Some years ago I read a book written by J.I. Packer called God’s Words: Studies of Key Bible Themes. More than a concordance, less than a book of theological essays, it explored the meanings of certain heavy theological and doctrinal words Christians take for granted. I found the book enlightening and fun. We Christians find certain things “fun;” what can I say?
Then there was also R.C. Sproul’s Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Another book which explored the vocabulary, semantics, and Greek roots of words Christian use so often, so mistakenly, and so lightly.
Now, Keri Wyatt Kent has written Deeper into the Word, a book very like the two predecessors. I never quite know what to do with a book that goes over ground others have ploughed before. Honestly, all one can do is compare among the three. Packer is a theologian. Sproul is a philosopher and an expert of Christian history. Keri Wyatt Kent is a writer and Christian radio personality. All three are populist in their way, people who want to evangelize to certain segments of the world and show Christians the beauty, simplicity, and truths of the Christian faith.
Deeper into the Word is an accessible book. Like the other three, it is written to its audience. The author writes like one who has spoken to a radio audience, whereas Packer often seems to write to those who have been Christians for a long time, and Sproul writes like a professor. All three are evangelical and ambassadorial in their own way but many times I find myself nervously doubting Kent’s assertions. Oftentimes, she doesn’t go as deep into the word or the historical context of a word as she thinks.
For instance, when she states, “Once, when a blind man came to Jesus for healing, the disciples asked a question that reflected the common theology of the day: ‘Who sinned, this man or his parents?’ Physical afflictions was punishment for sin, in their minds.” I find myself asking (because I know the answer from reading Sproul and Packer) “Why doesn’t this author explain why Jesus’ disciples thought a baby could sin in its mother’s womb?” There are other examples of that kind of slippage. And often, she gives other theological definitions of a concept – forgiveness, for instance — instead of really going deeper into the Greek meaning of the word.
Although one of the book’s aims is to explore the roots of words and doctrines, oftentimes Kent makes assertions that need proof: “Pride is the first … of the traditional sins … because it is in many ways the root of all sins.” Possibly true, but what does she make of the Biblical verse, “The love of money (avarice, covetousness) is the root of all evil.” The author uses the definition of words to bring in larger Christian contexts for the reader to meditate on. A good thing. But when one reaches these areas, the experienced reader will discern that some of the theological assertions are merely one denominational view of looking at the concept.
For instance, Kent declares, “The Sabbath, like other ancient practices, is a symbol of things to come – of our ultimate Sabbath rest with God.” Yet she makes a subtle error. First she doesn’t discuss the difference between the Lord’s Day ( the First Day of the Week, the Jubilee, Christ making all things new) and the Sabbath (the seventh day.) Secondly, she doesn’t show how Paul states that the Sabbath rest has arrived, that we are striving to enter into a Rest that is to come, yet which is also here and now.
While Deeper into the Word is a book that some might read without quite trusting, others – new Christians– will be greatly helped by it. In the long run, it contributes to a larger conversation began by Sproul and Packer.
Deeper into the Word: Reflections on 100 Words from the New Testament
By Keri Wyatt Kent