Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014) 144 pp.
Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me is a book that is clear convincing, and enjoyable. It is a book about the Book. Why a book about the Book? I think the answer to that question is also the answer to another question.
What makes a Christian book a good Christian book? I have pondered this question lately and concluded that good Christian books are distinguished from the others by their cultivation of an increased hunger for God’s Word, a deeper love for Christ, and a more obedient life. The main thrust of this book is to point us away from itself and make us want to dig into the Bible, and it is an excellent Christian book.
Taking God at His Word starts off showing the exuberant and ecstatic nature of Psalm 119 as a love poem to the written Word of God, as DeYoung aims not only to help us think correctly about the Bible, but to have an appropriate affection and appreciation for it. He proceeds to show how God’s Word is more reliable than our personal experiences, and that it is sufficient, clear, the final authority, and necessary. Chapter 7, “Christ’s Unbreakable Bible,” is my favorite section. There He shows beyond a shadow of a doubt, as He surveys the context and content of Jesus’ teaching about the written Word, that
it is impossible to revere the Scriptures more deeply or affirm than more completely than Jesus did. Jesus submitted his will to the Scriptures, committed his brain to studying the Scriptures, and humbled his heart to obey the Scriptures. The Lord Jesus, God’s Son and our Savior, believed his Bible was the word of God down to the sentences, to the phrases, to the words, to the smallest letter, to the tiniest specks – and that nothing in all those specks and in all those books in his Holy Bible could ever be broken.
The book closes with a challenge to be faithful to the Scriptures, and points us to resources for more in-depth study about the doctrine of Scripture.
For me, reading this book accomplished the following things:
1. It renewed my love for God’s Word. Taking God at His Word is near the top of my favorite books list because it makes me want to read the Bible more. I have approached my reading and thinking on the Word of God with a new vigor and excitement since reading DeYoung’s book.
2. It reinforced my confidence in God’s Word. I continue to hear the historical reliability and relevancy of the Word of God attacked in the culture at large as well as from individuals I know, but this book reinforced what I already believed by helping me confirm my confidence in the Bible, especially by comparing my view to Jesus’ view. If the eternal, perfect, omniscient Son of God taught that the Scriptures were historically reliable, we ought to believe Him rather than the naysayers, no matter who they may be. For instance, take DeYoung’s commentary on Jesus’ handling of the historicity of the Old Testament book of Jonah:
It’s hard to justify Jesus’ language about the men of Nineveh rising up to judge Capernaum on the last day if most or all of the Jonah story is not to be taken literally. It would be like making that literary allusion to the men of Gondor and then issuing a very serious warning to your audience that the orcs of Mordor will rise up to judge and condemn them. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. As T. T. Perowne put it, commenting on the very real danger Jesus considered his hearers to be in, ‘And yet we are to suppose him to say that imaginary persons who at the imaginary preaching of an imaginary prophet repented in imagination, shall rise up in that day and condemn the actual impenitence of those his actual hearers?’ Quite the contrary. In the Gospels we see Jesus reference Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaac and Jacob, manna in the wilderness, the serpent in the wilderness, Moses as the lawgiver, David and Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Elijah and Elisha, the widow of Zarephath, Naaman, Zechariah, and even Jonah, never questioning a single event, a single miracle, or a single historical claim. Jesus clearly believed in the historicity of biblical history.
3. It reaffirmed my desire to stand on God’s Word. Though Taking God at His Word is a relatively short read, it has sufficient depth to effectively stir appropriate emotions, to convince the mind, and to motivate both the reading of the Bible and the faithful proclamation of it, even in the face of opposition. The clarity of DeYoung’s presentation reaffirmed for me that there is no reason to be ashamed when critics attack the written Word of God. Jesus’ church has believed it, stood on it, and propagated it for generations, with good reason. It is what it claims to be and it is what He said it is. The world is to be challenged to accept it, and Christians are to be challenged to stick with it. There is no reason to abandon our faith in God and His Word, nor to back down from it’s bold claims, since they are true.
In reading DeYoung’s book, I noticed one area where I would like more clarification, particularly concerning what is and isn’t clear in the Bible on some issues where it and many mainstream scientists disagree. In his chapter on the final authority of God’s Word, he writes,
If all the facts could be known perfectly, we would find that the Bible and science do not contradict each other. Christians have nothing to fear from rigorous scientific investigation.
And yet, if the Bible is our final authority – as it surely was for the Bereans – then we must be hesitant to scrub the Bible when it seems to contradict the ‘assured results of science.’ I sympathize with Christians who struggle to reconcile what they hear from scientists and what they see in the Bible about a particular issue. We should not be quick to dismiss these questions. It is possible to read the Bible wrongly. It is possible for the church to miss the mark for a long time. But every Christian should agree that if the Bible teaches one thing and scientific consensus teaches something else, we will not ditch the Bible.
I am not for a moment arguing for obscurantism when it comes to the hard questions concerning faith and science. Pastors who haven’t had a science class since the tenth grade are often too cavalier with the tough issues raised by geology, biology, and genetics. But surely it is the mark of a Christian to believe everything the Bible teaches no matter who says it can’t be so. Academic journals are not infallible, let alone high school textbooks or fifteen-second sound bites. As Christians we must always be willing to change our minds when we see that we have misread the Scriptures, but that is a far cry from setting aside the Scriptures because for the last five years – or fifty year or a hundred and fifty years – some scientist have informed us that we can’t believe in the historicity of Adam or that the universe was created out of nothing by the word of God.
DeYoung seems to squarely argue that the Bible is absolutely reliable and to be trusted even when accepted “science” contradicts it, but he is not altogether clear on exactly what we can trust the Bible to be altogether clear on in this arena where there is much conflict. Is theistic evolution, which is accepted by popular evangelical leaders like Tim Keller (who, together with DeYoung is on the council of the Gospel Coalition) a legitimate interpretation of the Bible? (For the record, DeYoung has blogged against theistic evolution here.) Is the Bible clear or unclear about the age of the earth? Was there or was there not death before sin entered the world (cf. Rom. 5:12)? While these questions have brought forth books dedicated to such topics by other authors, it would have been helpful to discuss some of the intersections where people have to make a decision, and give some criteria for assessing some of these specific controversies.
Even with this little caveat, DeYoung’s writing refreshed, instructed, and encouraged me greatly, and I highly recommend it. Our view of the Bible is directly related to how much we trust the omniscient, omnipotent, faithful God who revealed His Word to man. If we trust Him, we take His Word for everything, and not just for “spiritual” matters. As DeYoung writes, “Our teachers, our friends, our science, our studies, even our eyes can deceive us. But the word of God is entirely true and always true.”
Special thanks to Crossway for providing a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Click here to view or listen to Pastor DeYoung’s 2014 Together for the Gospel Message, “Never Spoke a Man Like This Before: Inerrancy, Evangelism and Christ’s Unbreakable Bible”