Joe Rigney's exploration of the ways Christians should engage with creation in The Things of Earth is, quite simply, masterful. He deals with the complexities of the subject head-on and does so with gusto. He lays a solid theological foundation in the initial chapters of the book for his approach to the topic before plunging into the specifics. He starts the book with God and grounds everything he says in the Trinity. If rightly adopted, this foundation radically alters a believer’s view of the world and his interactions with it. Rigney presses home again and again throughout the book that "being Trinitarian requires being Trinitarian all the way down," and, in doing so, is preparing the reader to embrace a robust, well-rounded view of God and the created world.
Rigney does a wonderful job of not delving into the deeper elements of his argument until after he has presented the reader with the necessary framework within which to engage them. When Rigney reaches a point in his argument on which he anticipates pushback, he very considerately poses some of the likely questions and then tells the reader that he will deal with such matters at a later stage in the book, even going so far as to provide the specific chapter in which he does so. This fact alone makes The Things of Earth incredibly reader-friendly, as anyone can pick the book up and turn to the chapter that deals with a question he has with ease.
The Things of Earth is obviously the work of a well-read man. Among others, Rigney quotes from Augustine, C. S. Lewis, Isaac Watts, George Herbert, Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards, Douglas Wilson, Herman Bavinck, and William Shakespeare, and none of their contributions are “filler” or “throw-away." Rigney does a fantastic job of integrating the thoughts of philosophers, theologians, poets, composers, and authors down through the ages into a coherent whole.
Not only does Rigney present a well-integrated and convincing argument for enjoying the things of earth to the glory of God based on the thoughts of great men, but he does so while simultaneously presenting sound theological arguments from Scripture. He carefully exegetes numerous biblical passages and helps the reader navigate the boundaries, implications, tensions, and complexities of some of the most difficult texts. He takes an axe to the roots of a variety of legalisms, asceticisms, and "ungratefulnesses" that have sprung up in the Church today and addresses false thinking about humanity's relationship to the things of earth.
Rigney does a wonderful job of making complex arguments and deep thoughts intelligible to everyone. He clothes heavy theological terms that scholars debate in down-to-earth trappings through the use of story, simile, metaphor, and analogy. He weds poetry with theology and music with doctrine. His work is both theologically and aesthetically pleasing, and the reader will vividly experience a wealth of sensations when he surveys the beautiful landscape that Rigney paints.
Lastly, Rigney’s book puts a more “mature" face on Christian Hedonism. As a theological framework espoused by men like John Piper, Christian Hedonism emphasizes, among other things, that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever” (the Westminster Shorter Catechism) and “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him" (John Piper). The Christian Hedonist sees glorifying God as the chief end of man, sees God’s magnification as the ultimate good, and directs his entire life toward living for the fame of God’s name. As such, the Christian Hedonist seeks, in Piper’s words, to do things like “drink orange juice to the glory of God." Rigney fleshes out what it means to eat, drink, work, play, sing, dance, laugh, cry, and so much more to the glory of God, but he does so in a way that adds new dimensions to the framework of Christian Hedonism. He makes the enjoyment of things such as good food and books to the glory of God practical for the believer and catapults him into a mindset that seeks to both enjoy and glorify our Maker.
If it isn’t already obvious, I highly recommend Rigney’s The Things of Earth, and I believe that everyone can greatly benefit from at least one reading, if not more. Rigney seamlessly transitions from pastoral to scholarly voice and back again all throughout the book, which enables him to simultaneously comfort oversensitive consciences with Scripture and challenge false assumptions about God and the ways believers of all ages in all times ought to relate to him and the created order. No one can read this book and not have his thinking affected in some way, and no one should.
Editor’s Note: This review was originally published by the author on Goodreads.com but has been revised and updated for the purposes of this blog.