Monday, June 14, 2010

‘Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters’ by Joshua Harris – Book Review

Buzz this
Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters’ is the latest book from Joshua Harris, a terrific pastor based in Maryland.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

          What Will You Build Your Life On?
With startling transparency, Joshua Harris shares how we can rediscover the relevance and power of Christian truth. This book shows a young man who rose quickly to success in the Christian evangelical world before he realized his spirituality lacked a foundation – it rested more on tradition and morality than on an informed knowledge of God.
For the indifferent or spiritually numb, Harris’s humorous and engaging reflections on Christian beliefs show that orthodoxy isn’t just for scholars – it is for anyone who longs to know the living Jesus Christ. As Harris writes, “I’ve come to learn that theology matters. It matters not because we want to impress people, but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. Theology matters because if we get it wrong then our whole life will be wrong.”
Whether you are just exploring Christianity or you are a veteran believer, Dug Down Deep will help you discover the timeless truths of Scripture. As Harris challenges you to root your faith and feelings about God in the person, work, and words of Jesus, he answers questions such as:
·         What is God like and how does He speak to me?
·         What difference does it make that Jesus was both human and divine?
·         Who is the Holy Spirit and how does He work in my life?

With grace and wisdom, Harris will inspire you to revel in the truth that has captured his own mind and heart. He will ask you to dig deep into a faith so solid you can build your life on it. He will point you to something to believe in again.

Here is Joshua telling us about this very personal book:

And here is the biography of the author:

Joshua Harris is senior pastor of Covenant Life in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which belongs to the Sovereign Grace network of churches. A gifted speaker with a passion for making theological truth easy to understand, Joshua is perhaps best known for his run-away bestseller, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which he wrote at the age of twenty-one. His later books include Boy Meets Girl, Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is) and Stop Dating the Church. The founder of the NEXT conferences for young adults, Joshua is committed to seeing the gospel transferred to a new generation of Christians. He and his wife, Shannon, have three children.

I liked this little description of himself that Josh has on his website:

I am the half-breed descendent of Alabama rednecks and Japanese immigrants. So I like my sushi deep-fried. More importantly, I'm a Christian whose life has been transformed by Jesus Christ. I work full-time as a pastor doing my best to tell people about Jesus and to teach them how to live for his glory.

He comes from a family of Christ followers and leaders; his younger brothers, Alex and Brett Harris are the authors of ‘Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations’ and ‘Start Here: Doing Hard Things Right Where You Are’ (you can read my review of that one here).

In ‘Dug Down Deep,’ Pastor Harris takes us on his spiritual journey from his childhood to the present day. He grew up in a Christian home; his parents were saved during the ‘Jesus Movement’ of the early 1970s. Joshua’s formative teenage years were spent in a megachurch in the Pacific Northwest.  Here he explains what he went through as he left his teen years:

During my early twenties I went through a phase of blaming the church I had attended in high school for my all my spiritual deficiencies. Evangelical megachurches make good punching bags.
My reasoning went something like this: I was spiritually shallow because the pastors’ teaching had been shallow. I wasn’t fully engaged because they hadn’t done enough to grab my attention. I was a hypocrite because everyone else had been a hypocrite. I didn’t know God because they hadn’t provided enough programs. Or they hadn’t provided the right programs. Or maybe they had too many programs.
All I knew was that it was someone else’s fault. (p. 5)

Boy, do some of those complaints ring a bell with me, as we left a megachurch a few years ago….

Joshua is convinced that we need to study in order to know the character of God:

I know the idea of “studying” God often rubs people the wrong way. It sounds cold and theoretical, as if God were a frog carcass to dissect in a lab or a set of ideas that we memorize like math proofs.
But studying God doesn’t have to be like that. You can study him the way you study a sunset that leaves you speechless. You can study him the way a man studies the wife he passionately loves. Does anyone fault him for noting her every like and dislike? Is it clinical for him to desire to know the thoughts and longings of her heart? Or to want to hear her speak?
Knowledge doesn’t have to be dry and lifeless. And when you think about it, exactly what is our alternative? Ignorance? Falsehood?
We’re either building our lives in the reality of what God is truly like and what he’s about, or we’re basing our lives on our own imagination and misconceptions.
We’re all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true. (p. 11)

In order to know God, we need to understand the concept of orthodoxy:

The word orthodoxy literally means “right opinion.” In the context of  Christian faith, orthodoxy is shorthand for getting your opinions or thoughts about God right. It is teaching and beliefs based on the established, proven, cherished truths of the faith. These are the truths that don’t budge… Orthodox beliefs are ones that genuine followers of Jesus have acknowledged from the beginning and then handed down through the ages. Take one of them away, and you’re left with something less that historical Christian belief…
Orthodoxy matters because the Christian faith is not just a cultural tradition or moral code. Orthodoxy is the irreducible truths about God and his work in the world. Our faith is not just a state of mind, a mystical experience, or concepts on a page. Theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy matter because God is real, and he has acted in our world, and his actions have meaning today and for all eternity. (pp. 14-15)

Early on in his Christian life, Pastor Harris discovered that he was living on the surface in terms of his Christianity, and he realized he needed to “dig down deeper.” One way in which God helped me in his quest for Himself was to expose him to the teachers of a pastor named C.J. Mahaney, who led a church called Covenant Life in Maryland:

I had listened to dynamic, humorous preachers before, but C.J. was unique. His passion was infused with a theological depth I wasn’t accustomed to. His sermons revealed his love for reading and inspired a similar love in the people he preached to… [H]e quoted men like J.I. Packer, Sinclair Ferguson, John Stott, and D.A. Carson. He talked about and quoted long-since-dead pastors and theologians like Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Watson, and John Calvin as though they were still living, personal friends…
This is what I’d been longing for but had never known how to name. My soul had been craving good, solid, undiluted truth about God and the good news of his Son’s life, death, and resurrection. I didn’t need to be entertained. I didn’t primarily need to fall over at a prayer meeting. And I didn’t need lifeless information. I needed to know God. The authors I was discovering spoke about God in ways I’d never heard. They exulted in the God of Scripture who sovereignly ruled over the universe. He was a loving Father who saved men and women by sheer grace, all for his own praise and glory. His Son was the Savior whose atoning death rescued sinners from wrath. (pp. 26-27)

It sounds as though Pastor Mahaney and these other theologians had gotten back to the basics, and excised the extra man-made trappings that do not change lives.

Ultimately, Pastor Mahaney invited Joshua to study under his leadership; years later, Joshua became the lead pastor at Covenant Life.

Joshua explains the purpose for this book:

…when you see orthodoxy in the vibrant colors of a person’s life – when you observe that person applying it with joy and humility – you see that it’s beautiful. When you see someone walking in the same paths and being led to a deeper knowledge of Jesus, it makes you want to walk in them too. When you witness the strength and security that comes with being dug down into doctrinal truth, it makes you want to dig into truth yourself.
And that is the purpose of this book. I write in the hope that you’ll catch a glimpse of how good and beautiful the old paths of orthodoxy are, how firm and trustworthy the solid rock of sound doctrine can be in your life. (p. 33)

As Pastor Harris studied, he was awed by what he learned about God:

God is not like us. He’s strong. He’s unchanging. His love is steadfast (Psalm 136:1). He is full of mercy. And he does what we would never do, what we would never imagine; he dies for his enemies. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). (p. 45)

In order to grow in our faith, it is imperative that we immerse ourselves in the Bible:

There is no genuine spirituality apart from God’s Word. We need God’s self-revelation to know what he is like. We need revelation to know who we are and why we exist. We need revelation to explain our purpose and the eternal significance of life on this planet. We need revelation to know we’re sinners and deserving of judgment. And we need revelation to know the good news of salvation.
Without the Bible, there is no saving knowledge of God. Without the Bible we would not know or understand the meaning of the Cross and Resurrection. Without the Bible there is nothing for us to put our faith in. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (p. 57)

Joshua points out that the prophet Jeremiah wrote that he said this to God: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16):

Sometimes we have to work to find delight in God’s Word. Jeremiah said that when he ate God’s words, they became a joy. They don’t become a joy sitting on a shelf. We have to taste and receive them. The fact that this requires effort shouldn’t discourage us. As we grow in our knowledge of how trustworthy and powerful Scripture is, our love for it will increase. (p. 71)

Jesus coming to earth in the form of a human – and being fully God and fully man – is hard to fathom:

That is, without question, the greatest miracle recorded in Scripture. The parting of the Red Sea is nothing in comparison. Fire from heaven that consumed Elijah’s altar? No big deal. Even the raising of Lazarus from the dead takes a backseat to a moment that no human eye saw. In the womb of a virgin, a human life was conceived. But no human father was involved. The Holy Spirit, in a miracle too wonderful for the human mind to comprehend, overshadowed a young woman (Luke 1:35). And in a split second that the cosmos is still reeling from God “incarnated.” He took on our humanity. (p. 82)

That is one of the most powerful paragraphs I have ever read!

After the Fall of Man, God had the grace and mercy to give us a road of reconciliation to Himself:

Instead of abandoning us and condemning us, God came looking for us. He so loved the world that he sent his only Son to save the world (John 3:16-17). Jesus came to reconcile us to God.
How does he reconcile us? By paying the penalty for our sins. This is what theologians call penal substitution. On the cross Jesus became our substitute and took our penalty. Just as Jesus obeyed in our place, he also died in our place. Galatians 3:13 says that Jesus became a “curse for us.” (p. 111)

Pastor Harris also discusses a topic that is not often heard in the church these days – repentance:

The Bible teaches that we must respond to the gospel in repentance and faith (Acts 3:19). Most of us understand the faith part. We trust that what Jesus did was for us, and we entrust our life to him. But we often overlook the repentance part. To repent means to turn away from something, to renounce it. Genuine repentance involves a sorrow over sin as an offence against God. But this sorrow is not hopeless. It is a sorrow that turns and believes that Jesus can forgive and, by his death, cleanse us from all guilt. (p. 136)

Another important theological topic addressed by Joshua is sanctification:

The questions surrounding hoe Christians deal with sin, obey God, and become more holy all relate to something that Scripture calls sanctification. That is the ongoing process of change that begins the moment a person is saved and continues until that person’s last breath. Sanctification is the journey of becoming holy, becoming like God. (p. 149)

Sanctification explains how and why Christ followers are at different places in their journey:

That’s why we aren’t equally holy. While one Christian is not more justified than another, some Christians are more like Jesus than others. Those who hear God’s Word and strive to obey it in the power of the Spirit will be more like him. Those who actively put off sin and put on the behavior of the Savior will grow in holiness. Those who give attention to communion with God through prayer and study of his Word will be more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. We all desperately need God’s help to do this. Philippians 2:12-13 urges, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (p. 165)

I love his explanation of the Holy Spirit’s important work in the life of the believer, and how He works in conjunction with the other members of the Trinity:

And just as there could be no salvation apart from the ministry of the Father and Son, there would be no salvation apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In perfect fellowship and unity, the members of the Godhead partner in the great work of salvation. Though equal in power and deity, each plays a unique role. What the Father planned, and the Son purchased by death, the Holy Spirit activates or applies in our lives. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us a new spiritual heart (John 3:5-8; Romans 8:9-11). It is through the Holy Spirit that we are washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Corinthians 6:11). It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to become like Jesus (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:16-18). (p. 180)

I also loved this point he makes about the gift we need to acknowledge and rejoice over:

What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever asked for? Think of all the outrageous pleas you’ve prayed. Have you ever stopped and realized that by giving you his Holy Spirit, your Father in heaven has presented you a gift that infinitely surpasses your greatest request? To be indwelt by the Spirit of the living, eternal God is a greater gift, a more overwhelming honor than any position, any possession, any amount of wealth, or any human achievement. (p. 186)

I often need a reminder to be thankful, and that gift is one of the most important ones I’ve ever received; for that, I am most grateful!

I also appreciated this:

And what is the ultimate aim of the Spirit’s encouragement, comfort, and help? To enable us to know and see the glory of the Savior. The Holy Spirit is all about glorifying Jesus. To glorify something is to exalt it, to show it to be wonderful and worthy and good. When Jesus told his disciples about the Holy Spirit the night before his death, he said of the Spirit, “He will glorify me” (John 16:14).

Many Christians misinterpret Scripture, and set themselves apart from the rest of the culture, so as not to be contaminated. I was enlightened by this point:

There’s no contradiction between consecration and evangelical mission. If our hearts are consecrated, we can live in the darkest culture and powerfully shine forth the truth of the gospel. If our hearts are not consecrated, no amount of separation or man-made rules will keep us from the influence of worldliness (1 John 2:15-17). It will be in us no matter how high we build the walls around ourselves. (p. 209)

Joshua closes the book by talking about what we should expect when we arrive in heaven:

We’ll see that the Cross really conquered death and hell and washed away our sins. We’ll see the everlasting reward of believing in Jesus and the eternal hell of rejecting him. We’ll look back on our lives and see that God never did forsake us. Not even for a split second. That he was with us every moment – even the darkest moments of despair and seeming hopelessness. We will know in a deeper way than we can now imagine that God truly worked all things together for our good. And we’ll see that Jesus really did go to prepare a place for us, just as he said. (p. 230)

This is a terrific book! Joshua reveals a heart that loves God; his love for His Father shines through on every day! I enjoyed his transparent and conversational style. I am glad that he recognized early on in his life that he needed to ‘dig deeper’ in his relationship and knowledge of God. Christ followers would be a lot better off if they spent more time learning about God and His character; they’d also be a lot better off if their pastors were as committed and diligent as is this pastor. I hope this book is read by people from all walks of life, but particularly those who have a lot of influence on other people (pastors, for instance!).  

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Waterbrook Multnomah and generously provided by the author for review purposes.


Linda said...

This is one of those 'have to have it' books. You get your hands on such relevant books.

desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

Andrea Schultz said...

Hi Linda -

I agree; this is a 'have to have it' book! I can't take credit for choosing the books I am reading, though. The Lord is directing me to some fabulous authors, publishers, etc.. I pray these posts are glorifying to Him!

Blessings -


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