Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 01/19/2010 by Tim Challies.
Recommended. A theological autobiography which encourages the integration of theology and daily life.
Can you believe it’s been five years since we last saw a new book from Josh Harris (assuming we don’t count the re-titling and re-release of Not Even a Hint / Sex Is Not the Problem, Lust Is)? His last book was Stop Dating the Church, which released all the way back near the end of 2004. But the wait is over. Today he returns with Dug Down Deep, a book whose title is drawn from Jesus’ parable about the man who dug deep to build the foundation for his house (see Luke 6:46-49). The rains poured, the river rose, but the house on the solid foundation stood firm. You know the story.
Harris says, “digging down and building on the rock isn’t a picture of being nominally religious or knowing Jesus from a distance. Being a Christian means being a person who labors to establish his beliefs, his dreams, his choices, his very view of the world on the truth of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished—a Christian who cares about truth, who cares about sound doctrine.”
This is a book about sound doctrine. It is a book that encourages the reader to embrace that much-maligned word theology. “We’re either building our life on the reality of what God is truly like and what he’s about, or we’re basing our life on our own imagination and misconceptions. We’re all theologians. The question is whether we will be good theologians or bad theologians, whether what we know about God is true or false.”
The “I” in the book’s subtitle offers a hint at how Harris is going to go about teaching theology: “Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters.” In the book’s opening pages he writes, “This book is the story of how I first glimpsed the beauty of Christian theology. These pages are the journal entries of my own spiritual journey—a journey that led to the realization that sound doctrine is at the center of loving Jesus with passion and authenticity. I want to share how I learned that orthodoxy isn’t just for old men but for anyone who longs to behold a God who is bigger and more real and glorious than the human mind can imagine.” So maybe this book is best described as a theological autobiography (or would that be an autobiographical theology?).
Each of the chapters describes, defines and celebrates a particular point of doctrine and it does so from within the context of Harris’ own life. Among the topics he covers are the transcendence and the nature of God, the doctrines of Scripture, the uniqueness of Christ, the atonement, the Holy Spirit, and the church. In each case he shows how these truths have captivated him and he shows how they have transformed his life.
Let me pause here for one moment to make an observation.
Last year I came up with a tongue-in-cheek metric I call the Piper Factor. It measures how much what is said in a particular book has already been said (and usually said better) by John Piper. Trust me when I say there are some books out there that draw so heavily on Piper that I have to wonder how a publisher justified their existence. Lately I have extended the measure to the other Usual Reformed Suspects (Dever, Mahaney, Grudem, Carson, Packer, …). I look for the influencers behind a book and, if it is written by a Reformed author, I very often find that they come from a very narrow group of writers. I’m sure similar measures can be used across any field (try reading a book about technology that doesn’t rely on McLuhan and Postman, for example).
It is generally quite easy to measure the Piper Factor—you need only turn to a book’s end notes or bibliography and see who is there. How many of the book’s major points are drawn from one of these authors? How much of the book’s teaching is drawn from a rather narrow spectrum of similar authors? I can say that my own book drew very heavily from such authors. Harris’ book measures about the same. Packer? Check. Grudem? Check. Bridges? Carson? Check. Check.
Now let me say that the Piper Factor in no way indicates an actual problem with the book. In fact, I would be inclined to argue just the opposite. Instead it just shows that the writer has drawn primarily from a shallow pool of books that many of us have already read. In the case of Dug Down Deep this makes perfect sense since the book tells the story of how Harris came to the theological convictions he describes here. And, like all of us, he did so through good books written by godly men.
Back to the review and to my reason for raising the Piper Factor.
The greatest strength or the greatest overall contribution of Dug Down Deep is probably not in the content of what it teaches since this can largely be found elsewhere, in the books Harris draws upon. He is not advancing some radically new theological agenda or calling people to some new revelation of God. The strength of the book, what sets it apart from similar titles, is in the integration of Harris’ life with the theology he describes. Its strength is in its targeting of the audience he seeks to reach. Here he offers a fresh take on these points of theology, not only expressing them in his own life but also explaining why they are so dear to him. The book is particularly well-suited, then, to the younger audience that continues to follow Harris. Though there is benefit for any of us in reading again of the great truths of the Christian faith and in hearing how one believer has integrated these into his life, I would expect that the greatest benefit will be for younger Christians who, like Harris, have grown up in the church and who, like Harris as a young man, have heard these truths without actually embracing them. Here they can be mentored by a godly man whose passion for truth, whose passion for theology that extends to every area of life, is clear on every page.
Dug Down Deep is an excellent book and one I would be glad to recommend. I wouldn’t hesitate to hand it to any Christian but would be particularly pleased to see it in the hands of young believers. In fact, if my own children were just a few years older, I would hand a copy to each of them. And I’m not sure that I can give a book higher praise than that.