Books

Cover Image: Out of the Storm

Out of the Storm:
Grappling with God in the Book of Job

Christopher Ash (IVP, 2004)

Blurb Review by Rev. Peter Dickson

Review by Rev. Peter Dickson

Out of the Storm, if you are committed to reading and studying the Bible book by book, is an excellent introduction to the Book of Job. From the outset, Christopher Ash takes the length and style of the book of Job seriously and recognises that while the actual shape of the book of Job is a hurdle to many readers, and especially to preachers planning a series of sermons, the length of Job is directly and wisely related to the very topic that it deals with. If it is true that there are no quick answers to the problems of suffering in this world, why would God provide a short book in scripture to deal with the topic?

I would happily recommend Out of the Storm to those who are teaching the Bible and would encourage members of a congregation to buy it and read it if their own minister was doing a sermon series on Job. But perhaps more significantly, I would also encourage Christian people to have a copy of this book at hand ready to give to friends (Christian or non-Christian) who are struggling at any time with questions about suffering (for example, the tsunami).

Christopher Ash begins the book with real, relevant and penetrating examples of questions which are raised by people's experience of pain. The book of Job is about people who know what it is to suffer and it is for people who experience suffering. Ash's book takes that seriously and writes in a way which honours the obvious role of Job in the canon of Scripture.

Out of the Storm tackles the shock and theological surprises of the opening chapters of Job with depth and insight. He engages with the "open theism" debate in a valuable and pastoral way and calls Christians to a reading of Job which deals with people in a realistic manner. There is no encouragement in Out of the Storm to imagine that you can solve people's problems with platitudinous texts. Christopher Ash helpfully alludes to how the sermons, which basically form the chapters of the book, were framed and surrounded by different types of praise and worship. Perhaps if any book of the Bible calls for wisdom and care in how an entire church service is structured round the theme it is the book of Job, and Ash gives many examples of how he helped people deal with the themes and topics arising in Job in the context of a church service. No point in having a sermon airing people's pain and struggle and leaving them with a two-dimensional and superficial approach to God in terms of prayers and music!

Out of the Storm is easy to read, it retains a great deal of the preached style and is an excellent example of how a sermon series is the ideal way to not merely give people spiritual food for the week, but to teach them the message and purpose of a whole book of the Bible.

In virtually every chapter Out of the Storm relates the teaching of Job to the wider sweep of biblical-theological truth and ends, as perhaps most sermons should, by relating the teaching of the particular sermon to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the life of the Christian Church. In regard to the relevance of the teaching of Job for the church Christopher Ash is particularly strong at exposing the sins of Job's friends, alerting people to the insensitivities of Christian people whose logic is tighter and stronger than Scripture and whose words and doctrinal orthodoxy are both inappropriately expressed and damaging to other people.

The length of Out of the Storm goes some considerable way to dealing with the challenge of the length of Job. It would surely be inappropriate to raise the issue of length at the beginning of a sermon series and then claim to do justice to the book of Job in an overview of three or four sermons / chapters. Christopher Ash avoids this pitfall and his eleven chapters deal in a rounded and considered way with different aspects of suffering as they arise from the text.

In a Christian church which often seems to thrive on methodology and easy solutions - all well defined and neatly packaged - it is refreshing for a minister, so regularly faced with clamouring cries for quick solutions and latest trends, to read a book which plumbs the depth of Scripture's reality. Christopher Ash's book makes one rejoice that the Lord who is our Creator and Redeemer is a good bit more realistic about human life in his word than many of those who teach it. Out of the Storm places emotions and facets of life such as longing, weeping, wondering and anger not in the bland realm of vague spiritual mysticism where cheap grace flows without truth, and not in the clinical realm of doctrinal objectivity where truth shouts without grace. Rather Ash holds the grace of God and the truth of the gospel as close companions in a way which I imagine can only be done by someone who has plumbed at least some of the depths of which he writes.

There are few things more annoying for Christians of almost any maturity to be taught about deep things in a shallow way by shallow teachers. The joy of reading Out of the Storm is that there is, in a short but comprehensive book, a real unfolding of the main themes of Job, a true under-girding theology which avoids abuse of the text of Job, and a realistic, pastoral and sane application of the themes of suffering and pain which fill our horizons and dominate our thinking and lives so soften and sometimes for such long periods of time.

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