“Radical”: Two and a Half Caveats

David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (1) is admirable in its intentions. And the book is bold in challenging American Christians’ complacency and love of comforts. Perhaps the fact that I found myself arguing, on almost every page, testifies to the effectiveness of Platt’s presentation. Still, I object to his articulation of Biblical priorities and a Biblical program at three main points.

Issue 1: What Does Radical Abandonment to Jesus Look Like?

This is the “half” caveat. I commend Radical for insisting that we cannot have Christ and self-fulfillment. Yet somehow, as I read it, the emphasis seemed to fall on all the wrong notes. To be blunt, there is a great deal in the book about what one must abandon in order to follow Christ, and much less about the Christ who calls.

I can demonstrate this best by contrasting Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s approach in the opening chapters of his classic work The Cost of Discipleship.(2) Bonhoeffer takes up, in turn, four Gospel texts, each of which issues a challenge, and each of which reveals Christ.(3)

  1. Jesus’ call to Levi in Mark 2:14 is simply, “Follow me” (COD 57); in Mark 1:17 and John 21:22, He issues the same call to Peter (45). This word “gives us no intelligible program for a way of life, no goal or ideal to strive after” (58). There is only Jesus: “When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person” (59). His call is always this stark and this uncompromising.
  2. In Luke 9:57-62, after Jesus has resolutely set out for Jerusalem and the Cross, He converses briefly with three would-be disciples, none of whom ends up following Him. Because Jesus is God incarnate, He is able to speak a word that is a call, a word that makes faith possible. But faith must obey (60-63).
  3. Similarly, when the rich young man approaches Him with an academic question (Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-31), Jesus challenges him to make an irrevocable break with his present life, and to embrace “adherence to the person of Jesus Christ and fellowship with him.” He calls him to “spontaneous obedience” (70-76, 84-85).
  4. These passages prepare us for Mark 8:31-38, the invitation to take up our cross and follow Jesus. He “is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection,” and we must join Him there: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The specifics are different for each of us; indeed, the call makes us individuals: “Every man is called separately, and must follow alone” (86-94).

Platt, who cites Bonhoeffer (Radical 14), quotes the same four passages (7-11). But he takes them in a different order, and passes quickly from one to another. Because he is concerned about American materialism, he spends the most time on the rich young man, even though eventually he must admit that Jesus’ words on this occasion are not a literal command for everyone (119-20). In an impatient and distracted age, it is tempting to be more concise than Bonhoeffer, but the difference is striking. In The Cost of Discipleship, we meet a suffering and majestic Christ, who makes His way to each of us to speak an empowering word, a call that is personal and different for every hearer. We hear Him call others, and consider; at last, inescapably, He calls to me. In Radical, we go quickly to the bottom line: we read about abandoning everything and “risking it all.”

Another way of stating this is to recall a point made well by Watchman Nee: that Christians must sit, rest, before they can walk. “For Christianity begins not with a big DO, but with a big DONE. Thus Ephesians opens with the statement that God has ‘blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ’ (1:3) and we are invited at the very outset to sit down and enjoy what God has done for us; not to set out to try and attain it for ourselves.”(4)

Bonhoeffer sees this: “Discipleship is bound to Christ as the Mediator, and where it is properly understood, it necessarily implies faith in the Son of God as the Mediator. Only the Mediator, the God-Man, can call men to follow him” (COD 59). Though it may seem paradoxical, though it may occur in a moment of time, the resting of faith precedes the step of following. And the resting of faith may entail a certain amount of letting go.

But Platt does not dwell on the Christ who calls. His discipleship has no sitting and resting, only walking and striving.

There is a tension in Bonhoeffer: although Christ’s call makes one an individual, “It is impossible to become a new man as a solitary individual” (COD 242). One must become a member of Christ’s Body, the Church. (And so Bonhoeffer would go on to write Life Together.) With his less individuated call, Platt might have more to say about corporate discipleship, right from the start. Yet, as we shall see, he presents, not so much a Body in which diverse members work together, but a likeminded fellowship in which individuals march in lockstep. Even his closing challenge, the Radical Experiment, asks one to decide how to give and where to serve before committing to a church (Radical 218-19).

Issue 2: Does God Exalt Our Inability?

Again, I am in sympathy with the main thrust of Radical’s third chapter: that believers must depend on the power of God instead of trusting in our own wisdom, strength, and resources. Jonathan Edwards placed a great emphasis on the Christian’s (and the creature’s) “absolute dependence” on God; this doctrine was a cornerstone of his theology, his preaching, and his devotional life.(5)

Unfortunately, Platt shapes his discussion as a response to a definition of the American dream by James Truslow Adams, which, paraphrased, assumes that “our greatest asset is our ability” (46). So the chapter’s thesis becomes: “In direct contradiction to the American dream, God actually delights in exalting our inability” (47).

In fact, God delights in exalting human weakness; as He says to Paul, His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Some weaknesses are inabilities, but many are not — the youth of Samuel and Jeremiah and Timothy, Paul’s thorn in the flesh, the lowly status of the shepherds who were witnesses to the Incarnation and of the women who were witnesses to the Resurrection, and Christ’s offensive death (“crucified in weakness,” 2 Corinthians 13:4) are all examples of Biblical weakness. Weakness can coexist with great ability; the same Paul who rejoices that God chooses the foolish and weak and lowly (1 Corinthians 1:27-28) is himself a brilliant thinker, preacher, writer, teacher, and leader; and similar claims could be made for Moses, David, Solomon, and others.

This may seem like a quibble over words, but words matter. If every natural ability is a spiritual hindrance or an idol, no one should go to seminary, or even to school. There is no reason for “training” to become “equipped” (2 Timothy 3:16-17); we are better off helpless. Such ideas have surfaced from time to time in church history, never with good results.

In the Bible, we find that God is graciously pleased to give His people abilities, from “the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18) to the New Testament gifts of the Spirit, which are entrusted to us like abilities for us to steward or administer, though of course “with the strength God provides” (1 Peter 4:10-11). So far from leaving us helpless, He makes some among us “competent as ministers” (2 Corinthians 3:6, NIV) and “qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2, NIV).(6)

Platt quotes the words of Jesus in John 15:5: “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (46). By themselves, though, these words invite passivity, quietism, even testing God by demanding that He act for us. Therefore, Christians typically balance this text with another one, Philippians 4:13: “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (NIV; RSV has “in Him”; Amplified “I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency]”).

As pastors know, there is a creative tension between these two texts. When I am proud and overconfident, I need to hear John 15:5, and recognize afresh my absolute dependence on the Savior. But when I am crushed and in despair (or, like Paul in prison, tempted to discontentment and fretfulness), Philippians 4:13 reminds me to persevere — and perhaps even to take godly initiative.

We desperately need the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, more than all the talents and gifts imaginable. But because God is good, He doesn’t glory in our inability. He is the loving Father who teaches us to walk (Hosea 11:3). He makes us able, qualified, and competent, even as He exalts and fills our weaknesses.

Issue 3: Is Every Christian Commanded to Go to the Nations?

The bulk of Radical is concerned with the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (RSV).

It is an important focus, ever timely. But after a horrific story about a church that dismisses the unsaved (or at least any who are overseas), Platt makes this statement: “Jesus commands us to go. He has created each of us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, and I propose that anything less than radical devotion to this purpose is unbiblical Christianity” (64).

If Matthew 28 were the whole of the New Testament, this conclusion would be inescapable. As it is, we have the Book of Acts and the epistles, which help us understand what “radical devotion” to Jesus’ words looked like soon after they were spoken, and what it might look like today. What do we find? Paul doesn’t urge his converts to go on to the next city, but to lead quiet lives and work with their hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Writing to his fellow missionaries Timothy and Titus, he focuses on elders in each congregation to provide stability.

According to Platt, “Jesus himself has not merely called us to go to all nations; he has . . . commanded us to go to all nations. We have taken this command, though, and reduced it to a calling — something that only a few people receive” (72-73).

Yet in Acts 13:2, while the church at Antioch is worshiping and fasting, the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Already, perhaps 20 years after the Great Commission, it is a calling. Moreover, the calling comes to two individuals through the whole congregation. The Holy Spirit doesn’t rebuke everyone else for not following suit; their job is to hear, commission, send off, support, and pray. Not everyone goes, just as not everyone baptizes. The Great Commission is corporate, addressed to the entire Body of Christ; within each congregation, some are called to go, and some to send. Not for nothing does Scripture record David’s edict that the soldiers left behind, taking charge of supplies, would share equally in the reward with those who bore the heat of battle (1 Samuel 30:21-25).

Anyone who has lived on a mission field has observed the consequences of “All must go” teaching: uncalled, ill-equipped missionaries who crash and burn, harming themselves and the work.

Chapter 7 of Radical adds another element: the terrible urgency of missions work, because people are dying and going to hell. Platt writes, “We are the plan of God, and there is no plan B” (156).

I hesitate to take issue with this point, because this sense of urgency has helped to motivate some of the greatest Christian missionaries. Amy Carmichael was haunted by an image of people streaming over a precipice, while Christians sat by making daisy chains.(7) But we must ask whether it is Biblical to make this our overriding concern.

Even though Paul was called preach “where Christ was not known” (Romans 15:20), and lived “so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), he sometimes allowed other priorities to intrude. Instead of going on to unsaved Spain, he set sail for Jerusalem in the interests of church unity (Romans 15: 24-28). He was not deterred by the thought that thousands in Spain would die and go into eternity before he could return. Similarly, we read of the Holy Spirit preventing him from entering certain regions (Acts 16:6-7). If all that mattered were the presence of unsaved souls, such decisions would be positively immoral.

The “perishing souls” argument raises awful questions. Whey didn’t Jesus come earlier? Why didn’t He visit the large population of China? Why were Native Americans cut off from the Gospel for more than 1,000 years?

Against all such speculations, the Bible declares that God sent His Son “when the time had fully come” (Galatians 4:4, NIV), and that Christ died “at just the right time” (Romans 5:6, NIV). Jesus begins the Great Commission with these words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Matthew 28:18, NIV; compare John 17:2). He is the general, opening and shutting doors; there are times and seasons that only He understands.

So when Platt says that I don’t need to inquire concerning God’s will for my life, because the answer is the same for all (159-60), I respectfully disagree. It is more Biblical to pray that we may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, so that we may live a life worthy of Him and know Him (Colossians 1:9-12).

I saw the consequences of overriding missionary zeal at one church, where every sermon emphasized Christians’ duty to bring their unsaved friends to church. One Sunday I brought an unsaved friend, and he listened without interest to a sermon on Christians’ duty to bring their unsaved friends to church. Meanwhile, church members struggled with addictions, failing marriages, and every temptation and trial, but no help was extended, because all that mattered were the perishing souls. In a way, that pastor cared a great deal for people — up until the moment when they joined his flock.

The Great Commission also colors Platt’s view of discipleship. Against James 3:1 (“Let not many of you become teachers,” RSV), Platt says that “Jesus’ command for us to make disciples envisions a teaching role for all of us” (100). Worse, he advises that, when I listen to a sermon, I should ask not What can I get out of this? but How can I listen to his Word so that I am equipped to teach this Word to others? (102).

This is poor counsel. The words of Jesus are spirit and life, but only as they are believed (John 6:63-64). If I do not sit under the Word and allow it to prune and change me, I am in danger of becoming one who preaches Christ insincerely or impurely, for effect (Philippians 1:17). Jesus doesn’t tell a parable of the sower and his little son, who is also learning to sow; rather, the sower interacts with soil — which, in the wisdom of God, has its own way of producing and dispersing seeds, without itself becoming a sower.

Conclusion

To present a “radical” Christian call to the modern world, it is not enough to attack wealth or comfort or even complacency. One must strike at the root of individualism, calling people into a community that is diverse and differentiated, yet intimate and deeply united. Platt ends by sketching this (204-07), but it cannot be tacked on at the end. Barnabas and Saul receive their calling to the Great Commission, or at least receive the confirmation that equips them to walk it out, as members of a worshiping community (Acts 13:2).

I repeat, Radical is written with good intentions. I hope that David Platt will write a better book one day. In the meantime, though, I urge believers to spend their time reading the radical calls of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jonathan Edwards.

(1) Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2010.
(2) 1937; transl. R.H. Fuller, rev. Irmgard Booth, 1959; New York: Touchstone-Simon & Schuster, 1995.
(3) Bonhoeffer also discusses the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 (76-78), but this is largely to clarify and reinforce a point made about Jesus’ exchange with the rich young man.
(4) Sit, Walk, Stand (1957, 4th ed. 1962; Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1977), 2.
(5) See Edwards’ first published sermon, God Glorified in Man’s Dependence (1731; full text online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.dependence.2.html. A search for “absolute dependence” at Yale’s Jonathan Edwards Center website, http://edwards.yale.edu/, yields 36 occurrences. Within 50 years of Edwards’ sermon, American declared independence. In the 1830s, Ralph Waldo Emerson exalted “Self-Reliance,” and in 1931, just 200 years after the sermon, J.T. Adams made the statement about the American dream that Platt quotes.
(6) The Greek word in both verses, hikanos, speaks to ability: it can be translated adequate, qualified (Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, 2nd ed., 1888 [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, n.d.], 3:175), competent, worthy (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984, 1996], New Testament section, 3).
(7) Any Wilson Carmichael, Things As They Are: Mission Work in Southern India (1903; London: Morgan and Smith, 1905), 41-44; Amy Carmichael, Gold Cord: The Story of a Fellowship (1932; London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1952), 339, 348.

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Descriptive, Prescriptive, or Prophetic?

When we read the Bible, we Christians tend to use a dubious and disturbing method. We are on the prowl for principles. And when we find one, we pounce upon it, seize it with both hands, and run off with it — regardless of context, regardless of other texts, regardless of anything. Then, in our hands, the principle becomes a law, and the law becomes a stick to beat each other with.

Leaving

Let me take an example. In Genesis 2:23, after the Lord creates woman from man’s side, He brings her to the man. Adam says: “This [creature] is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of a man” (Amplified).

Then Adam continues, or the narrator adds, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall become united and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (verse 24, Amplified).

I want to focus here on verse 24, the progression of leaving — cleaving — becoming one. Clearly, there is some sort of principle or generalized conclusion stated here. The RSV’s choice of tense makes this even clearer: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

But what sort of principle is presented here?

  • It might be an observation: This is how a man, at least some men, can be expected to behave. In this case, the “Therefore” makes sense: When a man meets the one whom his whole being recognizes, the one who can make him more fully all that he was created to be, then he will leave home for her. But for all we know, this may be a rare event, occurring once in a generation, or only at milestones in the history of salvation.
  • It might take on the force of a command: This is how every man should and must behave. The “Therefore” loses its force: This is not a wondrous occasion but a natural event — of course the right woman will come along. And when she does, you’d better get ready to leave. Woe to you if you don’t leave! Fortunately, we have a book-and-audio-CD set that can help you: The 17 L’s of Leaving.
  • Or it might be a prophetic statement: Someday, a certain Man will see a certain Woman, and become enraptured, and leave all for her.

We evangelicals have a tendency to rush to the second sort of reading. We want the Bible to be our rule for life, with something to say about every facet of existence. We are a bit desperate for texts that will tell us how to have a good marriage. This one looks serviceable, so let’s milk it for all it’s worth.

My church has been using A Biblical Portrait of Marriage, an older curriculum by Bruce Wilkinson of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries.(1) The first chapter and video are all about leaving. Insights from modern psychology are woven in, and, although there are Biblical references, the perspective is entirely that of modern American culture. We look at the “dependent” young couple, still too strongly attached to parents, and the “manipulative” parents, unwilling to let go.

Of course there are some truths here, and they are worth discussing. But are they really Biblical truths, or only baptized modern common sense?(2)

Most troubling are some of the logical conclusions drawn by the curriculum, as well as the questions left unanswered and unasked:

  • Since “leaving” occurs at marriage, what becomes of the young adult who never marries? Does he or she ever step out from under parental authority? Apparently not — even though, in Scripture, we see David, Elisha, and others make this transition before they marry.
  • Because “leaving” has the force of law — the curriculum speaks of taking actions “in order to fulfill the ‘leaving’ command” (1.7) — great weight and pressure fall on the conclusion that married adults should never live with (or next door to) parents. What are we to do when financial constraints rule out any other option? Is it always wiser and better to postpone marriage, perhaps indefinitely? And do we really want to imply that only people with middle-class or higher incomes can be Christians in good standing?
  • If married children should never live with parents, is it a sin for them to take in parents who have become aged and infirm?


Leaving in the Bible

If “leaving” were an important rule of life, we would expect to see examples throughout Scripture. We don’t. Quite the contrary: the system of land inheritance in Israel ensured that sons settled next to their fathers. (And daughters who inherited land not only stayed put, but had to marry within their clan and tribe, Numbers 36.) The Walk Thru the Bible curriculum advises that some married children should move to another state, but this simply wasn’t an option for most people in the Bible, not if they wished to own land.

Noah’s married sons live with Noah and his wife aboard the ark (Genesis 7:13). Perhaps those were desperate times, but we also find Job’s adult sons and daughters living (in their own homes) a stone’s throw away from him; he receives news of their deaths almost as quickly as he hears about his livestock (Job 1:13-19).

Rebekah leaves home for the sake of love, but her husband Isaac doesn’t (Genesis 24:57-67). Somehow their interests are split between their two sons, and there’s no indication that this is due to proximity to Isaac’s father, Abraham. Later, Rebekah sends her son Jacob back to stay with her brother Laban (27:43-45), but this hardly qualifies as an example of a parent “letting go.” Neither “leaving” nor failure to “leave” can adequately account for the tensions in this marriage.

Jacob lives (contentiously) with his uncle/father-in-law for 20 years (Genesis 31:38, 41); only at the end of this period does the Lord direct him to leave (31:3). Moses also lives with his father-in-law, long enough to have two sons (Exodus 2:21; 4:18). He leaves because the Lord calls him back to Egypt (4:19; 3:10), not because he is too “dependent” or his father-in-law too “manipulative.”

Apart from some pledges from the Lord to Israel, the most powerful and heartfelt expression of devotion in the Old Testament is not between a pair of young lovers; it is Ruth’s declaration to her mother-in-law (and, at that, ex-mother-in-law), Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17). Naomi plays matchmaker for Ruth and even claims Ruth’s son as her own (4:16-17). Yet the story is not told as a cautionary tale about the dire consequences of failing to “leave”; rather, it is a beautiful picture of redemption and inclusion.

If “leaving” is an all-important life passage, why does Jesus miss the opportunity to rebuke Peter for allowing his mother-in-law (and his brother Andrew) to live in his house (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:29-30)? Why on earth, when He is on the cross, does He saddle John with His mother, Mary (John 19:26-27)? Shouldn’t He be counseling her to “let go”?

As the Walk Thru the Bible curriculum acknowledges (1.3), the word for “leave” in Genesis 2:24, azab, is a strong word, which can mean to forsake or abandon.(3) It appears in the prophetic cry of Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” It seems odd that the Bible would use so forceful a word simply of moving out of one’s parents’ house. It is rather like Jesus’ statement that, to be His disciple, we must hate — radically separate ourselves from — father and mother (Luke 14:26). But Jesus is not talking here about getting married; indeed, He adds that the disciple must hate wife and children too, and his own life.

Another Purpose

The New Testament quotes Genesis 2:24 several times. In Matthew 19:4-6, speaking against divorce, Jesus emphasizes the “becoming one flesh,” not the “leaving.” The same is true in 1 Corinthians 6:16, where Paul is discussing prostitution.

But in Ephesians 5:29-33, talking about marriage, Paul seems to look at the entire progression — leaving, cleaving, becoming one. He calls it “a profound mystery” (verse 32, NIV) that points to (RSV “and I am saying that it refers to”) Christ and the church.

Might this be a rather pointed hermeneutical tip? Could it be that Genesis 2:24 is not intended to serve as a “leaving command” but as a prophetic picture? Already, in the second chapter of the Bible, before the Fall, before there are adult children to leave or parents and homes to be left, God speaks of a Man who will love so deeply, so devotedly, that He will abandon all, lay aside His glory, cleave to His beloved by taking on her condition, and die and rise (even as Adam sleeps and suffers a tearing) so that we might be “one flesh” with Him, members of His body.

“You have ravished My heart, My sister, My bride, you have ravished My heart with a glance of your eyes” (Song of Songs 4:9, RSV). This is the love that impels Boaz when he “will not rest until the matter is settled” (Ruth 3:18). And, yes, this love is a model for every Christian husband — but not as a command. This is no mere principle that I can extract and apply. It is the burning heart of God; I must draw near to it, fearfully, and let it course through me, change me, rule me.(4)

More than 40 years ago, J.I. Packer pointed out that we have no shortage of books and sermons

on how to pray, how to witness, how to read our Bibles, how to tithe our money, how to be a young Christian, how to be an old Christian, how to be a happy Christian, how to get consecrated, how to lead men to Christ, how to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit (or, in some cases, how to avoid receiving it), how to speak with tongues (or, how to explain away Pentecostal manifestations), and generally how to go through all the various motions which the teachers in question associate with being a Christian believer. . . . Yet one can have all this and hardly know God at all.(5)

If we read the Bible for prescriptive principles, we turn it into a how-to book. We say, or verge on saying, that we can apply these principles ourselves. We don’t really need the Scriptures with their complexities and mysteries, once we extract and distill the principles.

Proverbs 3:5 enjoins us not to rely on our own understanding. But if we can put our trust in principles, we don’t really need the Holy Spirit. We might as well be living in Old Testament Israel. Apparently we don’t have hearts of stone (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26); we’re not constitutionally unfaithful because of a “spirit of prostitution” (Hosea 4:12; 5:4); we don’t need an inner change of mind and heart so that obedience springs from within, not without (Jeremiah 31:33).

Or we can read, again and again, the long and messy, wonderful stories of One who loves. He shatters our principles and exposes our sin. When we read in this way, we come away hungry, not confident in ourselves but pruned, and crying out for mercy. Over time, perhaps we learn to value what He does, and to grieve at anything less. We pray to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit, not simply for strength to fulfill principles we understand, but to walk in obedience to promptings and texts that we cannot fathom.

This would be Biblical thinking, which might lead one day to a Biblical culture. It begins in a way of reading that has nothing to do with picking out principles and sermon points. If we but allow them, the Spirit and the Word will lay bare our hearts.

(1) Atlanta, GA: Walk Thru the Bible, 2001, 2008. The copyright date for many of the materials is 1995.
(2) Secular social psychologist Jonathan Haidt quotes this verse in discussing “transfer of attachment” in romantic love (The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom [New York: Basic-Perseus, 2006], 119).
(3) Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984, 1996), Old Testament section, 87-88.
(4) Here I must acknowledge a very significant exception to the categories and ways of reading that I have been discussing. Walter Trobisch’s I Married You (1971; Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1997) is based entirely on Genesis 2:24. Trobisch finds in this verse principles for marriage, even an outline and a metaphor. Yet the atmosphere is utterly different from that of the Walk Thru the Bible curriculum, and of most Christian books today. “Leaving” is not a command to extract and apply, but a behavior observed (in one form or another) where there is love (87). The text is “like a deep well,” inexhaustible (18), and so Trobisch’s book is not a series of steps (how-to) but a narrative with different stories and examples. “Leaving” grows and changes: father and mother stand for the community, and “leaving” represents all that is public and legal in marriage (19-20, 27, 85-86); it is a paradox, since a union continues (41) — so that one can leave and later take in a parent (34); it requires divine wisdom (43); it never fully permeated Israel’s culture (67). Ultimately, it points to Jesus (147-48). This book is a rich, lived meditation.
(5) J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 22.