What do I think of Jeremiah Johnston’s book published by Whitaker House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Garth Brooks may be able to thank God for unanswered prayers, but unanswered questions are another matter. Unanswered questions can lead to people abandoning a Christian walk, such as what happened with Steve Jobs when he was just 13. In this book, Dr. Johnston sets out to answer some of the questions that are not normally answered. To be fair, he does answer some that are answered elsewhere often, such as the question of if Jesus rose from the dead and the last chapter is a chapter on the problem of evil, though it’s different from others in that it deals with the way Christians often think about evil instead of just “Why does a good God allow evil?”
Johnston’s book is engaging and easy to read. I have studied apologetics for years and there are many books that I frankly get bored during because I’ve read so much of it before, but not so with Johnston’s book. Johnston moves in between the intellectual and the personal in that he has not only a philosopher’s mind for what he does but he has the heart of a true pastor. This is also tied in with a thorough Biblical knowledge. Johnston not only wants to give the answers but he cares about the people to whom the answers will be given and this care is abundantly shown throughout the book.
Johnston starts his main arguments with having a faith centered on the resurrection. It’s a shame in our day and age that so many Christians know so much about the “end times” supposedly and how and when Jesus will return, but know next to nothing about the resurrection of Jesus. Plenty of people knew all about the Harbinger and about the blood moons and were watching those speakers on those topics, but how many of them are listening to Mike Licona, Gary Habermas, N.T. Wright, and William Lane Craig? How many of them even know who these people are? Christians get caught up in the sensational and ignore the essential.
Also, Johnston ends this section as all others with a rule of engagement on how to go and engage with those who disagree with the Christian faith. Each of these sections is a gift in itself.
The next chapter could be one of the most important ones Christians need to hear today and that’s the chapter on mental illness. As I have said before, mental illness is a serious problem in the church today and few know how to respond in love to silent sufferers. If we have someone come to the church in a wheelchair, few of us will shun such a person and hopefully no one would challenge him to a footrace. The tragedy with mental conditions is that you cannot see them for the most part. My wife and I both have Aspergers for instance and this is usually something we tell people because they can’t see it apparently. Some might guess, but it’s not as apparent as a wheelchair. How many people however fail to grasp how different the life is of someone with a mental condition and respond to them? Not only that, but we are often cruel to people who are suicidal, depressed, struggle with cutting, etc. by just telling them that they need to have more faith.
This has to stop.
If I keep going on that point, it will be a soapbox, so let’s get to the next one and that’s dealing with the paranormal, something not covered today. I did wonder sometimes where the line would be drawn in this one as I am a fantasy buff and I love worlds of mystery and magic. Still, the church is not doing a lot to address claims that are paranormal when in some ways, this is a gold mine that we could be jumping on. This tells us that people are open to a world that lies beyond simply matter. Why should the occult and New Age movement fill this vacuum? Why not let the church do that?
Next we come to Bible-ish Christianity. This is where Christians don’t really know their Bible as they should. They just have a simple knowledge and maybe not even from reading all the way through. I think this also happens too often when we get people to become Christians and immediately have them out doing evangelism before we seriously disciple them. (I could go a step more and say that I really don’t think we should even be focusing on conversions. Disciple someone first and make sure that they know what they’re getting into before they’re ready to say Jesus is Lord.) It would be wonderful if more of us could spend more time learning about what we claim to be the most important aspect of our lives. I’m not saying have no other interests. We all do. (We’ll pray for Dr. Johnston with his football interest) I’m saying that if you can devote time to your favorite TV show, you surely can to knowing Jesus.
Finally, Johnston has a section on suffering and a part he wants to hit at is how me-centric we are in our Christianity today. Everything is all about me and somehow we can know the will of God in our lives by looking at our experiences. It is a shame that too many people get their theology today from feelings and experiences instead of interacting with Scripture and with wise Christians past and present. Some might say that they are not trying to do theology, but everyone inevitably does theology. You just do good theology or you do bad theology, but there is no avoiding doing theology.
In conclusion, this is the kind of book that we need today. If I was a youth pastor at a church, I would be arranging a book study on this book right now! Young Christians will be better served studying this than by having endless pizza parties. Jeremiah Johnston has given the church a gift in this and we need to accept it and put it to use.