Joshua Harris, the senior pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD, has re-released a slightly updated version of his 2010 book, Dug Down Deep. The 2011 version includes a study guide for personal or group study. Harris is the author of several other books, including I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Boy Meets Girl, Not Even a Hint, and Why Church Matters. In this volume, Harris explores some of the foundational truths of Christianity while interweaving his own story of life and growing in faith.
The book begins with Harris’ personal story of coming to faith and realizing that doctrine and orthodoxy matter. He notes, “The irony of my story—and I suppose it often works this way—is that the very things I needed, even longed for in my relationship with God, were wrapped up in the very things I was sure could do me no good. I didn’t understand that seemingly worn-out words as theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy were the pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ” (16).
After telling about his own journey, Harris discusses the basic doctrines of the Christian faith in a systematic, yet easily readable, fashion. He covers topics such as the Bible, Christology, the Atonement, Redemption, Sanctification, Pneumatology, and the Church. However, he does so with creative titles (“God With a Bellybutton” for Christology and “Changed, Changing, To Be Changed” for Sanctification) and plenty of stories to keep the reader’s attention. While he certainly does not go to the depths and length of discussion that classic systematic theologians (e.g., Wayne Grudem, Millard Erickson) have in their books, Harris covers the basics and gives ample introductions to these doctrines. He also demonstrates the importance of these doctrines for the Christian life. It is obvious, and noted by one of the book’s endorsements, that Harris was aiming for something in the vein of J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. While this book will most likely never become an enduring classic like Packer’s, it does have the same readability and concern for doctrine that I found as a college student first reading Packer.
The weakness of the book stems from the intention of the project. Harris is light on some details of doctrine and heavy on personal stories, but this is the product of trying to reach the type of crowd that is uncertain of why they should study doctrine. This becomes extremely evident in his discussion of the Holy Spirit. After admitting to charismatic tendencies in his own theology, Harris states, “In case you’re feeling nervous about where I’m headed, let me assure you that I’m no longer interested in shocking people when it comes to discussing the Holy Spirit. In fact, I’m going to do my best to skirt the controversial issues associated with him” (176). For a surface discussion of theological ideas, this approach is probably fine; however, those interested in deeper discussions of theology will probably be a little disappointed.
The final chapter of the book is a much-needed admonition to all who discuss theology. The title of the chapter is “Humble Orthodoxy,” and Harris sets out to warn his readers from growing prideful in their new-found knowledge of doctrine. He writes, “Genuine orthodoxy—the heart of which is the death of God’s Son for undeserving sinners—is the most humbling, human-pride-smashing message in the world. And if we truly know the gospel of grace, it will create in us a heart of humility and grace toward others” (225). As a seminary professor who sees students go through various stages of pride and humility during their days in formal theological education (as I myself did), I wish everyone would take heed of the words in this chapter.
At the end of the day, Harris’ book is a worthwhile read. I approach some of these doctrines with slightly different interpretations (especially his discussion of the Holy Spirit), but the book serves as a good resource for why theology is important in everyday life, not just in the classroom.