The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts by Joe Rigney — A Book Review
By nature, I have a war-time mentality. I wish I could attribute it to a white-hot gospel fire in my bones, but it probably has more to do with seeing President Gerald Ford wearing a sweater and urging us to turn our thermostats back to sixty-two degrees when I was in elementary school. I could easily justify feeding my family beans and rice, rice and beans so that we could give more to missions. I would happily go on wearing my 1980’s-era black dress until Jesus comes and forego family vacations in favor of a bigger emergency fund in the bank. Fortunately, I had the good sense to marry a man with a much more balanced view of life. (Apparently, he missed President Ford’s speech.) Thanks to his influence, we eat a wide variety of food, my shoulder pads don’t get stuck in the door, and we go to fun places and do fun things with our children. However, even with nearly twenty-five years of his sensible voice in my ear, I really needed to read The Things of Earth.
Thoughtful Christians walk a tightrope when it comes to possessions, wealth, and all the good things that God has made. If we fall off the tightrope on one side, we realize that we are, in the words of Tim Keller, “making good things into ultimate things” by idolizing God’s gifts. If we fall off the other side, we are subject to the alienating guilt or self-reproach of trying to define just exactly where the line is between “excessive” and “appropriate.” Joe Rigney carefully lays a biblical foundation for his thesis, which is based in Christian hedonism, that knowing God makes his gifts “brighter and better and more potent.” The truth that “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him” is rooted deeply in God’s triune nature. As a relational being, He has made all things in order to extend and to communicate his fullness and as an invitation into his own triune life. Therefore, as creatures, we should not only view the whole creation as a revelation of God, but also rejoice in the wisdom of God’s provision for us in this world.
The richness of all this theological truth comprises the first four chapters of the book, and, quite honestly, is sufficient reason to read the book, even if Rigney had nowhere else to go with it. However, he pushes into the hard territory of practical application. Given all that we know about God, how do all his magnificent gifts fit into a God-centered life? Are possessions, comforts, and wealth tools to be used for his glory, or are they obstacles to the radical Christian life? What is the difference between strategic self-denial and the tragic loss of good gifts, and just exactly how does the demonstration of the fact that our treasure is in heaven and not on earth relate to the Great Commission?
Scholarly and richly researched, The Things of Earth is a challenging read, and will likely yield a few opportunities for the reader to delight in God through Rigney’s fresh descriptions and vocabulary. Even so, this is no ivory tower project, because the thesis of the book has been hammered out in real life through the author’s own relationships and through some wrong turns he has made along the way. And speaking of real life, why was the recipe for pumpkin crunch cake not given in the foot notes of chapter five? Seriously.
Although I pushed through this book like a seeker, my plan now is to live with it over a period of time. I want to ponder it as I hold my sweet grandson, or as I play Scattergories with my two youngest boys. I plan to let its words echo behind the sound of the Pemaquid bell as it carols the approach of a nor-easter and to feel the gracious provision of God in the steam on my face rising from that perfect cup of morning tea. For me, the things of earth might just be growing brighter, seen in the full light of Glory.
Disclosure: This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review.