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN TWELVE MEALS.

1. Creation and the Menu for Mankind: The Story of God’s Generosity
2. The Fall and Another Menu: The Story of Humanity’s Sin
3. The Passover Meal: The Story of God’s Redemption
4. Manna from Heaven: The Story of God’s Provision
5. A Meal on the Mountain: The Story of God’s Covenant
6. The Bread of Presence: The Story of God’s Presence
7. The True Happy Meal: The Story of God’s Home
8. Exile and Famine: The Story of God’s Judgment
9. Another Meal on a Mountain: The Story of God’s Feast
10. Levi’s Party: The Story of God’s Grace
11. The Feeding of the Five Thousand: The Story of God’s Future
12. The Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper: The Whole Story in One Meal

Of this last meal, he writes:
It is a meal that echoes all the other meals and points to their fulfillment. The Lord’s Supper looks back to the Passover meal. Luke is at pains to point this out in his account of the Last Supper, mentioning the Passover in Luke 22:1, 7, 8, 11, 13, and 15. The Passover meal told the story of redemption from slavery through the blood of a lamb. The Communion meal tells the story of redemption from sin through the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God. The Sinai covenant and its sprinkled blood find their fulfillment in the cross. This is God’s complete and permanent solution for sin. All who come to Christ are cleansed by his blood and welcomed to his banquet. We are invited to eat in the presence of God. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The cup represents the new covenant, a new relationship-forming agreement through which we become God’s people and he becomes our God. The Communion meal embodies the grace of God to needy sinners. Paul would later say we “proclaim the Lord’s death” every time we eat it (1 Cor. 11:26). Here in this meal we encounter the heart of our salvation. And we do not just see it or hear it. We eat it! It becomes part of us. We enact what Jesus said in John 6:51, 54–56: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. . . . Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. This is a meal at which Jesus is the host. He tells Peter and John to “go and prepare the Passover” (Luke 22:8). But the point of their mysterious encounter with an apparently random man carrying a jar of water is to show that Jesus has made everything ready (Luke 22:7–13). It is a powerful picture of the way Jesus prepares the eternal banquet by dying in our place. He takes the judgment we deserve so we can come to eat in the presence of God. At the cross Jesus experiences exclusion from God (like Adam from the garden) and exile from God (like Israel in Babylon) so we can come close to God. The Lord’s Supper also echoes the feeding of the five thousand. That miracle involved four verbs: taking, thanking, breaking, giving (Luke 9:16). The same four verbs in the same order describe Jesus’s consecration of the bread in Luke 22:19: “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them.” Here is Jesus providing bread from heaven to satisfy his people, except that now this bread is his own body, which we feed on by faith as we consume the Communion bread. The Lord’s Supper also points forward to the final eternal banquet promised by Isaiah. Luke’s account of the Last Supper is bookended by references to Christ’s return (Luke 22:14–18, 28–30).
It was a great way to reveal the BIG PICTURE of the Bible. Sadly, many are lacking this big-picture context. So books that include a way of conveying the whole story of the Bible in just a chapter or two are desperately needed.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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