by K. Scott Oliphint and Rod MayseARC, 160 pg.
P & R Publishing, 2016
Read: June 12, 2016
In the preface, after a brief sketch of Newton’s life and his career as a hymn-writer, the authors talk about how they’re going to use one of his hymns as a framework for their discussions. Because older hymns help us remember that we’re not the first believers to have to deal with certain aspects of life — and they help us remember those things that are important and distinguish them from those that are fleeting. Now, why of all the Newton hymns one could choose, they picked “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken,” I don’t know. I looked, and realize I may have missed their explanation (and will feel pretty embarrassed when it’s pointed out to me). I don’t think it’s a bad choice, I just don’t understand why this one.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not an interpretation of or meditation upon Newton’s words. But each chapter draws on the themes of the verses of the song, and shows some of the ways you could talk about those issues and themes today. I guess you could label this an application of Newton.
Thanks to the framework of the hymn, the book covers a range of issues – the foundation of knowledge/understanding, the nature of authority, technology’s effect on our thinking, cutting, God’s promises, sin — and from time to time, I stopped reading and wondered how they started at X and ended up at Y, but the transitions were all so seamless that the text flowed easily from one to the other — and honestly, it turns out that X was related to Y, after all. Not only do they address a wide range of topics, they do so using the whole of Scripture, so you get a range of Biblical perspectives.
The authors use illustrations that should be familiar to many — you don’t have to be steeped in Evangelicalism to follow their arguments — A Christmas Carol, Neil Postman, Shakespeare, The Man Who Wasn’t There, for example. Chapter 4’s discussion of redemption begins with an extended look at a portion of Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I’m not sure I needed the close reading of the White Witch’s plot to kill Aslan in exchange of Edmund, I’m not sure anyone over the age of 6 needs it to see how it applies to Christian redemption. But that’s a minor complaint.
It is really a deceptively easy read. The prose is smooth enough that you can get through the text without noticing the deep thoughts you’re encountering. I remember looking down and wondering how I could be 25% with a Oliphint book so quickly. It has to be Mays’ influence.* But when you read closely (as you really ought), Mays and Oliphint are dealing with important topics that everyone needs to think about, and they don’t do so in a cavalier or surface-level manner. An easy-to-read manner, yes, but not surface-y.
I even liked the discussion questions – I almost never like them and wonder why authors/publishers bother. But, these were helpful and I think would be great fodder for discussion groups.
Unshakable is a very useful, thought-provoking work that’s pretty accessible for a wide-ranging of readers: believer, unbeliever, student, older-than-typical student. I heartily recommend it.
Disclaimer: In exchange for my honest thoughts, I received this book via NetGalley and P&R Publishing. Thanks very much!
*that’s not a criticism of Oliphint, just underlining how easy a read it was. My only criticism of Oliphint’s work is that there are so few of them.