February 1st, 2009
Suffering and the Goodness of God, ed. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008. 253 pp. $23.99
Suffering and the Goodness of God is the first book in a new series being published by Crossway Books entitled Theology in Community. This series promises to provide Christocentric answers girded with the truths of Scripture to the many philosophical, theological and real-life challenges facing Christianity. The writers do not pretend as though we live in a vacuum. They readily acknowledge there is nothing new under the sun, but they also recognize the need for clear and concise biblical answers to the problems.
The editors are Christopher W. Morgan who is professor of theology and associate dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University. Robert A. Peterson is professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary. They have co-edited two other books: Hell Under Fire and Faith Comes by Hearing. Some of the writers for this volume include Walter C. Kaiser Jr.,Dan G. McGartney and John M. Frame.
Summary of Suffering and Goodness of God
The book is written in a systematic fashion beginning with the need to address the problem today and culminating with a look at the historical journey of the problem of evil in general. Along the way, you are treated to two chapters by Walt Kaiser on suffering as found in the Old Testament and two chapters by Dan G. McCarney on suffering in the New Testament.
Those four chapters are key to the entire book. Thus, they follow immediately after Robert W. Yarbrough’s chapter on the contemporary perspectives of the problem. In that chapter, Dr. Yarbrough offers eleven various theses that have been used to interpret the paradox that is suffering and the goodness of God.
Chapters six through ten delve into the theological and philosophical issues of the problem. Chapter six helps to explain how suffering is the only reason we are able to see salvation. Chapter nine is a poignant chapter showing how one deals with cancer while giving all the glory to God for His grace and mercy.
I will be honest, when this book first came across my desk; I looked at it with boredom. I have read numerous books on the problem of evil and the problem of suffering and the paradox that is how all these things can correspond with the truth that God is wholly good. However, as I began to read the book, I quickly realized that this was not like all of those other books. Sure, it has an element of philosophy to it and it can be dry at times, but the fact of the matter is, these men treated the problem as pastors dealing with their church members in a time of tragedy.
The strongest point of the book as a whole is the four chapters centered on the Old and New Testaments. These chapters help to elucidate the issue as not one of isolation but one that is common throughout all of history. The importance of the solution to this common challenge to the Christian faith is being rooted in the Scriptures should not be simply glossed over. Most people who raise this issue never look to the Scriptures other than to make their challenges. By remaining rooted in Scripture, we are shown that while yes, this is a problem, it in no way causes Christianity to crumble from its own claims. If anything, God, through Christ, is shown all the more glorious and merciful.
Yet another strength to the book is who the editors chose to write what chapters. For example, John Frame writing a chapter on the problem of evil seems only right since he has a trilogy on the theology of Lordship. Having John Feinberg write perhaps one of the most moving stories of God’s goodness during a personal time of tragedy that should is a must read, is even more enhanced by the fact that he is one of the foremost theological ethicists today.
However, whenever a book like this is written, there is bound to be some weaknesses. However, those are primarily philosophical in nature. Because of the common nature of these weaknesses, I will not deal with them in the context of this review.
If you are going to get one pastoral book on the problem of suffering, I would recommend this volume. The standard of excellence has been set for the rest of the series. It is my prayer that they maintain this standard throughout. For in so doing, all of Christendom will be the better.