Book Review: The Truth About Man, by Paul Washer
At the beginning of his classic Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin heads his very first paragraph thus: â€œWithout knowledge of self there is no knowledge of Godâ€. This observation is strikingly true, and if one would take the time to discuss the gospel in depth with the definite majority of American citizens living today, he would doubtless find that the one great obstacle preventing them from prizing and embracing the gospel of God's grace is a faulty view of self. The gospel is not for people who are basically pretty good, but just need to believe in themselves, build up their self-esteem, and pick themselves up by their bootstraps. If there is one problem that consistently hinders my attempts at gospel-witnessing, it is that. Oh, for a tool that would give the true picture of man in his sin and helplessness, and so pave the way for a true picture of God in his holy justice and limitless grace! Paul David Washer's biblical study, The Truth About Man, is just that tool, and I enthusiastically recommend it.
The Truth About Man, many of you may already know, is a sequel to another excellent biblical study, The One True God; the two of them are laid out in much the same way, not so much as doctrinal treatises but as guides driving the students to encounter and interact with God's own testimony from the scriptures. But more than this, the two of them are complementary, each causing the truth of the other to shine forth with a more brilliant and stunning clarity. Without the biblical knowledge of the immense holiness and majesty of God, we cannot know the loathsome horror of our reprehensible rebellion; and without the knowledge of our immense sinfulness, we cannot appreciate the depths of God's grace and the perfection of his justice in his response to sin, whether shown in Christ our substitute or upon Christ-less sinners in hell.
That is not to say, however, that The Truth About Man may only be used effectively with Washer's other study. Anyone may benefit from The Truth About Man, from the seasoned and well-rooted Christian who wants to be overwhelmed once again by the staggering greatness of God's grace to the average American who knows nothing of the content of the gospel, and needs to be made a sinner before he can be forgiven. This isn't a book to be handed out on the street corner to anyone who passes along â€“ it demands too much from the reader, its profitableness will be lost upon someone not willing to study, to think, to wrestle with the hard truths of the bible. It is designed that way intentionally, which in my estimation is a good thing. But for anyone who is genuinely willing to search for the truth, even if it means hard work and humility, the reward will be great. And that includes believers who long for a better glimpse of the gospel, as well as unbelievers who are willing to consider at length just what Christianity proclaims.
What scope of material exactly is covered in the book? Well, it is basically about man in his state of sinfulness â€“ the â€œnon posse non peccareâ€ (â€œnot able not to sinâ€) of Augustine. Beginning with God's creation of man and his blessed estate in the Garden, it moves quickly to the devastating first sin, and the vast and universal consequences of that first sin for all humankind. The rest of the study lays out fallen man's estate very biblically and accurately, ending with his final, certain destiny in hell. The topic of man in his redeemed or glorified state is beyond the scope of the book.
Washer does not leave the student without hope, however. After page upon page of scripture passages laying out our misery and guilt, our bondage to sin and Satan, and our terrifying plight before the holy God whom we have spurned and despised, he concludes by pointing the reader broken down by his sin and God's Law to â€œMan's Only Hopeâ€ â€“ a redemptive-historical overview of the gospel that is overwhelming in its lavish grace and jubilant unexpectedness precisely because the calamity from which it saves has been so clearly laid out. If I ever doubted how appropriate it is to magnify the grace of the gospel by spending much time describing the â€œbad newsâ€ â€“ the black backdrop against which the jewel of God's free mercy shines the more splendidly â€“ then this study would certainly have me convinced.
As with The One True God, I appreciated Washer's emphasis on the insufficiency of mere intellectual knowledge. Intellectual truth is important, certainly, a point upon which Washer would agree emphatically enough that he has done a phenomenal job explaining hard passages and difficult concepts with a simplicity and ease that refuses to gloss over their obscurest depths. But by itself, it is not enough. As Washer commences, he declares that â€œThe great goal of this study is for the student to have an encounter with God through his Wordâ€ (emphasis added); and before he gets into the study, he reminds the student that â€œThe study of doctrine is both an intellectual and devotional discipline. It is a passionate search for God that should always lead the student to greater personal transformation, obedience, and heartfelt worship. Therefore, the student should be on guard against the great error of seeking only impersonal knowledge and not the person of God. Neither mindless devotion nor mere intellectual pursuit is profitable, for in either case God is lostâ€ (emphasis original). For anyone willing to take this admonition seriously, I can say with confidence that this study will be of immense profit.
The Truth About Man, by Paul Washer Available at Monergism Books