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Thursday, October 3, 2019

"Emblems of the Infinite King" (J. Ryan Lister)

TITLE: Emblems of the Infinite King: Enter the Knowledge of the Living God
AUTHOR: J. Ryan Lister (with Anthony M. Benedetto)
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2019, (192 pages).

What is the key to unlock the fountain of truth and ideas? Is there an accessible way to reveal the truths of God's Word? How can we explain difficult theological truths in simple terms, so that kids could understand? Surely, theology should not be restricted just for adults. With pictures, illustrations, and creative use of familiar symbols, author Ryan Lister gives us the metaphor of locks and keys. Making the use of keys to unlock eight fundamental theologies, Lister shows us fascinating ways to learn about the doctrines of God; humanity; sin; Christ; Holy Spirit; Salvation; Church; and the last days.

Keys are given to us. We ought to pick up these keys to open the lock and to enter into the truths God wants to reveal to all of us. For God is the "Key-keeper." Each key opens us to a particular room. The "Throne Room key" opens the door to theology, the Doctrine of God. We learn about worship in celebration and song. We move from ourselves to God, to see that the most important thing in the world is not us, but God. God wants to bless us, but we must let Him do so. Subtly, we are reminded that the king is not us, that God alone is king. The "Dust Key" reminds us that we are nothing until God came along. We are made from dust into the image of God, but we are still creatures needing God. Yet, God has made us his highest prize and desires to bless us. The "Serpent Key" is about sin and how mankind has fallen into brokenness and despair. It reminds us of Adam and Eve who fell into the deception of the serpent.  Lister spends time to describe various images of pride (Tower of Babel); and the stain of sin from Genesis to depict the fallenness. Instead of worshiping God, man ends up worship other gods, even himself.

The "Tomb Key" is about the doctrine of Christ, tomb being the way Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again on the third day. These are described in three acts of Christ. I like the way Lister calls Christ as the "death killer." Indeed, that is the good news. The "Spirit Key" teaches us about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, how believers are renewed in their hearts and how we can live in the Spirit. Lister synthesizes biblical truths and narrates the doctrine in a palatable manner. The "Gavel Key" is about salvation. We get snippets of the meaning of election, atonement, regeneration, justification, reconciliation, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. The "temple key" is about Church embodied as a people of God. The marks of the church are unity; holiness; global; and one. Finally, we return to the "Throne Key" which is essentially about God's Kingdom that is to come. There is hope, anticipation, resurrection, the final judgment, and the glory of God. Lister gives us glimpses of the image of the last days from the book of Revelation.

My Thoughts
The title of this book is a precursor to what this book is about; that it will be revealing the truths of God via symbols, representations to bring abstract details into simple images. This is the intent. A noble intent indeed. The author begins well with a plan about keys, locks, and rooms of understanding. Hearts are easy to understand. We could visualize adults and kids as people. When it comes to other symbols, it takes some effort to visualize what it represents. Perhaps, the final edition of the book would contain explanations about the symbols. If not, I suggest the publisher include a legend to describe the symbols and terms used. Otherwise, readers would be left to speculate what the symbols mean. Having said that, this could also be a positive thing to help younger readers raise questions and ponder about the truths the authors are trying to convey. It should also inspire readers to go back to the Bible to find out more.

Sometimes, the simplest things could also be the most profound. As I read through the book, it requires a fair understanding of theology before one can truly comprehend more of what the author is saying. For that reason, I would not recommend this book for young believers, unless there is a mature believer willing to guide their reading. This is a good effort to try to simplify things but it should be used more as a springboard for further study or discussion.

Ryan Lister is professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.

Rating: 3.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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