Book Review: Just Do Something – Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung Just Do Something.pngLetter IIn honour of Kevin DeYoung be appointed as the Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at RTS, it’s worthwhile to reflect on some of his work. While DeYoung hasn’t written many books, those books he has written are incredibly timely, and Just Do Something is no exception.

When you look around the church today, have discussions with members, and generally engage with those who desire to follow God, you quickly discover that one of the central questions is “How do I figure our God’s will for my life?” “How can I make sure that I’m in the center of God’s will?”

To try and discover God’s will is no doubt a noble thing, but a certain non-Biblical understanding of God’s will and how to follow God’s will has crept into the church and served to undermine our ability to do that very thing. Thus, DeYoung’s goal in this book is to look at how best to define God’s will, at some of a the ineffective or un-Biblical ways we try and find God’s will, and how to do better.

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In undergoing this endeavour, DeYoung begins by looking at what exactly the will of God is. In this he points to two major aspects of God’s will: the first is God’s will of decree (that is, everything he ordains to happen in his sovereignty), the second is God’s will of desire (that is, his moral will for our lives – love God and love our neighbour). As DeYoung explains, “If the will of decree is how things are, the will of desire is how things ought to be.” The former cannot be thwarted, but the latter can be disregarded (that is, we are capable of disobeying it).

These are the two Biblical aspects of God’s will.

To these two aspects we often add a third of our own: God’s will of direction. It is this will we refer to when we ask where we should live and work, who we should marry, whether to get our doughnut from Dunkin’ or Krispy Kreme. It is what we perceive as  God’s will for the various non-moral decisions in our life (that is, decisions which no matter which way we go we’re not breaking one of the Ten Commandments or God’s moral law in general), his specific direction for our lives. One of DeYoung’s key points in this books is that “God does have a specific plan for our lives, but it is not one that He expects us to figure out before we make a decision.”

Part of DeYoung’s central argument is that while God does have a plan for our lives, it’s not one he expects us to figure our beforehand. When we try and figure out this will of direction prior to making decisions not only are we embarking on a vain endeavour, but we generally end up in passivity, passively waiting for God to reveal what’s around the next corner. Thus: “Trusting in God’s will of decree is good. Following His will of desire is obedient. Waiting for God’s will of direction is a mess. It is bad for you life, harmful for your sanctification, and allows too many Christians to be passive tinkerers who strangely feel more spiritual the less they actually do.”

This passivity seeps into all aspects of our lives. Young men and women become too passive to enter into relationships for fear of finding the wrong one. Yet as DeYoung argues, ‘the one’ is a myth, and “the problem with the myth of ‘the one’ is that it assumes that affection is the glue that holds the marriage together, when really it is your commitment to marriage that safeguards the affection.”

Rather than vainly wait for ‘the one’, young people need to “Take a chance. Risk rejection. Be the relational and spiritual leader God has called you to be.”

Not only does seeking this will of direction result in passivity, but it also elevates the minor aspects of our lives to central stage, yet: “[Where you go to school or where you live or what job you take] are not the most important issues in God’s book. The most important issues for God are moral purity, theological fidelity, compassion, joy, our witness, faithfulness, hospitality, love, worship, and faith. These are His big concerns. The problem is that we tend to focus most of our attention on everything else. We obsess over the things God has not mentioned and may never mentioned, while, by contrast, we spend little time on all the things God has already revealed to us in the Bible“, thus “My point is that we should spend more time trying to figure out how to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God as a doctor or lawyer and less time worrying about whether God wants us to be a doctor or lawyer.”

DeYoung is arguing that we spend so much time on these peripheral aspects of God’s plan for our lives that we neglect what should be our primary focus, and indeed God’s primary will for our lives, our sanctification.

Thus: “Jesus says, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.’ He doesn’t call on us to seek a divine word before scheduling another semester of classes or deciding between bowling or putt-putt golf. He calls us to run hard after Him, His commands, and His glory. The decision to be in God’s will is not a choice between Memphis or Fargo or engineering or art; it’s the daily decision we face to seek God’s kingdom or ours, submit to His lordship or not, live according to His rules or our own. The question God cares about most is not ‘Where should I live?’ but ‘Do I love the Lord with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, and do I love my neighbour as myself?’ It’s that second question that gets to the heart of God’s will for your life”.

The end result of this is best summed up by DeYoung – appropriately – at the end of the book, where he states that “So the end of the matter is this: Live for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God.”

God’s will for our lives is our sanctification, to pursue his moral will for our lives. If we’re doing this, then we can do whatever else we like.

On the whole, this is a fantastic book. It is easy to read, concise, and thoroughly based in Scripture. It is a much needed call to return from the passive and unbalanced approach that contemporary Christians have taken to the will of God.

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Memorable Quotes (there are too many):

“I am advocating floundering less, making a difference for God sooner, and – above all – not spiritualizing, year after year, our inability to make decisions in the elusive quest to discover God’s will. I’m arguing that our eagerness to know God’s will is probably less indicative of a heart desperately wanting to obey God and more about our heads spinning with all the choices to be made.”-38

“In other words, God doesn’t take risks, so we can.”-41

“So we can stop pleading with God to show us the future, and start living and obeying like we are confident that He holds the future.”-42

“We don’t just want His word that He will be with us; we want Him to show us the end from the beginning and prove to us that He can be trusted. We want to know what tomorrow will bring instead of being content with simple obedience on the journey. And so we obsess about the future and we get anxious, because anxiety, after all, is simply living out the future before it gets here.”-47

“Passivity is a plague among Christians. It’s not just that we don’t do anything; it’s that we feel spiritual for not doing anything. We imagine that our inactivity is patience and sensitivity to God’s leading. At times it may be; but it’s also quite possible we’re just lazy… Perhaps inactivity is not so much waiting on God as it is an expression of the fear of man, the love of the praise of man, and disbelief in God’s providence.”-52

“We must fight to believe that God has mercy for today’s troubles and, no matter what may come tomorrow, that God will have new mercies for tomorrow’s troubles.”-57

“First, God’s will is that we live holy, set-apart lives… Second, we are to always rejoice, pray, and give thanks… Third, we are to know God’s will so we can bear fruit and know Him better.”-61

“I have been making the case that God’s will is not an unexplained labyrinth whose center we are supposed to discover… The will of God for our lives is that we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. The most important decision we face is the daily decision to live for Christ and die to self. If we do those two things, then we are free to choose between jobs and schools and locations…. God does not have a specific plan for our lives that He means for us to decipher ahead of time.”-63

“Let me be clear: I believe God guides us in decision making. But note the key word there: ‘God guides us in decision making.’ I did not say, ‘God expects us to discover His plan for our lives.’ The difference between the two sentences is huge. We are not talking about how God reveals to us ahead of time every decision we must make in life. Yes it’s proper for Christians to pray to God and seek wisdom from God when we face decisions, even nonethical decisions. That’s not a bad idea. What is a bad idea is treating nonethical decisions as weightier than they really are because you think there is One Right Answer that you must discover.”-64

“Remember, God’s will for your life is your sanctification, and God tends to use discomfort and trails more than comfort and ease to make us holy.”-79

“On a related note, we need to be careful that we don’t absolutize our decisions just because we pray about them. We cannot infallibly judge the rightness or wrongness of our plans based on the feelings we have about them after prayer.”-84

“Wisdom is what we need to live a godly life. God does not tell us the future, nor does He expect us to figure it out. Wehen we don’t know which way to turn and are faced with tough decisions in life, God doesn’t expect us to grope in the dark for some hidden will of direction. He expects us to trust Him and to be wise.”-89

“The Reformers emphasized calling in order to break down the sacred-secular divide. They said, if you are working for the glory of God, you are doing the Lord’s work, no matter whether you’re a priest or a monk or a banker. But we’ve taken this notion of calling and turned it upside down, so instead of finding purpose in every kind of work, we are madly looking for the one job that will fulfill our purpose in life.”-103

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Eugene Lilley (MDiv, MA) is a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers and the American Chesterton Society.

He may or may not be a Time Lord.

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