By Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington Published by Crossway Books, 2009 160 pages, $14.99 Available on Amazon.com
This little book is truly a great treasure. Weighing in at only 160 pages and attractively bound in a compact, pocket-sized volume, The Bookends of the Christian Life might not look like much at first. But it sure packs a wallop. Here is a book that will not only show you the power of the gospel but also show how it affects your everyday life. And all in such a small book.
Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington, that dynamic team that brought us The Great Exchange: My Sin for His Righteousness back in 2007 (which, by the way, is another fantastic book, if you would be so kind as to accept a book review within a book review…), have truly delivered a masterpiece of encouraging theology for layperson and clergy alike. Bravo!
The hook for this treatise (I was going to say “the hook for this book” but that just sounded silly…), the main concept on which the whole book hangs, is that there are two great theological truths upon which Christian living rests. Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington compare Christian living to a row of books, a series of different aspects that make up our lives. “The books… represent all the things you do—both spiritual and temporal. There’s a spiritual book for each activity of your Christian growth and service,” and also temporal books which are “intermingled with spiritual books on our bookshelf, since all our activities are to be informed and directed by the spiritual dimension” (Bookends, 13–14). On a bookshelf that’s as complex and crazy as our lives often are, we are in great need of sturdy bookends to provide stability, cohesion, and strength. “Both the self-righteous Pharisee in his smugness and the guilt-laden person in his desperation have one thing in common: their bookshelf of life has no bookends” (Bookends, 15). Bridges and Bevington suggest what they think these two bookends are (and ground their decision in Scripture and careful study) and spend the rest of the book unpacking each bookend, why it’s important, how it helps, and how to apply it to our lives.
When I first heard through the grapevine that Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington were working on a new book together, I was excited. When I heard about the “bookends” concept, I was intrigued. And when I heard what they chose as their two “bookends,” I was thrilled! And I wasn’t the only one. Josh Harris, a pastor and author I admire, loved the concept so much that he preached an excellent sermon series on “the two bookends” at his church in anticipation and admiration of this book.
So what are the “two bookends?” Bridges and Bevington, with the support of Scripture, suggest that the two bookends that keep us united to Christ are 1) the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and 2) the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bookends of the Christian Life explains why these are the bookends, how we can lean our books (our entire lives) on them, and how they help us grow.
I found this book extremely helpful and encouraging to me. Their chapters on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, how my sins are charged to Christ’s account and His righteousness credited to mine, is absolutely beautiful. In theological circles today, the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness has often recently come under attack by some heretical movements. To read such a powerful and simple exposition of this doctrine is so comforting. And the authors don’t just describe imputation, they go to great pains to show how and why this doctrine is so crucial to our faith, to our assurance, and to our life as Christians. If imputation seems to be simply a cold, sterile doctrine to you, this book will make it living, fresh, and vital. It’s beautiful.
The five chapters on the power of the Holy Spirit are also masterful. We do not have the power within us to withstand even the least of the temptations we face daily. Praise God for the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. These chapters are so vivid and powerful, so encouraging and challenging. In my experience, I find that often in many Reformed churches, the doctrine of the power of the Holy Spirit is downplayed, maybe even neglected. Whether this is from a lack of understanding, or perhaps a fear of sounding “too charismatic,” I don’t know. But this book is a fine introduction to the Holy Spirit and how He works in the Christian’s life. Bridges and Bevington show the vital necessity of leaning on the Holy Spirit and drawing on His power to live the Christian life.
Along the way, Bridges and Bevington draw our attention to three “Gospel Enemies,” sins and attitudes that keep us from relying on the two bookends. These enemies are self-righteousness, persistent guilt, and self-reliance. Like he did in his book Respectable Sins (another fantastic book by Jerry Bridges, if you will allow another review within a review…), Jerry Bridges does a great job of showing how sinful we really are, really drawing our attention to the heart of our sins. They also provide us with powerful ways to combat these sins.
After concluding both sections with powerful chapters on leaning on the respective bookends, Bridges and Bevington conclude the book with an examination of “The Bookends Personal Worldview.” They show how a robust understanding of the two bookends can lead to a stronger, more God-glorifying view of your Christianity, your life, and the world around you.
This book comes highly recommended. It is extremely accessible, being short, and easy to read. The doctrines within are well explained and applied. This book is a great introduction to these doctrines for newer Christians, and can serve as a great refresher, encourager, and challenger to older, complacent Christians (as it did for me). Any meditation on the two bookends, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the power of the Holy Spirit, will lead to a fuller Christian life, and this book serves as a way to jumpstart such thinking.
Reviewed by James Oord, student at Mid-America Reformed Seminary and member of Trinity URC, Lethbridge, AB.