It was almost like Joe Rigney (and ultimately God) knew I needed a book like this.
Over the past year or so I have been caught exposed and weaponless in the “Battle of the Hymns” Rigney talks about in the introduction to the book. I feel I’ve been maturing in my faith, yet I’ve been unable to resolve the distinction between Lemmel’s charge, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace” and Babcok’s refrain, “This is my Father’s world, He shines in all that’s fair.”
I’ll give a great example of this strenuous struggle in my life. I love music. I’ve been a musician for the majority of my life. I couldn’t begin to count the hours I have spent behind a keyboard or a drum set. I graduated with a degree in Audio Production and played in multiple bands in college. Yet in my pursuit of a call to pastoral ministry, I’ve struggled to figure out how to continue to enjoy my piano and drums. Sometimes I feel almost guilty for sitting behind my piano. I think, “Isn’t this less eternally beneficial for my heart and soul than studying my Bible or reading some great Puritan book? Shouldn’t I be more concerned with leaving home to share the Gospel than staying home to play music alone?” This is just one example of this problem fleshed out in my life, and I know this is an issue most Christians face in trying to have a healthy balance of the superior goodness of God alongside the very good gifts of earth.
What Joe Rigney has done in The Things of Earth is provided a Biblical defense for the goodness of God’s creation, our necessity in the enjoyment of it, and how to balance our affections to the gift with our affections to the Giver. What makes this book special is that it’s not simply topical, answering a few hot-button questions. Instead, it awakens us to the whole grand narrative of the creation story and the Triune God. It penetrates philosophical, aesthetic, and theological viewpoints of God and His gifts with Biblical clarity.
One of my favorite chapters of the book is Chapter 8, “Desiring Not-God.” It’s the least instructive and theological, but the most heart-felt and unique chapter to the book. Chapter 8 is where I got to see everything Rigney has been talking about finally come alive. All of these principles leaked through Rigney’s poetic, engaging words as he told stories and illustrations of God, creation, gifts, family, Ultimate Frisbee, infertility, Spider-Man, dementia, and Ranch Doritos. I have been absolutely inspired by this chapter inparticularly. It made me laugh and cry. It made me want to live my life alive to God’s beauty, aware of my humanity, full of God’s Word for daily bread, and thankful for the good gifts I’ve been given.
It’s easy to find a great gospel-centered book on living a life of holiness, improving pastoral leadership, how to improve your marriage, and so many other topics. There’s not another book out there I’ve seen or heard of that explores these topics with this intensity. John Piper called it a book that “needed to be written.” That’s not just filler talk found in a foreword.
The Things of Earth helps us understand that “every enjoyment has the capacity to be a tiny theophany, a touch from God’s finger” (71). This book helps us understand how to protect ourselves from making good gifts idols. It shows us why and how to eat dessert and watch baseball with God in our view. It helps us know how to respond when we lose these precious gifts. And if all of that isn’t enough for a book, Rigney covers a whole plethora of other questions and concerns it’s easy for us to face this side of Heaven.
Here’s a couple great excerpts:
“It’s entirely appropriate, when confronted with tremendous gifts, to periodically compare love for the gifts and love for the giver. It’s good to be reminded that the giver—God—is ultimate. But then, once the supremacy of the giver is settled, the right and fitting response is to dive back into the pumpkin crunch cake and enjoy every last bite” (102).
“We can see that God is meticulous in his attention to detail. Like Tolkien, every Ent has a genealogy. In fact, every ant has a genealogy. There are no rogue molecules. There are no random atoms. There are no wayward snowflakes” (57).
“Wherever we take the gospel in this fallen world, we confront people who have rejected the creator God and therefore turned creation into a god, with all the resulting debased desires and people-harming conduct that flows from it. Therefore, a chief need of such people is a living, breathing example of rightly ordered desires, of the new way to be human, of an appropriate celebration of God’s creation and gratitude for God’s gifts and worship of God himself” (182).
I know you want more excerpts, but you’re just going to have to pick the book up. You won’t be sorry.
Thank you Joe for laboring to write such a necessary book addressing such a weighty, rich, and oftentimes confusing doctrine. Thank you for awakening me to God’s goodness by gifts, through gifts, and in gifts. Thank you for helping me not miss out on a wonderful world and wonderful things God created for my enjoyment and His glory.
I was provided a copy of this book via Crossway in exchange for my honest review. Page numbers related to eBook edition (iBooks).