Repentance: The first word of the Gospel. Wheation, IL: Crossway Books. Paperback. 368 pp. $19.99. ISBN 1-58134-400-7.
Richard Owens Roberts is a former pastor and a lifelong student of spiritual awakenings. He helped establish the Billy Graham Center, and his private collection of some 9,000 volumes relating to religious revivals provides the nucleus of the Graham Center Library.
Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel is a veritable handbook on the topic of biblical repentance. The volume reflects the author's lifelong interest and knowledge of the topic. He correctly points out that repentance is the first word of the gospel as we can see by examining the first examples of preaching in the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus, the Twelve Apostles, Peter, and Paul. Repentance formed a bridge between these founders of the Christian church and the message of the Old Testament prophets whose calls to repent thundered through the centuries prior to the arrival of the Savior on earth.
This book represents a genre of Christian literature that seeks to promote the cause of revival throughout the church. Those who make historical analyses of the great revivals of history repeatedly report that genuine and comprehensive repentance on the part of God's people has always been the first component of mass revival movements. In response to this historical finding, many people have dedicated their ministry to the stirring up of biblical repentance. Roberts represents just such a group of people who seek to move the church toward revival.
This volume is homiletical in tone and format. Chapters deal with the Seven Myths of Repentance, the Seven Maxims of Repentance, the Seven Marks of Repentance, the Seven Motives to Repentance, and so forth. The book consists of generous quotations from Scripture regarding repentance. Readers will find some repetition of the material (for example, pp. 36 and 64). The guidelines for public confession of an individual's private sin are excellent (p. 196); his guidelines for the public confession of corporate sin are so restrictive and impossible to implement that one doubts if Roberts really supports any public confession of corporate sin in Christian worship (pp. 196-7).
Repentance was as counter-cultural in the First Century as it is in the Twenty-first Century. Some responded then, many did not. Some respond today, many do not. In this regard, Roberts's work is valuable. The reader is almost overwhelmed by the volume of material in the Bible relating to repentance. Roberts is correct that this central message of the Bible is relatively absent from the preaching calendars of today's pastors. It is difficult to preach a message that is unpopular. Those who follow a lectionary may address the issue more regularly than the pastor who searches for interesting subjects for a sermon series. The whole counsel of God includes repentance, and we need to hear its message in our churches.
Is Roberts's book balanced? No. Should it be? Perhaps not. In order to gain a hearing for an unpopular message such as repentance, authors and preachers and revivalists may have to focus almost exclusively on the topic. But the Word of God is balanced, and repentance is only one of its messages. We ought always to strive to be as balanced as is the Word of God. Repentance is indeed the first word of the gospel. But it is not the last word of the gospel.
The material in this volume raises some interesting questions. What is the place of repentance in Christian counseling? Does it have a rightful place in the counseling room? Or do we by default ignore the topic and leave it to preachers to address? And another set of questions arises: If the work of revivalists overemphasizes repentance and the ministry of contemporary churches underemphasizes it, how do we strike the proper balance? How much it too much, and how much is too little? Again, the balanced content of the teaching of Jesus and the balanced content of God's Word are our standards and examples for both clinic and church.
Several items of concern occurred to this reviewer while going through the book. Roberts boldly states that God hates both the sin and the sinner (pp. 70-71). He states that self-abhorrence is "immensely beneficial" for the Christian, and believers should strive to increase its levels (p. 312). The author's case examples repeatedly question the sincerity of people's expressed repentance leaving the impression that any amount of repentance one possesses is rarely enough. These themes echo the piety of previous generations, a piety that may have caused as much harm as help.
The author generally utilizes Scripture well, but not always. His discussion of Job's repentance in Job 42:1-6 is particularly disturbing. Roberts argues that before Job repented in sackcloth and ashes he abhorred himself (a possible translation of one of the Hebrew verbs in this passage). Then Roberts's proceeds to speculate as to what "Job must have included" is his self-abhorrence. He suggests that Job must have abhorred himself for twelve different sins, but Roberts fails to cite one single passage in the book of Job to support the author's speculations (pp. 312-316). These supposed sins in Job's life contradict God's assessment of Job that is repeated three times in the book (1:8, 22; 2:10). To speculate that the righteous Job forsook his prior pattern and began sinning during his trials is to commit the same error as made by Job's three unhelpful friends. This reviewer suspects that if Roberts were critically reading Roberts, Roberts would call Roberts to repentance for this misuse of Scripture. Interpretatively, we are on much safer exegetical grounds to interpret the retraction and repentance of Job in chapter 42 as a response to the revelation of God's omnipotence and omniscience in Job 38-41.
Notwithstanding these concerns, this is the book to read if someone wants to know what the Bible teaches about repentance.
Reviewed by JAMES R. BECK
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|Title Annotation:||"Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel"|
|Author:||Beck, James R.|
|Publication:||Journal of Psychology and Theology|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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