Loving the way Jesus loved

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.

Multiple Openings
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.

This review was originally published at The Gospel Coalition Books Reviews. For more reviews visit here.


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The Unanswerable Question

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“Will I need an umbrella in Grand Rapids tomorrow?”

Siri: “There’s no rain in the forecast for tomorrow.”

“When was Gettysburg?”

Siri: “I found this for you.”

“What’s the speed of light?”

Siri: “Let me check that for you. This might answer your question.”

“What is God?”

Siri: “I would ask that you address your spiritual questions to someone more qualified to comment, ideally a human.

“What…is…God?”

Siri: “My policy is the separation of church and silicon.”

“WHAT IS GOD!?”

Siri: “It’s all a mystery to me.”

Actually it’s all a mystery to just about everybody. Libraries have been filled by people trying to answer the question, and most of the books have left us none the wiser.

“What is God?”  This is the question no one can answer, isn’t it!

Well, actually, the Westminster Shorter Catechism had a stab at it and while acknowledging it’s not a complete answer, it’s probably the best brief answer anyone has ever given. Question 4 asks “What is God?” and the catechism answers:

God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

We’re taught three truths about God here. First, God is Unfathomable. The first words bring us face to face with the immeasurable mystery of God’s being. He is a spirit – he can’t be seen or touched. He is infinite – He can’t be measured. He is eternal – He has no beginning or end. He is unchangeable – no ups, no downs, no developing, no weakening.

Want to blow your mind? Just pick one of these words and think on them for a few minutes. God is Unfathomable – we will never reach the end of knowledge about God. We will never say, “O, I get it now!”

Second, God is Understandable. Some people have heard “God is unfathomable,” and said, “O well, there’s no point in even trying to understand God. But the wonderful thing is that God has made Himself known using words, ideas, and concepts that we can actually grasp. The catechism speaks of God as wise, powerful, holy, just, good, and truthful. We can get that, can’t we. That takes some of the mystery out of it. We’ll never get to the end of God, but these words get us to the beginning.

Third, and this is huge relief, our God is Unique. Catechism 5 asks, “Are there more gods than one?” Answer: “There is but only, the living and true God.” We don’t need to get to know any other god! Because there is only one. Oh, there are many called gods, but they are neither living nor true. They are dead and false. There’s only one true and living God, and that’s the one we’re focusing on.

So, our God is Unfathomable, Understandable, and Unique.

If you know that, like the men who wrote the catechism over 400 years ago, you know more than Siri!

Thanks to my son Angus who is filming and editing this series. To view the previous films click here


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