ROOTED by J.A. Medders and Brandon D. Smith (FAN AND FLAME Book Reviews)
J.A. Medders and Brandon D. Smith. Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians. Rainer Publishing, 2016. 148 pp. $10.97.
“Here’s the thing,” she said, “I don’t think God wants us to stress about this.”
That’s a comment I overheard at a recent dinner party. Several Christians were talking about God, specifically one of his attributes.
When taken literally, yes, I agree. Let’s not stress; let’s not have our blood pressures increase because the finite can’t fully comprehend the infinite. This wasn’t what bothered me, though. It was the dismissive tone with which the comment was made, as though she was really saying, “Why bother with this theology stuff.”
Why bother? We bother because God has revealed himself with the intention that we, his children, would know him clearly—not exhaustively, of course, but clearly. The prophet Hosea, despite their frequent and severe failures, emphatically encouraged God’s people to bend their lives so that they might know God better. “Let us know,” he said, “let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3).
Authors J.A. Medders and Brandon D. Smith wrote Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians to help us do this very thing: to know the Lord. Additionally, what they argue so well throughout the book, as does Russell Moore in his foreword, is that knowledge about God is for the purpose of living. This is why the subtitle is, “theology for growing Christians.” Theology is the water and the sunlight that makes acorns become oak trees.
Rooted is not a long book; it’s only 148 pages. In it, Medders and Smith cover four aspects of theology: the Trinitarian nature of God; the words of God; sin and the gospel; and the church and the future. Obviously, we could fill bookshelves, maybe even small libraries, with books on each of these topics. But the enormity of these topics and the abundance of resources about them does not negate the need for fresh exploration, especially for those unfamiliar with the terrain. This is why we are using it in our church’s High School small groups. But it would be great for a new Christian of any age or even for an older Christian who, for whatever reason, never progressed in his or her theological training. The authors’ use of punchy metaphors make it all very accessible. For example, this one about Jesus’s humanity:
Jesus isn’t some kind of watered-down version of God. He isn’t the pre-algebra standard of Godness. Jesus is full on, high-octane God. (43)
I suppose some might object to this sentence, calling it “imprecise language.” What does “high-octane God” actually mean? This way of speaking, however, when it grows out of the Bible—which it certainly does for Medders and Smith—might communicate better and with more force than using only the expected theological propositions.
It’s writing like this that causes old truths to be heard afresh. I think that’s one reason the authors of Scripture did this so frequently. Just to give you one example, consider Romans 13:11–13, “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. . . . The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness . . . . Let us walk properly as in the daytime.” Here, Paul uses the metaphors of ‘sleeping and waking’ and ‘light and darkness’ to stress the urgency of following Jesus. The alarm clock is ringing, people! Wake up and follow Jesus!
I should mention that a few times, at least for me, the conversational tone and metaphors fall just a bit short (e.g., “an atomic bomb of grace,” ). But regardless, their attempt to pair fresh language with sturdy, biblical theology is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book.
We’ve had Rooted in our church bookstore for several months, and I’ll be happy every time we have to restock the shelf with more copies.
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A Few Favorite Quotes
We are all theologians. While there are a select few on planet earth who get paid to be theologians, the truth is that all humans are in some respects a theologian—we all have thoughts of God, and they are either right or wrong. Theology is all about God: all God is, all he has done, all he does, and all he will do . . . Theology isn’t simply for the mind—it’s for life. (22–23).
Theology is a map for us sojourners. (24)
Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6); he is theology in the flesh, theology with ten fingers and ten toes. (25)
Typing a question and finding an answer is as easy as opening an app on a cell phone. Many difficult questions about theology can be found in the same way, however God is more than a search result. A person can’t ultimately “Google” him. (46)
To Jesus, the Old Testament isn’t filled with cute fairytales and fables—it’s filled with truth. It’s interesting to notice that one of Jesus’s common rebukes goes something like this: “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” It’s so obvious that God spoke through the Scriptures that he wonders aloud if doubters had read it at all.” (73)
Jesus hung on the cross, not as some kind of motivational poster, but as a Savior who was literally paying for our sins and giving us his righteousness, his perfect standing with God the Father. (107)
Since Jesus breathes, death is like a housefly to the saints. It’s annoying, but it cannot ruin the Christian. (110)
Christ conquered death on its home court. (120)
J.A. Medders also hosts the podcast, Home Row, which I love and wrote about here.
[Picture by Matthew Smith / Unsplash]