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Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Word versus Deed" (Duane Litfin)

TITLE: Word versus Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance
AUTHOR: Duane Litfin
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2012, (224 pages).

There seems to be a perennial war going on between works and words. On one side, there is the emphasis on using words to share and to spread the gospel of Christ, that the works and deeds become de-emphasized. This often triggers an equal and opposite accusation that words without works is dead, just like James's reminder to us that if we do not love with deeds, our love is not love, and our faith is not true faith. The essential purpose of this book is two-fold. Firstly, both word and deed are to be asserted together. The author's conviction is that there is a crucial place for words and deeds to co-exist and practised. There is no superiority of one over the other, unlike a popular quote often attributed to St Francis of Assisi.

"Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." (anonymous)

The second conviction is the crux of the book, where the author sets the path forward to implement a paradigm for balancing both word and deed. Key to the paradigm is the ladder of abstraction in which readers are encouraged to move up and down the ladder from abstraction to concrete or vice versa, where appropriate. This ladder is widely applied in the eight examples, where readers are encouraged to move back and forth between generality and specifics, the abstract and the concrete, consistently urging readers to keep both together in mind and in action.
  1. Abstraction and their uses are to pave the way forward for good thinking through proper mapping that helps us use the right verbal and non-verbal communications.
  2. Theology applied is again both word+deed, where words proclaim the gospel, while deeds 'enact' the gospel.
  3. Gospel worthy deeds are to cover at least 5 aspects, the personal, family, God's people, society, and natural creation. A keen observation Litfin makes is that deed-based advocates tend to focus so much on society and natural creation that they often miss out the first three. This is a great point!
  4. Living wisely adopts the wisdom from Proverbs and Job, showing us the way to live and the way to relate.
  5. Obeying the king through the great commandments is incorporating belief into behaviour
  6. Serving the Kingdom goes beyond the believing community to serve all others. It is the fusion of two stories, of how our personal story of our own reconciliation with God transforms and connects to the bigger story of how God reconciles the world. As a Church, we are called to be part of the solution.
  7. Our nonverbal witness provides a platform for verbal witness. The Church needs to do both.
  8. Stewarding creation is also crucial to enable Christians to join with the rest of the world for one common concern.

My Comments

What I like about this book is that it affirms the need for words without diminishing the place of good deeds. At the same time, Litfin shows us the way not only to balance word and deed, but to move up or down the ladder of word/work based on the premise of loving God and loving our neighbours. If anyone accuses the author of mere talk without the walk, they will be grossly mistaken for three reasons. Firstly, Litfin approaches the topic from a biblical perspective, honouring the Word of God instead of our human tendency to read our own needs into the issue. Instead, we need to let the Word of God shine light into our understanding, our actions, and our interpretations. Secondly, Litfin allocates three chapters to talk about the importance of words, and a a whopping EIGHT chapters to talk about the importance of deeds. If anyone dares to accuse Litfin of mere talk, they will be mistaken. Thirdly, the ladder of abstraction proposed by Litfin brings both words and deeds under the perspective of love. Words need to be demonstrated by good deeds. Good deeds need to be based on the foundation of the word. The ladder of abstraction enables us to move appropriately to enable word+deed to operate together rather than against each other.

The five circles of application makes the whole book very practical. Each is based on the Word of God, and Litfin shows readers the way to be faithful to the Word and at the same time be fervent practitioners of the Word. This book deserves to be read widely. While the ladder of abstraction may be a little difficult to understand initially, I urge readers to press on, for the value of understanding it is key to practicing and balancing our words and our deeds. I highly recommend this book for all Christians concerned with living a consistent witness that honours both verbal and non-verbal communications. Great book!


This book is provided to me free by Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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