Book review: The call to wonder

If you have ever been accused of having a cold, overly rational, analytical faith; or if you have ever accused someone of the same, R.C. Sproul, Jr.’s recent book The Call to Wonder: Loving God Like a Child would be a helpful antidote. An easy-to-read but not-so-easy-to-apply book, R.C. Jr. explores Jesus’ command to become like little children: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 18:3).

In his typical personal, biblical, and (dare I say) winsome way, R.C. Jr. challenges the reader to stop reading commands like this as cynical adults, and take Jesus at His word – fear God and believe his Word:

“Fearing God begins when we believe what He says. When He speaks, we shouldn’t seek to wiggle out from under His Word. We shouldn’t analyze away the clarity of what He has said.” (p. 12)

So with this principle in mind, Matthew 18:3 simply means that “we had better learn to be like children. We’d better not study how this text can’t mean what it actually says” (p. 12). What does it really mean to become like little children? R.C. writes that becoming like children in the sense that Jesus means involves cultivating virtues of innocence, joy, trust, wonder, and eagerness to please. With these virtues in mind, R.C. Jr. asks: “Why would anyone not want to become like a child? Why wouldn’t we want to squeal with delight at simple pleasures? to rest completely in God and trust Him with our futures?” (p. 24).

Having eight children (some of which are adopted) and a stalwart theologian father provides plenty of enjoyable anecdotes. R.C. Jr. liberally employs these illustrations, making the book enjoyable to read. However, the points he makes are anything but easy to apply. Perhaps most convicting for me is his exhortation against cynicism. Children are mostly trusting and innocent. But I tend to take the Ecclesiastes principle of “there is nothing new under the sun” too far down the road of cynicism. R.C. Jr. says, “Unfortunately, this cynical attitude also infects our reading of Scripture. We no longer express wonder at the God who has brought the universe into existence or split seas in two. We’ve heard those things before – and they no longer inspire our awe” (p. 20). The call to childlikeness is a call for fresh eyes and hearts: “Children are quick to gasp, swift to ooh, and eager to ahh. They see the world for what it is – a dance, not a machine” (p. 21).

Related to being cynical is viewing Scripture and the world too analytically – too much like an engineer, too much like a scholar. Acknowledging that these approaches are often beneficial, a cold-hearted faith should be buoyed up by joy and wonder at the Creator and creation. Take, for example, a rose:

“As a modern man, I, too, am tempted to think that by taking a thing and breaking it down into its constituent parts, I will grow closer to understanding what it is. But if you take a rose and carefully take it apart, if you slice its petals razor thin and put them on a slide under a microscope, you are getting further from understanding the rose, not closer to it. The ‘roseness’ of the rose it not found in its DNA but in its beauty. The same is true of the whole of the universe. Of course there is a place for scientific study. But it is not the only place.” (p. 59)

While the main thrust of the book is to consider what it means to become like children, R.C. Jr. rightly points out that calls to child-likeness can easily be exploited. In this regard, he is balanced in his arguments. For example, he devotes an entire chapter to maturity, and he frequently mentions the balance between Scripture’s commands of becoming like children while also being as wise as serpents and filled with the knowledge of God. But even maturity in Scripture is not just knowing everything or reading everything: “Ironically, maturity of understanding may well be remembering, and resting in, the simplest things” (p. 111).

The most potent, enjoyable chapters for me were the ones on being eager to please God the Father, the call to maturity, and the necessity of joy. While it is an easy read, the outline isn’t the best. R.C. Jr. meanders through the outline, taking diversions along the way. Perhaps this is a purposeful reflection of the book’s subject matter, though I have found this to be a characteristic of his other writings as well. A meandering style notwithstanding, this is a very helpful and encouraging book, if you enjoy being convicted. The related and fantastic Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl is also recommended reading on this topic.

Note: I received a copy of this book from Tyndale in exchange for an objective review.

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