Book Review - 11/18/13

Delighting in the Law of the Lord: God's Alternative to Legalism and Moralism, Jerram Barrs, 2013, Crossway, Wheaton, Ill., ISBN 9781433537134, 330 pages, $25.00, softcover.

For many Christians, the idea that we are called to obey God's Law smacks of the man-centered religion the Gospel message shatters. What if, however, we've allowed unbiblical ideas of freedom and comfort to shape how we interpret the Law? What if we are ignoring and undercutting a critical aspect of our understanding of God?

Reasoning faithfully from the Scriptures, however, Jerram Barrs, a professor of Christianity and contemporary culture at Covenant Theological Seminary, calls believers to return again to study God's Law through his new book, Delighting in the Law of the Lord. Over 24 chapters, Barrs clearly shows that the Law reflects the character and holiness of God and draws out the role that it plays in the Christian's life.

Barrs begins by asking readers whether "the good life," that is, the best way for mankind to experience fulfillment, is to be found in following the path of the Lord or in the various ideologies on tap in the world. The conclusion he reaches (obviously) and hopes readers will come to is that God's Law, far from being a joy-killing restraint on human flourishing, is the perfect order for all things because it represents the Creator's plan for the creation He called "good".

Through the lens of Psalm 19, he expounds the ways the Law reflects the splendor of God. Barrs then recounts the giving of the Law, delving into the context to show that it was God's gift of love to His people whom He had just redeemed from slavery in Egypt-that the Law was given as a guide to people who already enjoyed His unmerited favor, not as a path to salvation. This idea becomes Barrs' key thesis, driving the rest of the book as he builds a compelling case that God's Law and God's grace go hand-in-hand.

He looks at the way Christ explains, applies, and fulfills the Law, asking readers implicitly why we who are so quick to ask "What would Jesus do?" are so seldom ready look to God's Law to ask (as Jesus did), "What does the Father say?" Barrs eloquently recounts the aspects of the curse of sin (which God's holiness demands), how Christ overcomes that curse by His sacrifice, and how healing from the curse will come in eternity, but slowly and incompletely breaks into our lives on earth to encourage us in hope.

Barrs examines and critiques the ways that various Christian traditions have understood and applied the Law through the centuries, and spends several chapters parsing the difference between loving and living God's way (using the Law as our guide) and adding and enforcing our own extrabiblical rules (legalism). He closes by discussing how we should teach the Law from the Old and New Testaments, considering its role in our families, in the Church, and in secular society.

Delighting in the Law of the Lord is a breath of fresh air, bringing conviction and clarity to the Church's ongoing discussion about Law and grace. He argues winsomely that a hard distinction between God's Law and God's grace is a misreading of Scripture and leads us to reject any restraint on our behavior, to generate our own "law" to provide order, or to flounder in our trust in all of God's Word. He shows over and over that the Law is not negative, but beautiful and perfect, that even in its harsh role of convicting us of our sin, it overflows with God's love by pointing us to the Savior. He shows that this same Law that condemns without Christ becomes the path by which we follow His commands once we have been redeemed. He leaves readers with a steadfast exhortation to study the whole of God's revelation and apply it faithfully to His great glory.

Justin Lonas

Target: All
Type: Practical Theology
Take: Highly Recommended

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