What follows is an excerpt from Joe Rigney‘s excellent book The Things of Earth. I highly recommend purchasing this book and putting it at the top of your to-read list. As Doug Wilson has said, “Buy this book. Make it one of your earthly possessions. Read it to find out what that is supposed to mean.”
As someone who loves both John Piper’s “Don’t waste your life” and Doug Wilson’s “Living out the good life one family at a time,” I felt that Rigney navigated the tension between both mottos exceptionally well, leading readers to better enjoy God’s good gifts in a way that glorifies Jesus and drives us to live sacrificially.
One chapter I especially appreciated in The Things of Earth was Chapter 9: Sacrifice, Self-Denial, and Generosity. Here is a lengthy excerpt that I especially enjoyed:
“I’m of the mind that one of our long-term goals with respect to the unreached peoples of the world is that they one day craft poems and hymns that rival Herbert, Watts, and Wesley, that they compose God-honoring symphonies that surpass Bach and Handel, that they author stories and epics that portray the beauty of Christ as did Milton and Lewis, that they write theology and philosophy that outshines Augustine, Calvin, and Edwards (partly because they stand on the shoulders of such giants). And the prerequisite to all such God-entranced cultural endeavors is the ability to see truth, beauty, and goodness of God’s world, indeed, to see God in God’s world.
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not arguing that high culture making should be the first thing on our missionary agenda. Simple faith in Christ, obedience to God, and the knowledge of the Scriptures should be the foundation that we seek to lay among the unreached. But we ought to remember that the purpose of a foundation is to build a house on it. And the house that we hope to build as God’s fellow works is one filled with heartfelt worship of the triune God through poetry, art, philosophy, music, and literature (as well as good food, clean diapers, laughter, medicine, and fruitful labor). Thus we must lay a gospel foundation that acknowledges the goodness of God in his gifts as those who have been enriched by the goodness of God in his gifts.
And to those who scoff at the notion that the greatest theologians, philosophers, and culture makers in the history of the church might eventually hail from Somalia or China or Afghanistan, remember this one fact: a thousand years ago Vikings from Saxony, Norway, and Denmark were raping and pillaging their way across Europe. They worshiped the one-eyed, bloodthirsty god Odin and fought under the banner of the Black Raven. Before battle, they ate hallucinogenic mushrooms, painted themselves blue, and ran naked into the fray.
Five hundred years later, one of their heirs nailed a piece of paper to a door and ignited the Reformation. Five hundred more years, and their descendants settled the Midwest, invented hot-dish, and gave us Minnesota Nice. One of those descendants is the worship pastor at my church. From mushroom-crazed berserker to Christ-exalting worshiper. That’s what the gospel does. That’s what happens when the grace of God lands among rebels and turns them into friends of God.
That’s why faithful gospel proclamation must include a robust theology of the goodness of God’s gifts in creation. If God is calling the nations to know him as he has revealed himself in his Word and in the world, then a central element of discipling the nations must be teaching them to observe and delight in the beauty and glory of the triune God in nature, in food, in their families, in everything. Thus, like us, the nations and peoples of the world must learn to honor the giver by rightly enjoying his gifts.”