November 15, 2013

The Holiness of God

This is the second of 12 books I am studying and discussing with my Assistant Pastor and 20schemes Ministry Apprentices over the course of the next year. I have been waiting to read it with high expectations. I must admit to receiving vague threats concerning my review of this book, which I have tried not to influence me unduly. This heinous diatribe, for example, appeared under an Instagram picture of the book:

“Holiness of God is one of the best books of all time. Anything less than that on your review and I question your sanity.”

I was flattered that RC Jr. would take such an interest in my humble opinion(s). A little joke there, of course. But, a friend did leave me that message. So, The Holiness of God, a book of 276 pages that comes with a free Hymn at the back (bonus!). There are nine clear chapters, although there may be more things in the revised edition advertised above. (I read the edition published in 1993).

RC Sproul is a man who likes his Latin and loves to dazzle with phrases such as, “a panoply of prophets”.What about the equally impressive, “Tetragrammaton”? If that’s not sophisticated enough, then there is always the ever handy, ‘trishagion’. There is certainly plenty here to please our sesquipedalian friends at the next ‘Pie & Pint Night’ down the old Queens Head. When was the last time you read a book that educated you to that level but also included a chapter discussing Martin Luther’s interestingly flatulent approach to phenomenology? (He, apparently, advised his students that breaking wind was an effective way of repelling the spiritual attacks of Satan).

This is a great book. There’s no two ways about it. Despite the above, this book is remarkably accessible and down to earth. The illustrations are dated but helpful. His early discussions in defining holiness more fully are superb, and his interpretation of Isaiah 6 in terms of the prophet’s response to God’s overwhelming ‘otherness’ and ‘perfection’ made me really stop and think.

His handling of God’s Holy Justice in chapter 6 is, again, outstanding. Such clarity, and yet deeply disturbing and profound. I found myself smiling wryly at the ‘strange fire’ of Nadab and Abihu (given the recent conference bearing the same name). But, like Aaron in Leviticus 10:3, I felt weirdly silenced when confronted with God’s implacability in the face of profanity against his Holiness. In fact, it summed up a little bit how I felt about this book in parts. Sobered and awed. But then, joyful and thankful for grace which shines through at the end.

Would I recommend it for those of us working in housing estates and schemes? Definitely. This has to go on your reading list. So many Christians struggle with the severity and finality of God’s holy wrath, in particular. Largely, Sproul says, because they don’t understand holiness, justice, sin and grace. In our setting, we often want to highlight the grace, but how can we understand it unless we see concrete examples of God’s divine justice in full, terrible effect. The book walks us through some of these examples, most notably Uzzah in Numbers 4. Working with the poor/deprived/disadvantaged (whatever your label) does not mean we get to water down divine justice simply because we feel guilty about their lives and/or living conditions. Grace without justice leaves us a poor, weak gospel, if it can even be called that at all. If we believe that what God does is always consistent with who he is, then the truth stands firm within every culture and socio-economic setting. As difficult as this book was to read, it gave me a renewed strength for the work and a deeper appreciation for God’s mercy. Simply put, this book made me fear and love God more.

God is, as the final words of the book remind us, Holy, Holy, Holy.

Get on this bad boy! You definitely won’t regret it.

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