Friday, October 10, 2014

Swindoll's Abraham: An Imperfect Biography of an Imperfect Giant

Abraham is highly respected by the world's three monotheistic religions.  The Bible calls him "the father of faith".  And Charles Swindoll is a seasoned Bible teacher and writer.  So I was sorry to find a couple major blemishes in Swindoll's new biography of the patriarch.

The biggest shock was how "gospel centered" this book is not.  Although Swindoll carefully covers everything from Genesis 12 to 24 as well as many New Testament references to Abraham, he manages to minimize the many parts of this story that point forward to Jesus and the cross.  A modern Jew would disagree with little in this book.   
  • He missed what Paul taught in Galatians 3:17 that when God made promises to Abraham's "Seed", the Seed is Jesus.
  • He missed the entire chapter of Hebrews 7, explaining how Melchizedek (the priest who met Abraham as he returned from conquering the kings) is a type of Jesus.
  • He spent only four sentences mentioning that Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac pointed forward to Jesus' death on the cross (pg 203).
  • Swindoll correctly states that Genesis 15:6 ("Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"), is "one of the most significant verses in the Bible" (pg. 57).  But he only gives it five paragraphs, and doesn't mention until 3 pages later that the faith that gives righteousness must be in Jesus' work on the cross (pg. 61).
Swindoll writes with the assumption that his readers are Christians, and thus places the gospel message in the appendix.  But Christians need to be "evangelized" just as often as everyone else, and the gospel is not an appendage to the story of Abraham; it is the central message.

There is actually more law than gospel given in this book.  Swindoll's Abraham dwindles into a collection of good moral precepts and principles.  This is not bad: we do need to heed the Bible's moral precepts, and Swindoll delivers them.  He just does not explain much how we will find the power to keep them. 

My other, smaller critique, is that Swindoll quotes A. W. Tozer's analogy that explains the way God's sovereignty and man's responsibility interrelate.  When you think about their analogy, though, it quickly breaks down (about like trying to explain the Trinity using an egg, or water).

Even given these problems, this book is still one that I recommend for several reasons:
  • Swindoll makes clear just how unmerited God's election of idol-worshiping, lying-in-a-pinch Abram was.  This makes God's graciousness shine.
  • Swindoll writes with a pastor's tender heart.  For example, he does a beautiful job using the story of Hagar to speak to today's single mothers.
  • He does a good job blending accurate exposition with relevant application.
  • It is God, not Abraham, who emerges as the hero of this story -- which shows that Swindoll has gotten the most important thing right.
  • Swindoll is just a good writer!
Swindoll's book is flawed.  But so was Abraham.  And yet God chose to use him.  May He do so with this book as well. 

I received this book for free from Tyndale in exchange for a review.  My review was not required to be positive.

No comments:

Post a Comment