The Power of Words and the Wonder of God

Book Details

Discerning Reader Editorial Review

Reviewed 03/12/2012 by Mark Tubbs.

Recommended. To paraphase Max Lucado's endorsement: A splendid book that deserves a spot on the bookshelf of every Christian.

Words possess power - if not intrinsic power, they possess at least a derivative power of effect, which is to say that words do things and change things. Linguists call this the "performative" quality of words. Sticks and stones break bones, and names do hurt. We should not be surprised that words can have powerful effects, for the very first words ever spoken were commands from the mouth of God that created the world and created humans to inhabit it. Given the power of language and the wonder of God's words, we Christians do well to have a robust applied biblical theology of language. Such an applied theology is developed in The Power of Words and the Wonder of God.

Like Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, Stand, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, and The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, the book at hand is a collection of transcribed conference messages. Like any book of this type, potential drawbacks include uneveness among the messages/chapters, common perils of orality such as colloquialism and faulty spoken grammar, and a varying degree of interest amongst the topics assigned or chosen. I'm happy to report that this book does not suffer from any of the above. The editors did an excellent job, the transcribers corrected any faults (I'm inclined to think the speakers spoke well to begin with, although I have not listened to their messages at the Desiring God website), and the conference planning team meted out interesting topics in the first place, all of which have made for a compelling collection.

Following Justin Taylor's excellent introduction, Paul David Tripp's chapter uncovers the heart struggle behind all communication problems (more fully fleshed out in his 2000 book, War of Words). If you have read or heard Tripp more than once, you have likely read or heard one or more of his illustrations more than once, but the repetition is easily overlooked because of the cruciality of Tripp's core message. I never tire of Tripp's teaching, and neither does my wife (who does not share the same literary interests as I do, with a few exceptions, Tripp being one). Some egalitarian readers aren't likely to enjoy a certain page in this chapter, which seems to suggest a wife's place is in the kitchen cooking roast, while the husband's place is at work. Even if this traditional picture of gender roles makes you want to roast Tripp himself, I enjoin you not to focus on the meat and miss the message.

John Piper's chapter is entitled "Is There Christian Eloquence?" and displays Piper's classic bibliological approach. I have enjoyed his ability to build an airtight, scriptural argument ever since staying up all night to read the first few chapters of his magnum opus, Desiring God. Using 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 as his text, Piper explores whether Paul condemns persuasive eloquence or frivolous eloquence, or both.

Mark Driscoll returned to the Desiring God national conference in 2008 to speak on a topic that falls squarely within his wheelhouse: the use of satiritical, biting, straight-shooting language to teach the sheep, to unveil the wolves, and to fend off the dogs. Driscoll's turn of phrase is memorable, and he makes effective use of writers as diverse as Douglas Wilson (Prebsyterian) and Elton Trueblood (Quaker) to support his thesis that the use of such language is justified, especially given Jesus' and Paul's communication patterns.

What can I say about Bob Kauflin, who taught me almost everything I know about worship? His 2008 book, Worship Matters, and his pre-Worship Matters sermons and columns were seminal in my understanding of passionate, biblical worship. His chapter functions as a synopsis of Worship Matters, and my only complaint (because I hold my mentor-from-a-distance to such a high standard) was that he failed to devote a few more sentences to the regulative principle.

I have taken Sinclair Ferguson and Daniel Taylor out of sequence because they were newest to me. I have read smatterings of the Scotsman and have enjoyed him, but what I thought was going to be a run-of-the-mill exposition of James 3:1-12 turned out to be a gospel masterpiece of structure and content - which Piper notes in one of the conversations transcribed at the end of the book. Likewise, I thoroughly enjoyed Daniel Taylor's ruminations on Scripture's use of story (better put, God's meta-story) and the need for the Christian to develop a story-shaped faith. Reading Taylor is like reading Leland Ryken with a titch more narrative warmth. I have already placed Taylor's other books on my wishlist and the Ferguson books I own are now prioritized in the to-read pile.

This rich book concludes by way of Justin Taylor-moderated conversations with the contributors. These conversations not only allow us insight into the personalities and personal histories of the contributors, but allowed them to expand on topics they did not have time for in their messages. Their inclusion also allows the reader to see that these speakers possess uncommon wisdom and a wealth of experience about the use of words in the Christian life. We would do well to listen to these wise words about the way we use words to edify others and to glorify God.