Zack Eswine. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes. Philllipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014. 272 pp. $14.99.
Many Christians struggle to read the Old Testament, getting lost in a sea of genealogies and laws, drawing facts and moralistic applications but failing to see God’s grand story of redemption unveiling at every turn. “The Gospel According to the Old Testament” series from P&R Publishing is designed to help believers see Christ and the gospel in the Old Testament. Written for pastors and laypeople, the series has the following stated aims:
- to lay out the pervasiveness of the revelation of Christ in the Old Testament
- to promote a Christ-centered reading of the Old Testament
- to encourage Christ-centered preaching and teaching from the Old Testament
Sometimes people joke that Solomon must have been “emo” when he wrote Ecclesiastes. And I at times have semi-jokingly said that I love Ecclesiastes because it’s so realistically pessimistic and so depressing. Everyone around me seems so happy-dappy all the time, but I’m often afflicted by a sense of the meaningless of it all, even as a Christian. In those moments I often run to Ecclesiastes to find camaraderie in these Scriptures, without which I’d seriously think something is wrong with me. But I myself had failed to see the deeper significance of Ecclesiastes; I’ve been reading the Old Testament through a redemptive-historic lens for years, but I’ve never really been able to see the gospel in the book of Ecclesiastes. This is why I was particularly excited about this latest volume in the GAOT series, Recovering Eden. Perhaps you don’t connect to Ecclesiastes at all; or maybe, you connect with the darkness of it but are wondering where the light is.
For both groups, Eswine shows that Ecclesiastes has something to say. Though the words and emotions communicated in Ecclesiastes are not what we expect from the Bible and from “good Christians,” they teach us about God by making us take a good, hard look at ourselves and at humanity in the contradictions, in the mess, in the pain. “He shows us what we were made for and then bids us to look at what has become of us…in Ecclesiastes God intends you to know him by requiring you to look plainly and without polish at yourself, your neighbors, and the world in which you and I live” (3).
It’s hard to see the gospel in Ecclesiastes because this portion of Scripture does not focus on God’s redemptive acts. Sometimes it might not even seem distinctly Judeo-Christian. But Eswine shows us that Ecclesiastes is in many ways like the sermons Paul preached to Gentiles who knew nothing about the Hebrew Scriptures and the God to which they point. Like those Pauline sermons, Ecclesiastes uses the common human experience rather than redemptive history to point to God, not as the Redeemer of Israel but as the Creator and Sustainer of the world; it introduces the tension and the problem without giving all the answers, inviting further questioning and deeper grappling.
Through Ecclesiastes, we learn “how a follower of God is meant to talk about the world as a fellow human being. We learn a wisdom kind of outreach, an evangelism or testimony as those who are human being wrestling with it all. It is as if the Preacher causes us to put off our religious persona and get honest about our human being in a fallen world” (12). As Eswine guides us through Ecclesiastes, he candidly, pastorally, and often poetically shows us not only implications for our personal journey and our knowledge of God, but how we can relate to those around us who do not know Him – to relate as human beings to human beings who do not know the Bible. The purpose is God, and the destination is Eden.
*Thanks to my friends at P&R for sending me a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review!