We live in a sin-stained, idol-filled, addiction-prone world and humanities’ greatest need is for redemption. However, for many Christians, bridging the gap that often exists between the Bible and the trial is incredibly difficult. Even those who are well-trained in hermeneutics struggle from time to time to apply God’s Word in a relevant way that speaks powerfully to the human condition.
With this in mind, Mike Wilkerson, counseling pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, has written a brilliant book entitled Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry. Drawing upon the Exodus event and real-life stories of addictions, hurt and idolatry, Wilkerson paints a vivid picture on how Jesus leads us to freedom. Some of the stories Wilkerson tells are absolutely gut-wrenching and will make even the most jaded reader wince. Yet that makes the picture of the redemption we have in Christ all the more beautiful.
After an introduction that orients the reader to the reason why sin exists, the first chapter, entitled “When You Suffer, God is Near” outlines how just as Israel suffered under the brutality of the Egyptians, we too suffer. Yet it is in our darkest hour of suffering that we can see the evidences of God most clearly.
The second chapter, entitled “Bricks Without Straw: How Long Oh Lord” encourages believers and those who are hurting most to cry out honestly to God in the midst of our hurt. We may not always receive an answer for why we suffer, yet the Christian can place his or her faith in a God who is always faithful.
Chapter three, entitled “The Passover: At Your Worst, God Gives His Best” Wilkerson shows how the Passover becomes a picture of the cross and a model for God’s dealings with us. This chapter centers on our need for forgiveness.
Chapter four, entitled “Crossing the Red Sea: Into a New Life Free from Shame” is really, in many ways, the hallmark chapter of the book. Here, Wilkerson describes how the actual event of the Exodus serves as a paradigm for our own freedom. We are remade because our Creator was unmade. Due to this process of recreation, we are not defined by our past struggles but by our new identity with Christ.
Chapter five, entitled “Demanding Manna: The Subtle Significance of Everyday Desires” was, for me, arguably the most convicting chapter because it deals with an issue that virtually every person struggles with: good desires turning into idols. Here, Wilkerson discusses how even the most basic, natural desires can and often do become idols when they take the place of God. This is a brilliant chapter and full of insight that every pastor needs.
Chapter six, entitled “The Golden Calf: Volunteering for Slavery” is an outstanding chapter on idolatry. While much of this can be read in Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods, Wilkerson nevertheless brings his own unique spin to the discussion. Ultimately, however, this chapter feels too borrowed from Driscoll’s own Death by Love and Counterfeit Gods by Keller. That said, it is nice to see both Driscoll’s and Keller’s works synthesized into a coherent system.
Chapter seven, entitled “The Covenant-Keeping God: Our Only Hope for Lasting Change” warns the reader that change and freedom is not possible by a simple act of the will. Our redemption is ultimately found in resting in the God who is faithful to His covenant. In many ways, freedom rests not in “doing” but in “being”. This chapter provides several needed warnings against such things as “idol-hunting” and “morbid introspection”. It is a brilliant chapter and will provide much food for thought.
Chapter 8 is entitled “Is God Your Promised Land” and asks the reader to consider that question very closely. Freedom from sin is not just for the sake of freedom—it is freedom to know God better. If God is not our “Promised Land” we are elevating freedom from a particular sin to the level of an idol. This too is an excellent chapter and is a tremendous reminder for many who find themselves in counseling situations.
Finally, the epilogue and appendix provide short exhortations as well as a helpful summary and synthesis of the book. My only regret here is that another chapter was not devoted to Wilkerson for the very heavy topic of religious addiction, which he covers in a mere page and a half in the appendix. Overall, however, the epilogue and the appendix serve their purpose well.
In conclusion, Wilkerson’s book is a tremendous book that covers the some much needed ground in truly biblical counseling. Redemption is highly readable and practical. I found myself repeatedly needing to place the book down and worship our God who has redeemed us. While the book is short, clocking in at 176 pages, it is a heavy book and is not light reading. In many ways, I wish this book was made mandatory for every believer taking a hermeneutics class because it teaches one how to apply the Bible accurately and practically. It is my prayer that Wilkerson’s book finds its way into the hands of many pastors.
*Thanks to Crossway Publishers for providing me a free review copy of this book*