My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In my experience, Christians often struggle with a sense of assurance – whether its assurance of salvation or assurance that God loves them. Some of the reasons may be because they never felt quite loved or accepted by their parents when they were kids. At other times, it seems to be related to how those they were deeply entwined with betrayed them, as in a disastrous marriage. And still at other times it may be the result of poor biblical instruction. Or it might even be a mash up of all of these background experiences, so that as they come to God they perceive him through this messy, mangled set of lenses. Ricky Jones, Pastor of RiverOaks Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has recently penned a 125 page paperback, “Too Good to Be True: Christian Hope in a Hopeless Age,” where he tackles assurance for the Christian. Much of the book is autobiographical, showing how the author himself came at God from a background of insecurity and uncertainty. It is easily written, and easily read.
“Too Good to be True” walks the Christian reader through the various aspects of why they should trust God and know that he really does love them. As Jones rightly observes, “your faith is only as helpful as what you have faith in” (92). And further, not “one of us can really do anything to change the opinion of another person. However, we can change whose opinion we value most” (106). In a nutshell, this little book is a series of Gospel pep-talks for those whose hope is pooped out! It is fun to read, encouraging, and softly challenges our grumpy perceptions of God and his dealings with us.
My only beef with the book is the chapter “God’s Children or His Pets?” There the author rightly explains that God sees us as his children, that he deeply loves us even when we make a mess of our lives. The problem comes when Jones states that God “is never disappointed in us; he only sees us through eyes of love, pride, and joy” (84). I find the notion that God is never disappointed in us an unfortunate and unsatisfactory thought that may well set believers up for discouragement. Allow me to explain. Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1.3); he is the face of the Father in human form. And Jesus expressed disappointment in his disciples, whom he deeply loved, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith” (Matthew 8.26); as well as when his disciples showed a real lack of confidence and he responded, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you” (Matthew 17.17)? And then that one time when he told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16.23). So, it seems unhelpful to say that God is never disappointed in us. I think we can happily say, instead, that the Father loves us so seriously and deeply that he desires the best for us, and when we settle for less, his deeply loving heart is disappointed in us. Yet he goes on loving us, and growing us to be more like his Son.
All in all, “Too Good to be True” is a delightful book, full of Gospel encouragement. One way it could be valuably employed is as homework reading in a pastoral counseling setting. Also, if a reader is wrestling with assurance, this little piece might be just the thing to build some buoyancy. I gladly recommend the book.
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