We’re seven years into the decade. It’s possible to make that sort of claim. While Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth was leading the pack for the distinction of most important book published in the 00s, after reading Dr. Moreland’s masterful new work The Kingdom Triangle, I’m calling the race for him.
After all, when JP Moreland–yes, the guy who wrote the book on the life of the Christian mind–says ridiculous things like, The Kingdom Triangle is “the single best and most important book I have ever written” and “This is the book I’ve been waiting all my life to write,” we should take note. He’s written a lot of books, and all of them are worth reading.
I should offer a disclosure, though. You’d expect to hear me to say that I got the book for free. I didn’t. I had to buy it. While it’s not available from bookstores until June 1st (pre-orders help sales, apparently!), Torrey Honors sold some advance copies. But though I didn’t get the book for free, I have met Dr. Moreland, and have an immense amount of admiration for the guy. He doesn’t know it, but he’s indirectly responsible for me marrying my wife (a story for another post), which is the only decent thing I’ve done in my life to date. But none of that would change my assessment of this book a bit.
The Kingdom Triangle is clear, provocative and informative. Dr. Moreland manages to attain that difficult but essential balance between the practical and the theoretical, a skill that I admire and lack. It is, as a result, a difficult book to read in that his brief recommendations for how to change remove every excuse to remain stagnant that we might otherwise muster.
Yet Dr. Moreland is practical without being preachy. While no one–not the heartless academic, not the mildly content and mostly passive churchgoer, not the thoughtless charismatic (to pick three bad stereotypes!)–is safe from Dr. Moreland’s incisive analysis, he is nothing less than encouraging and humble in his approach. He writes with the awareness that he is offering painful truths, and is at points explicit in his trepidation about doing so. Yet his trepidation doesn’t descend into timidity. He writes with a wisdom and maturity of someone who is able to appropriately acknowledge his own shortcomings, and then use them to help others. Throughout the work, Dr. Moreland exemplifies the disposition toward knowledge that he defends, namely one that is confident but not arrogant, humble but not self-deprecating.
The book is broken into two parts: the disease and the antidote. In the first part, Dr. Moreland doesn’t pull punches, addressing what he sees as the two chief ailments of Western civilization head on. First, he takes down scientific naturalism. After that, it’s post-modernism. Dr. Moreland is intent on establishing the possibility of religious knowledge, something naturalism and post-modernism both undercut.
Dr. Moreland then turns to the Kingdom triangle, or the three aspects to discipleship that individuals and communities must embrace if they wish to be effective witnesses for Christ. Not surprisingly, he starts with the recovery of the knowledge as the grounds of Christianity. Dr. Moreland goes to great lengths to demonstrate how much the Bible cares about knowledge, including some five full pages of verses to demonstrate his case.
Yet knowledge, and the knowledge that we have knowledge, are not enough for a robust Christian life. The second leg of the triangle, then, is “the cultivation of an inner life, developing emotional intimacy with God, engaging in classic spiritual formation practices…” Here Dr. Moreland is extremely practical. He pays particular attention to the role of the body and the emotions in sanctification, and offers tips for how to bring those areas of our lives under the Lordship of Jesus.
Finally, and perhaps most controversially, Dr. Moreland contends that Christians should practice “learning to live in and use the Spirit’s power and the authority of the Kingdom of God, developing a supernatural lifestyle, receiving answers to prayer, learning to effectively pray for healing and demonic deliverance, growing in hearing God’s voice through impressions, prophetic words of knowledge and wisdom, dreams and visions.” Dr. Moreland is open, honest, and candid about the need for evangelical Christians (the book’s target audience) to recover the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, and the external signs of His power. It is here that Dr. Moreland really shines, offering a sensible and persuasive perspective on the role of signs and wonders in the Church. He is sensitive to their abuses, but compelling in his defense of their importance to the robust Christian life.
Ultimately, the vision for Christianity that Dr. Moreland outlines–a vision, he points out, which is not original to him–demands that each of us grow in our areas of weakness. We are, I think, better at some legs of the triangle than others. But Dr. Moreland challenges us to recognize that having one or two of the legs is not enough if we wish to be robust and effective proponents of the Gospel. We must recover all three if we wish to rescue the Church from cultural impotence, and discover the sort of dramatic lifestyles for which we were created.
To hear Dr. Moreland in his own words, listen here.
He gave a sermon on the book, which is available here.
If you’re in the SoCal area, you can hear Dr. Moreland live (and buy the book!) at Biola University on May 29th.
****I’m considering hosting a symposium of reflections on Dr. Moreland’s book. If you buy the book and would like to participate, email me at matthew dot L dot anderson at gmail dot com.****