Philip Graham Ryken. Loving the way Jesus Loves. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 224 pages. $14.99.
I’ve never met Wheaton College president Phil Ryken, but as a long-term listener to his Tenth Presbyterian sermons, I feel as if I’ve known him for years. And after reading this sublime book on Christ’s love, I feel as if I’ve just looked into his heart.
Anyone familiar with Ryken’s preaching ministry will know how he skillfully combines an incredible knowledge of Scripture with a phenomenal knowledge of classical and modern culture, and a breadth and depth of reading in historic and current Christian literature—all the while keeping Scripture in its primary place. He’s also one of the most Christ-centered preachers that I know of, regardless of whether he’s teaching Old Testament or New, narratives or doctrine, poets or Gospels.
Love for Love
It’s that rare Rykenesque mix that is so beautifully embodied in this book on 1 Corinthians 13. Perhaps it’s the theme of love that plays so delightfully to Ryken’s strengths. I’ve always appreciated his love for Jesus and for souls in his sermons, and it comes to full-blooming flower in this book.
Phil Ryken loves love. In fact I’ve sometimes thought that to be rebuked by him would be one of life’s unusually unique pleasures. It would be so gentlemanly, so dignified, so measured, so reasonable, so compelling, so . . . well, so loving.
You will come away from his book softened, mellowed, calmed, entranced, even inspired, and all by an eloquently stunning exposition of love. As you read, you gently and enjoyably swing between praise: “Thank you, Jesus, for loving me like that!” to prayer: “Help me, Jesus to love you; and to love like you.” Or I could easily conceive of an unbeliever reading it and praying, “Lord Jesus, please love me like this.”
Pitfalls and Potholes
I don’t know what it is about well-known parts of Scripture that make them so hard to preach and teach from. But, as most preachers will tell you, for all our familiarity with 1 Corinthians 13, it’s not an easy passage to preach. Some get bogged down in the etymology of the Greek words or in philosophical abstractions. Others import too much of our culture’s understanding of love into it, or turn it into a dry list of do’s and don’ts. Still others turn these beautiful words into an ugly club with which they beat up their “loveless” listeners.
Ryken avoids all these pitfalls and potholes; he leads us to and leaves us with Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, he deals with the Greek and explains the philosophy; he compares and contrasts our culture’s views of love; he translates his teaching into practical Christianity; and he certainly doesn’t shy away from confronting us with our sinful lovelessness. However, all of these approaches and steps are but servants that he skillfully marshals to the one great, greater, and greatest end of setting forth Jesus Christ in all his gracious and irresistible love.
Too Much Cheesecake
I read this book in a number of sittings and over a few weeks, not because of time or work pressure, but because I wanted to savor each precious sight of Christ that Ryken gave me. To read another chapter at times seemed to be like eating an extra cheesecake after Sunday dinner. Why waste what you’ve enjoyed by cramming in more than you can comfortably digest? Why not keep the extra piece until you can really relish it? And I’ve been doing a lot of relishing these past few weeks.
At times I felt like I did when I was reading Samuel Rutherford’s letters; letters that were so full of Christ, that it seemed almost sacrilegious to read more than one at a time.
Due to Ryken’s method, this book will not only open up 1 Corinthians 13 for you, it will also give you new and fresh light on numerous Gospel narratives. Above all, it will open up God’s heart to you and show you his love as you’ve perhaps never seen it before. And if that doesn’t open up your own heart, nothing will.
This book will increase the knowledge, experience, appreciation, and imitation of God’s love in the world. I can think of no higher commendation.