Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Review: Through New Eyes, By James B. Jordan

Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A friend of mine once described James Jordan's Through New Eyes as a book which teaches how to eat, drink, and dream in a language called "Bible." After reading this book a couple of times, I find myself agreeing with that opinion. Scarcely a month goes by when I don't peek into this book to see what Jordan said about a given passage or symbol in Scripture. Even in significant areas where I once disagreed with Jordan’s interpretation, I find myself agreeing more and more as long as I continue to immerse myself in the text of the Bible itself. For that very reason, I commend Jordan for his ambitious attempt to teach the language of the Bible from the Bible itself.

Jordan divides this book into four parts: 1) The nature of the world, 2) The features of the world, 3) The transformation of the world, and 4) The movement of history. The first part is an attempt to clarify not only how Christians ought to view the Scriptures, but how Christians ought to view the world in which they live. For Jordan, one major key to viewing the world properly has been missing among Christian scholarship in the 20th century, and that is the need for viewing the world (inside and outside of the Bible) as a fundamentally symbolic creation. Because creation as a whole is fundamentally symbolic, the theological point of the Scriptures is not to reduce the data about the world contained therein to a mere set of ideas, but rather to reveal who God is; and God has revealed Himself in a world of symbolism.

In this first part, Jordan demonstrates that through the lens of Scripture the purpose of the world is two-fold: first, it reveals God (p. 20). Secondarily, and just as important, its purpose is also to reveal man (p. 25). “All of this can be boiled down to a simple fact:” Jordan writes, “The universe and everything in it symbolizes God. That is, the universe and everything in it points to God” (p. 23). Following this “simple fact,” Jordan concludes: “it inescapably follows that just as the world symbolizes God, so also the world must symbolize man, the image of God.” (p. 26).

The second part is an attempt to answer why God created mountains, rivers, seas, wildernesses, men, angels, animals, plants, trees, fish, birds, rocks, and even the sun, moon, and stars. In brief, it’s an attempt to answer why God has given man—his image bearer and symbol maker—a cosmic blueprint from which to work. For those students of Scripture in need of a lexicon for the symbolic language of this cosmic blueprint, I can’t think of a better place to start than with this second part of the book. The Scriptures most definitely portray a symbolic world, and to remain unfamiliar with its own symbolic message of mountains, trees, stars, birds, angels, and man—all working together for the glory of God—is a real tragedy.

The third part is an attempt to view man’s place within God’s world in it’s proper Biblical perspective. In this part, Jordan summarizes how man functions in a three-fold manner as both prophet, priest, and king in this world, and how this world is also a “three-decker universe,” (p. 144) understood through the lens of the triple-layered Paradise in Genesis, the Holy Mountain of Sinai, and the holy altars of ascension to Yahweh. As Jordan notes: “The Bible uses these images to express its worldview, according to each stage of history” (p. 163), and “each of these pictures a social or human environment” (p. 161) that is “absolutely fundamental to Biblical imagery” (p. 163).

For me, the fourth part of the book is perhaps its most ambitious aspect. It is an examination of each stage of history in light of the Bible’s own imagery. In no other single book (that I’m aware of) can someone find a connected narrative of symbolism from Eden to Ark to Altar to Sinai to Tabernacle to Zion to Mount Moriah to the World of Exile to the World of Restoration to the New Heavens and New Earth. Nowhere else can you find, in one place, a historical development from the kingly role of Adam in the Garden/Land to Judges and Kings, and then to Nations and Empires, or even the priestly role of Adam developing toward Priests & Seers to Synagogues, Churches, and Elders.

This book does have its weaknesses though. Some sections seem out of place and don’t seem to fit the logical flow at hand, which indicates to me that they may have been better off receiving more attention in an appendix to the book if a more suitable placement for them can’t be found. To list a few examples, the “Three Special Symbols” (p. 33) and “Secondary Symbols” (p. 34—35) don’t seem to be essential to the message of the first part of the book, and even the entirety of chapter ten, titled “Breaking Bread: The Rite of Transformation,” seems to be more applicable as the starting point of part four, instead of where we currently find it (starting the third part of the book).

Of course, with differing minds there will always be differing interpretations of historical events and their symbolism, and I myself have found a handful of the arguments to remain tenuous without further explanation. For example, Jordan asserts that “Jethro was a Noahic priest-king,” citing Exodus 2:16; 18:12 in defense of this claim. But do those Scripture references really justify his claim? Even more surprising, from that premise Jordan concluded that “for forty years Moses had observed Jethro managing a nation (Acts 7:30)” (p. 202). Even if we were to grant that Jethro functioned as a priest-king from the Noahic dispensation, can we really deduce—without any doubt—that Jethro managed a whole nation? This isn’t the only place in which Jordan makes dogmatic assertions without providing sufficient clarification. Based on the limited Scriptural support that he presents, I’m also not convinced that the freestanding pillars named Jachin and Boaz represented the Courtyard, Holy Place, and Most Holy Place and the trunk, neck, and head of a symbolic man (pp. 231—233). It seems to me that Jachin and Boaz represent the angels guarding the garden-gate (and maybe a symbolic man also), but not the boundaries of the tabernacle.

In the end, must we treat our understanding of Jachin and Boaz, or even Jethro’s national reign as a Noahic priest-king, as vital for developing a Biblical view of the world? I don’t think we must, especially if Jordan’s work is preliminary for preparing future generations of scholarly research on the subject. And so, even when Jordan sometimes fails to fully justify certain claims, that should not hinder the student of Scripture from immersing himself (or herself) in this book in order to learn how to eat, drink, and dream in a language called "Bible."

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