Dug Down Deep – Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters by Joshua Harris is part of the WaterBrook Multnomah Blogging for Books program. I wanted to read it because I am inerested in theology and “orthodoxy” and I wanted to see what the author has been up to since his claim to fame writing about dating.
Dug Down Deep is basically an argument for the importance of theology and a primer on the basics of the Christian faith. Harris argues that orthodox theology is important because only by “right thinking” can we find salvation and live out our faith. Wrong theology undermines faith and growth.
But it is a mix of argument and storytelling. He both outlines key theological points, and discusses why they are important, and tells the story of his spiritual growth from evangelical wonder kid to pastor.
All in all it is a engaging and honest call to take theology seriously and to integrate into our lives not as just knowledge but as a necessary part of living out our faith.
More thoughts below.
Harris does some things well. He has a very personable and engaging style. This is not heavy academic theology but accessible basics of the faith. And he weaves in personal history and anecdotes to illustrate the ideas and doctrines he is discussing. The emphasis is on why orthodoxy matters not on purely intellectual debates over theology.
His tone while passionate is at the same time humble and inclusive. He insists on orthodoxy and doctrinal soundness and yet includes himself in those who have made mistakes and who still have much to learn.
But if there is an awkwardness it comes from the difficult nature of writing about theology in a basic and conversational way without ignoring the difficulties or brushing over key debates.
Harris outlines what he sees are the critical areas of doctrine for Christians to know and understand; those surrounding God, salvation and the church. And as a fellow evangelical I found little to disagree with in his discussion. And he helpfully references scripture throughout so readers can check the verses for themselves and read the stories being referenced.
But there is a lack of context for those who might be unaware of the historic debates surrounding doctrine or those who are familiar with them and want to understand better where the author is coming from.
His discussion of the theology of scripture, for example, came across to me as extremely over-simplified (there is either fundamentalist insistence or post-modern rejection). And his discussion of justification and sanctification fails to mention any of the longstanding and difficult disagreements on these issues throughout church history. He writes as if the doctrines he sets out are simply what Christians believe and always have; despite a long contradictory historical record and nuances that can be quite important.
Based on his writing and sources it seems Harris comes from a largely Calvinist or Reformed perspective. But he never mentions his perspective or shares how he views himself in relation to these views.
I understand that it is easy to get bogged down in debate and semantics, and that this is a book aimed at a popular audience, but a simple preface sharing his viewpoint and acknowledging that these issues could not be covered in depth would have helped. Harris provide footnotes and quotes often from his favorite authors but leaves it to the reader to sort it out.
Again, I think Harris is comfortably within the mainstream but if you are going to bring up theology it seems only fair to acknowledge some of the history and situate your own perspective so the reader knows where you are coming from.
Those who have wrestled with some of the complexities and difficulties of theology and doctrine might find Harris’s overview too basic and wish that he would have tackled the difficulties a bit more. This is not a book that looks to engage in debate so much as lay out a case for orthodoxy.
But I think a focus on basics connected to their spiritual impact and significance is useful even if it risks over-simplification. As Harris himself notes, the difficulty of theology should cause us to dig deeper and seek God more. Neither dry academic debates alone (no matter how fascinating they may be to some of us) nor wishy-washy avoidance of tough issues leads to spiritual growth. Harris tries to avoid getting bogged down in theological debate so he can focus on a faith lived out. Sometimes this works and other times less so.
Perhaps for this reason, I thought he strongest chapters were the last two. In the penultimate chapter Harris addresses the church and the critical role it should play in our lives and faith. This is I think a truly under-developed area of thought for many Christians and Harris brings a passion and clarity that is need to the subject.
The church is not just a side issue or a place we visit on occasion to get what we need and move on. It is instead, the central vehicle for God’s work on earth. The way a great many Americans in particular approach church makes this an important subject and worthy of more thought than most of us give it.
He then follows that up with a discussion of the need for humility in our orthodoxy. Again, I think this is also a critical point; one that it would be hard to over-emphasize. Far too often those most confident in their doctrine and theology are the most ineffective in communicating truth to others.
One only has to dip your toe into theological debates online to find this to be true. And I think even the Reformed among us will admit that Calvinists are often the worst examples of this type of behavior with perhaps ardent anti-Catholic evangelicals a close second.
And in the cultural and political fields there is also an all too often abrasive and arrogant style that comes with the assertion of orthodoxy. Whether it is defensiveness or pride from being convinced you know better this lack of humility is severely off-putting and undermines the very truth its advocates seek to advance.
Harris rightly calls us to humility and to live out our faith rather than harshly seek to win every argument no matter the situation. He doesn’t back down from the importance or truth of his faith but notes that this faith calls us to specific actions and attitudes that most certainly don’t include arrogance and a lack of compasssion.
And as noted above, Harris lives this out in his style and tone throughout the book and so it comes across as a honest challenge to Christians – the author included – not an accusation.
Dug Down Deep is an interesting mix of theology, Christian inspiration and autobiography. Sometimes the limits of this format come through but the author’s passion and honesty overcome them.
It strikes me as a great read for those who have avoided theology thinking it dry or unimportant; new Christians who are seeking a deeper foundation for their faith; or someone seek a basic primer on pragmatic evangelical Christian orthodoxy.
Even those who disagree with Harris will find him engaging and personable. But those wanting to understand the debates that have happened within and surrounding these fundamental doctrines of the faith will need to seek out other sources.