Saturday, January 7, 2012

Book Review- the World Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips

I don't think of Dan as the best writer or thinker, some of his historic sermons are terrible, when he is posting about the Bible on his blog he's usually wrong, (although at Pyromaniacs he's tolerably good) and his high Calvinism drives him to wonky conclusions.  That was my expectation going in, but I'm happy to say I was pretty wrong about it.  Here's what has stayed with me after reading the book.
When you open it you are treated to a very biblical, very basic, very concise, and yet very powerful summation of what it means to have life, what it means to die in Adam, what sin is, what total depravity means, and the necessity of being born again.  His exegesis is very moving and I found myself continually flipping pages. The only thing I could think to ding him for was a few minor misses, for example when he talks about the ancient concept of heart is really more akin to the modern concept of head and doesn't quote Luke 5:22 "Jesus asked them Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?" But that's superfluous. It's really one of the best sections in any book I have ever read.
And here is the but portion that causes me to rate it lower than 5 stars: the book doesn't keep the momentum up.  Had Dan been able to do so his book would go down as one of the few must reads that I'm going to make sure my children read alongside The attributes of God by Pink, The Holiness of God by Sproul, Knowing God by Packer, but it doesn't quite. 
There are really three books trying to come out of this one and it would have been better to pick one and make it happen: there is the book of Christ, where he goes through the prophecies in the Old Testament and shows how Christ is a savior, there is the explanation of the Ordo Salutis and what all the ancient doctrines mean and why they matter, and then there is a dressing down of the modern Charismatic movement.  (Obviously the first and second are somewhat related.) The third I have the most problem with, not because I disagree with his conclusions, but because they are in there at all, it makes less of scripture. Now don't misunderstand me, he is still using scripture, but he takes it out of the drivers seat and makes it subordinate to his logic. "I'm right, this scripture proves it" rather than "this is what it says, this is what that means and why it's important." There are a few gems, like the analogy of the dead fish floating belly up in a current to a spiritually dead person not struggling against the world, but by in large it's not that good.
So somewhere about the half way point the book falls apart and becomes something that was perhaps better posted on a blog. I'd rate it as a two stars not because it's bad per se, but because it's such a radical drop in quality from the amazing heights he was treading on. The very last chapter has much more in common with the first half of the book and it's once again excellent, the drop in quality is most noticeable at that point.
Oh and the personal touch he puts into the book is both hit and miss. I very much liked how he translated the Scriptures himself, it gave it a kind of "I worked really hard to understand this, and now I'm going to help bring out the obvious meaning" and I really disliked the colloquial slang. I mean really disliked. It sounded at times like a Californian surfer was writing it, thus taking the whole timelessness right out of the book.
Would I recommend it? Yes. Was it worth my time? Yes. If someone told me which chapters to read and which to skip would I have been happier? Yes. Should you buy it and read it? It's worth the money, particularly if you are like me and read things on your Kindle.

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