Laura Bardolph Hubers is the copywriter at Eerdmans. In her first of (we hope) many EerdWord posts, she reviews Ben Witherington III’s new book The Rest of Life: Rest, Play, Eating, Studying, Sex from a Kingdom Perspective.
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I’m going to begin with a story that may at first seem unrelated.
For the last two years, I taught high school English and Spanish. I remember one particular day – it was 7th hour and a gorgeous day outside, so the kids were extra squirmy. I was engrossed in trying to teach one of my favorite poems ever (Shakespeare’s sonnet 29) to ninth graders (an astonishingly difficult task). Another teacher walking past my classroom noticed a student misbehaving in some sneaky way that I couldn’t see. She popped in and asked to borrow him for a few minutes. I don’t know exactly what happened during their conversation, but he didn’t return until after class, when he came to me in tears and apologized for showing me disrespect.
“Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?” he mumbled in that way that 15-year-old boys do when they hate that they’re crying and you can see them.
“Shape up,” I told him. “I know you’re good kid, because I see you in the hallways and on the soccer field. Start acting like you’re that same good kid when you’re in my classroom.”
The reason this story came to mind is that while reading Ben Witherington’s The Rest of Life, I pictured him as a wise, kindly teacher sitting me down after class with a fairly serious look on his face. “You’re a Christian. I know, because I’ve seen you at work and at church. But start acting like you’re that same Christian the rest of the time.”
In the book, Witherington tackles five different aspects of the daily Christian life that he feels have received insufficient theological attention: rest, play, eating, studying, and sex (as the title suggests). As with his other books on Kingdom perspectives, (Imminent Domain, We Have Seen His Glory, Jesus and Money, and Work), his focus is on how the normal events of the Christian life should be . . . well, Christian. As he says in his introduction, “what Paul and other New Testament writers call us to is to live in the light of the future, live in the light of the Kingdom that has come, is coming, and shall come, letting our eschatological worldview shape how we view and should live out all the normal activities of a Christian life.”
Okay. But what does that look like? I think that’s what I liked most about this book. Witherington doesn’t just say, “you should live like you’re a Christian, because the Bible says so. The end.” He walks the reader through the reasoning for living in light of the Kingdom, always returning to God’s Word for support, but then goes on to make it practical. For me, at least, he frequently caught my attention with some observation or anecdote that made me think. How could I live like the Kingdom matters? What adjustments is Jesus asking for in my thoughts and actions and attitudes? I often pray to have a good attitude and work hard for God’s glory in the office. Every Sunday morning I try to prepare my heart for proper worship of God in church. But when I get home from work or worship, I think I forget that God cares. It’s not that I go home and do crazy things – last night after work, for example, I made dinner, talked to my husband, read my book, and made bread to bring to dinner with our friends tonight. But what does God think about that? Was I baking bread in light of the Kingdom to come? That sounds like a ridiculous question, but after reading the book I mean it seriously. Do I live as though Christ is with me all the time?
As my colleague Rachel did in her review of Work last year, I must here offer the disclaimer that I don’t agree entirely with everything Witherington says in the book. But the many points I did agree with and the reflection he invited me into both when I did and when I didn’t agree were well worth the read.
I think the chapter on play was my favorite, even if he did reopen an old wound by bringing up my least favorite moment in recent sports history (fellow Cubs fans will know what I’m talking about). Like many other topics that are given attention in this book, I’m not sure I’ve ever really heard play discussed quite this way — in light of the Kingdom of God. “Play is quite rightly seen as a celebration of life lived to its fullest, its fastest, its highest, its limits. And play is something that has some potential to unite use, if done well and wisely. . . . games, played well and fairly, fuel a theology of hope for the future. Playing is not a useless activity. It anticipates the joy of the eschaton.” What a lovely way to understand that part of my life.
I want to finish with one final quote from Witherington, one of the many spots in the book where I underlined and put a star in the margin as a spot I wanted to remember, because he words the beautiful central idea much better than I can: “The wall of partition between the sacred and the secular has been broken down by the death and resurrection of Jesus. All of life is to be hallowed, all of our activities should be doxological – done to the glory of God and for the edification of others.” Amen!Click to order Ben Witherington III’s The Rest of Life: Rest, Play, Eating, Studying, Sex from a Kingdom Perspective. Click on the images below to learn more about Witherington’s previous “Kingdom” books from Eerdmans.