Sabbath: A Book Review

Sabbath: The Ancient Practices

This is a book review of Dan Allender’s book, Sabbath. This is done in cooperation with BookSneeze. You can see more of my book reviews here.

Dan Allender offers a dangerous and challenging call to our evangelical culture, which is fixated on numbers and speed and pragmatism. The concept of rest (true rest from our labors) is just as scandalous now as it was 4,000 years ago. Why slow down and drink in your favorite concoction of creation when there is so much work to be done? After all we have to keep the economic cog moving so we can afford that vacation don’t we? Allender’s book is part of a series of books in the Ancient Practices Series put out by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The book is broken down into three parts:

1. Sabbath Pillars

a. Sensual Glory

b. Holy Time

c. Communal Feast

d. Play Day

2. Sabbath Purpose

a. Sabbath Play: Division Surrenders to Shalom

b. Sabbath Play: Destitution Surrenders to Abundance

c. Sabbath Play: Despair Surrenders to Joy

3. Sabbath Performance

a. Acting Out Sabbath in Ritual and Symbol

b. Sabbath Silence

c. Sabbath Justice

Conclusion: Deliver Us to Delight

Throughout his apologetic for his purpose in writing the book Allender justifies the practice of Sabbath by appealing to the OT model of 7th day rest. I believe given the New Covenant shift from theocracy in the Middle East to world-wide submission to the lordship of Jesus, this 1:1 relationship between the commands given to Israel and those given to the Church suffers from an over-simplified hermeneutic. That is, although the Sabbath is grounded in God’s Creation activity, the Sabbath (along with the priesthood, prophethood, kingship) should all be read typologically. That is to say, each of these institutions and principles were intended in salvation history to point to a greater reality. For example, David was the paradigm for how God desired the kings to lead his people. However, he was a failure–committing murder and adultery. His role was meant to point to something greater.

It is dangerous to point to point to David and the Messiah, see a continuity and discontinuity but fail t make similar distinctions between the Israelite Sabbath and the sabbath-rest found in Jesus–this is Jesus’ whole point in offering his hearers true rest in Matthew 11. For a fuller treatment of this hermeneutic defense see From Sabbath to Lord’s Day.

HOWEVER, with that said, I would strongly commend this book to you for your own spiritual vitality. The danger in reading a book that you disagree with on such a fundamental level is to throw everything out that the author says. I believe that would be a mistake with Allender’s book. What I did throughout is to substitute Allender’s thoughts on grounding the Sabbath in the Ten Commands and replacing it with the PRINCIPLE of sabbath–which I think is still very important for us. In fact, I found this is essentially what Allender argues for in his book. I have found in my own spiritual life–given my typological understanding of the Sabbath–that I have too quickly said, “Every day is sabbath rest because of Jesus.” This is true at the fundamental level of Christian doctrine. The problem too often is that this truth also (inadvertently) eschews the biblical principle of sabbath rest.

I have found myself working seven days a week and not taking time to enjoy my family and friends and creation–because every day is sabbath rest. I believe those who find themselves in my hermeneutical camp would do their souls well by embracing the principle of sabbath anew and seeking to intentionally rest once a week.

Allender makes the Sabbath appealing throughout his book as he makes the case very clear that true sabbath rest is not about hedging ourselves in so that we make sure we don’t work on the Sabbath. Such self-justifying works miss the intent of sabbath. Instead, he asks the probing and convicting question: What would I do for a twenty-four hour period of time if the only criteria was to pursue my deepest joy? This is probing because we do not often sit down to ask ourselves what makes us truly joyful. It is convicting because too often if we were to stop and ask ourselves, we would find that that which brings us most joy has no explicit reference to God in our thinking.

Here are a couple snippets to whet your appetite to read this book:

Delight doesn’t require a journey thousands of miles away to taste the presence of God, but it does require a separation from the mundane, an intentional choice to enter joy and follow God as he celebrates the glory of his creation and his faithfulness to keep his covenant to redeem the captives (4).

Sabbath rest is entered when we refuse to be bound by complexity or drowned by despair. We enter delight only as we gaze equally and simultaneously at creation and redemption, in spite of the darkness that surrounds us and constantly clamors to be truer than God (4).

We invent rules that seem orderly and sensible, if not righteous and moral, so that anyone who violates our code is somehow less than committed (22).

The core of delight is our capacity to worship, to create and enter beauty as a reminder and anticipation of God’s goodness (36).

Beauty cannot be purchased from a catalog or selected by the most sophisticated designers; holy beauty must be crafted from material that is loved (36).

We are not to work on the Sabbath because it takes us out of the play of joy. It is as bizarre as making love to your spouse, but getting out of bed during the process to cut your lawn or wash dishes. Such an offense would do far more than spoil the mood; it would be a direct assault on the integrity of joy, announcing that a mundane chore is more pleasurable than sexual joy with your spouse (61).

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