Sunday, October 26, 2014

Book Write-Up: Look and Live, by Matt Papa

Matt Papa.  Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ.  Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2014.  See here for Bethany House’s page about the book.

Matt Papa is a Christian recording artist and a minister.  His book Look and Live is about how Christians can find fulfillment, defeat sin in their lives, and be transformed by focusing on the glory of God the Father and Jesus Christ.  The title is based on a story in Numbers 21, in which the Israelites in the wilderness have been bitten by venomous serpents and find healing in looking upon a bronze serpent.  They looked at the bronze serpent, and they lived.  In John 3:14, Jesus likens that bronze serpent to himself.

My impression is that Papa holds to the Reformed tradition of Christianity.  Although he quotes C.S. Lewis and a variety of other figures (including comedian Louis C.K.!), the main influences on Papa appear to be Reformed: Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, and Tim Keller.  Papa also emphasizes such things as the sovereignty and glory of God, and he accepts the concept of God’s predestination of the saved.  At the same time, Papa is probably from the branch of Reformed thought that focuses on God’s love rather than God’s wrath (even though he does say that we all deserve hell).  In one of my favorite passages of the book, Papa questions how many Christians act as if God’s holiness is in opposition to God’s love when they say that God is loving, but also holy.  Papa argues that God’s holiness is about God being one of a kind, unique.

I have heard or read the sorts of things that Papa says in this book from other Christian teachers: that everyone thirsts to worship something and to get more out of life, that only God can fulfill us, that disaster results when we look to something or someone other than God for ultimate fulfillment, and that victory over sin comes, not through trying harder, but through looking to Jesus and falling in love with him.  Such a message may not resonate with everyone, but it has long resonated with me, since I do realize that I idolize many things (i.e., approval from others) and that this leads to disappointment.  I find looking to Jesus and being primarily enamored with him, however, to be easier said than done.  What I appreciate about Papa’s book is that he acknowledges this, and he offers tips on how to pray and read the Bible so as to cultivate an appreciation for God’s glory and beauty.  Moreover, while Papa does say that looking to Jesus is better than simply trying harder, he acknowledges validity in the objection that such a perspective may undermine the motivation to obey God in the believer’s life.  Papa states that obedience itself can be a means through which a person comes to know and to appreciate God better: did not Jesus say, after all, that the pure in heart shall see God (Matthew 5:8)?

Papa is open about his weaknesses, and he provided a number of stories and analogies that effectively illustrated his theological points.  Papa also did well to support from Scripture his argument that people need to taste God’s love and grace before they are motivated to obey: Paul often emphasized God’s grace in Christ first, and Jesus in Luke 19 reached out to the tax collector Zacchaeus before Zacchaeus decided to morally change his life.  In my opinion, people hungry to read about the love and the grace of God will enjoy this book.  I jotted down notes on a number of pages!

The publisher sent me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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