Published by Crossway Books on August 25, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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Learn to Delight in God and in His Good Gifts
Pumpkin crunch cake. Game night with friends. Jazz music. Baseball. These are good gifts--and potential threats to the worship of God.
At the heart of the Christian life is a tension between the supremacy of God over all things and the enjoyment of all things for his sake. In this short book, Joe Rigney offers a biblical vision for enjoying God in everything and enjoying everything in God. God's gifts are invitations to know and enjoy him more deeply, and as this truth is impressed upon our hearts, we will discover that the things of earth grow strangely bright in the light of his glory and grace.
Can you love God and enjoy this world? It’s a question that most Christians, at some level, either feel guilty about or struggle with. Prosperity theology would respond with an unabashed yes, that God wants you to be rich, and that you should take the good things God has given you and enjoy them to the fullest. Others take the opposite route, suggesting that if our focus is to be on God alone, then we should live simply, without luxury, and hold to this world very loosely.
Most often Christians live between those worlds and feel guilty about it, wondering if we are really holding to too tightly or enjoying too fully in the things of this world. We go to church and sing the old hymn:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full, in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace
But then we go away and, if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t live like that—and don’t want to live like that. Taking from that hymn, Joe Rigney’s Strangely Bright shows us that we don’t have to and presents to us a robust theology of enjoying God through the things that he has given. Rigney’s overall construct for this comes from John Piper’s concept of Christian Hedonism and, despite my concerns about Piper in other areas, this is one he and I find agreement.
Rigney starts with the tension we find in Scripture between “every good and perfect gift is from God” (Jas 1.17) and “I count all things as loss” (Phil. 3.8), noting that Scripture upholds both sides of the coin. Things of this earth are to be enjoyed if God has given them, but they are not to be upheld as higher than God. We can both fully enjoy the pleasures of this world and uphold that the coming reality of the Kingdom of God will be even better.
Strangely Bright calls believers to live a life that is oriented in Christ, where everything we do and every relationship that we have is an expression our love of God and his love toward us. Rigney calls us to a sacrificial sharing that would have us give up some luxuries so that others might have necessities—so that God’s glory can be shown through us.
Most important is his chapter on loss. When I spoke with a group of friends about Christian Hedonism, the overall consensus was that its weak point is that, if you’re always going to proclaim God’s goodness and glory, it makes it difficult to handle loss and lament. And I get that criticism. Rigney does as well, which is why he is very clear to say that believers are allowed to grieve and lament loss. There does not need to be any worries that one is clinging too hard to “things of this earth” when one is grieving over the loss of life or a relationship or vocation. You are grieving over good things God gave you. It is okay to lament.
Strangely Bright is a refreshing read, the perfect reminder that God delights in us and has given us good things to delight in as well. We do not need to look down on God’s creation in order to look up at Him. Rather, we look on what he has given us through the lens of his glory and power and light, making all things seem Strangely Bright in comparison.