Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: The First Christian by Timothy Keller (Reviewed by Pastor Jon Reed)

5 out of 5 Stars
Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: Penguin/Dutton
Buy The First Christian
Reading Level: Easy

Jon Reed is the pastor at Sulphur Springs Baptist Church outside of Gray, TN. He has been married to his wife Leann for almost 20 years and they have two (soon to be three) wonderful boys. He is passionate about running, Reformation/Puritan theology, and reading. He enjoys Alabama Crimson Tide football, Baltimore Raven football, and Duke basketball (his oldest son had heart surgery on campus when he was three weeks old, and it turned him into a fan). He hopes to begin doctoral work at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (where he graduated with a Masters in 1996). He blogs at revrunjon.

The First Christian by Timothy Keller was a very short, and concise read but one that was very impactful as well. This book is a part of the “Encounters with Jesus” series, in which Dr. Keller sets out to answer some of life’s most pressing and philosophical questions by examining how Jesus related to people who were asking some of those questions. In this book, he details Jesus’ post-resurrection encounter with Mary Magdalene.

The question that Dr. Keller examines in this book is the question of faith. What is true Christian faith? And What difference does it make in a believer’s life? Mary Magdalene came to the tomb on resurrection morning absolutely hopeless and feeling defeated but after she encountered Jesus (a better way to phrase that would be to say after Jesus found her) her life was radically changed.

Keller says of faith that it is both “impossible and rational.” What does he mean? He means that it is impossible for a person in and of themselves to have Christian faith because of the flawed, sinful state that we all are in as people. So it is impossible for us to produce faith within ourselves and yet as the Bible affirms to us, “with God all things are possible.” Christian faith has as its author God Himself, and yet that doesn’t mean as Keller correctly points out that faith cannot be rational. Faith is a supernatural process so it is more than rational, but it is rational as well.

Most first century Jewish people would have believed that physical resurrection was impossible. There is no way that someone could rise from the dead especially someone who had been through the horror of crucifixion and someone that had been dead for three days. Yet after the resurrected Jesus found Mary she believed. She logically accepted the fact that Jesus was alive. It was a supernatural work within that was certainly more than rational, but she rationally believed as well. In laying out the story this way, Keller shows the importance of thinking within Christianity. Our minds can actually help strengthen our faith when we consider the evidence for Christ.

One of the strengths of the book is the section on the personalness of faith. Keller correctly says, “real faith is always personal.” Jesus personally sought out Mary, that is the grace of God. She was looking for a dead Jesus so she never would have found the living one; however, He found her. That is the grace of God and for me it is a powerful reminder of the love of God. Mary became in essence “the first Christian” (a person who believes in the death and resurrection of Jesus) because Jesus sought her out. Her life changing experience with Jesus was God’s initiative. It was a supernatural encounter, but then she also personally and rationally believed.

Mary began that day to fully experience and taste the love of God. She clung to Jesus after she met Him, but as Keller points out she didn’t need to because He would never be away from her again. He has promised to never leave her or forsake her, and He didn’t and He won’t. It was for Mary a life changing realization. She had lived her life trying to never be alone and now the promise, Mary you won’t have to be. I will always be with, and I know you better than you know yourself. Jesus loved Mary, that is why He sought her out, that is why He extended the grace of God to her and that is why she became “the first Christian.”

The First Christian is definitely a book that all Christians would benefit from. It shows us the depth of the love of God, the power of the grace of God, and it reminds us of the personal nature of the God that we serve. It is a book that could also be used evangelistically to show the reader that God is searching for them as well. He doesn’t want them to be lost but He wants them to be found. That is the grace of God, it is grace that is greater than our sins (and doubts) and it is grace that makes all the difference in the world.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received The First Christian free from Penguin/Dutton. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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