Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Write-Up: Joy in the Night, by Don West

Don West.  Joy in the Night: Stops along the Journey of an Itinerant Preacher.  TEACH Services, Inc., 2014. ISBN-10: 1479602965. ISBN-13: 978-1479602964.  See here to purchase the book.

Don West is a Seventh-Day Adventist itinerant preacher from Jamaica.  Joy in the Night is a collection of ten sermons that he delivered in various places, including Jamaica, Trinidad, the United States, and Mexico.  West provides background information for each sermon.

Some of the sermons were more comforting and grace-filled than others.  West does depict God as a comforter of those with problems and Jesus as a healer for the spiritually sick, and West says that we should not try to clean up our lives before coming to Jesus because we need Jesus to clean up our lives.  I do agree with West about the importance of spiritual solutions for the problem of depression, but I would add that people who are clinically depressed may also want to seek natural solutions, such as medication.  For a lot of people, singing hymns in the night and praying do not make them feel better.

I could identify with West’s story about the time when he was a student and he feared that he would not pass a particular course.  West’s conclusion was that God led him to be a minister, and God would see to conclusion what God started.  That sort of mindset gave me peace when I was a student, apprehensive about papers, exams, and presentations!

Some of the sermons were not particularly comforting, but they were thought-provoking.  In preaching about the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), West says that there are well-intentioned professing Christians who will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, and that there will come a time when the opportunity to seek God has passed.  As I read this, I had to think about the extent to which this message reflects the teaching of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament.  While West’s sermon did appear, overall, to be a faithful and understandable interpretation of the Parable of the Ten Virgins, I wondered if the Parable could be reconciled with more hopeful teachings (i.e., universalism).  While this particular sermon by West did not make me feel spiritually secure, I did agree with his point about the importance of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life: if someone has lots of Bible knowledge but the Holy Spirit is not moving that person to apply the Bible knowledge in a loving manner, then is that not a problem?  Believers should seek that oil of the Holy Spirit while it is still available, West was saying.

More than one sermon had the usual Adventist apocalypticism, an emphasis on Jesus Christ coming soon.  In one sermon, West says that one of the signs that Christ is coming soon is the increasing acceptance of homosexuality.  West quotes Luke 17:28-29, where Jesus likens the end times to the days of Lot, who fled Sodom.  My reaction to this point was two-fold.  First, the people of Sodom in Genesis 19 tried to gang-rape Lot’s guests, and we generally do not see that sort of thing among homosexuals today.  Second, Ezekiel 16:49 criticizes Sodom for not strengthening the hand of the poor and needy.  Should not that be mentioned when one is criticizing the sins of Sodom, or seeking to draw analogies between today and the time of Sodom?

One sermon in the book was especially intriguing and made the book a keeper, even though it annoyed me in some areas.  In this sermon, West was defending the idea that Jesus on earth had sinful flesh.  This is not to say that Jesus actually sinned, for West is clear that Jesus did not sin.  Rather, his point was that Jesus’ flesh had the same propensity towards sin as all other people’s flesh.  West is not always clear about how this practically played out: he favorably quoted someone who likened Jesus to a snake without venom (symbolizing sin), and he said that Jesus was born of the Spirit at his birth, showing that we all need to be born of the Spirit (born again) to overcome sin.  Do not these things make any propensity towards sin in Jesus’ flesh practically irrelevant?  What made most sense to me in this sermon, though, was West’s point that Jesus relied on his Father to overcome sin, and, in doing so, he was a model for our spiritual lives.

This sermon made the book a keeper because it went into Adventist history, particularly Adventist interaction with this doctrine about Jesus’ flesh.  Where the sermon got annoying (yet still intriguing) was when West was trying to argue that the Antichrist in I John 4:3 was the Roman Catholic Church.  I John 4:3 states: “And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (KJV).  West regards the doctrine that the Roman Catholic Church is the Antichrist as “the clear testimony of the Word of God” (page 96), but he acknowledges that Roman Catholics believe that Jesus came in the flesh.  He concludes, though, that Roman Catholicism actually denies that Jesus came in the flesh because it does not think that Jesus came in the same flesh that everyone else has, namely, sinful flesh.  West quotes the Roman Catholic teaching that Jesus was born without original sin.  Personally, I tend to interpret I John 4:3 in light of docetic beliefs that existed in John’s day, and I regard the view that the Roman Catholic Church is the Antichrist as mere interpretation and opinion, not as “the clear testimony of the Word of God.”

All of that said, I give this book four stars because it was an enjoyable and an interesting read, even if I did not agree with everything it said.

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

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