Every once in a while, a book comes along that immediately becomes a “must read.” Phil Ryken’s Loving the Way Jesus Loves is one such book. As a lover of old books, I do not say this lightly. Yet, it does not seem an exaggeration to say that Loving the Way Jesus Loves will become a classic exposition of 1 Corinthians 13. Dr. Ryken’s expositions of the “love chapter” were some of the last sermons he preached at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia before assuming the presidency of Wheaton College. Aesthetically, the book catches the eye as its cover comes from photos taken from Gene Schmidt’s art project called “Lovetown PA” (http://www.lovetownpa.com).
In the spring of 2010, Schmidt set up wooden stencils throughout Philadelphia spelling out the complete text of 1 Corinthians 13. Photos of Schmidt’s project are found at the beginning of each chapter and add a nice artistic element to the book.
As for the content of the book itself, Ryken’s exposition is no light and fluffy “God is love” message so common in American evangelicalism. Rather, it is refreshing to find a Reformed pastor writing so richly on the theme of love–a theme at the heart of the gospel, but often neglected in the Reformed churches. Ryken proves that the Scripture’s teaching on love is just as doctrinally rich as any other topic. Each chapter is academically informed, yet accessible to all who may take up and read. Drawing from a wide range of sources, the ancient church, the Reformers (especially the Scottish Presbyterians), and modern scholars are all well represented.
Yet, at least to this reviewer, Ryken’s approach is unique. Taking the great statements on biblical love from 1 Corinthians 13 as his point of departure, Ryken then turns to the life of Jesus to illustrate and explain true Christian love. Rather than working straight through 1 Corinthians 13, Ryken takes these themes and works through the life of Christ chronologically. This approach is a great example for preachers on how to use Scripture to illustrate Scripture. Further, and more importantly, this approach is very effective in teaching on this great theme of love. The standard for love is Christ himself. There is not greater example of what true love is than the Savior.
Ryken’s approach makes each chapter challenging and compelling. Looking at the life and example of Jesus, we see how far short we fall when it comes to loving others. Ryken lets the challenge hit, but balances this challenge with a Christ-centered focus. One example from chapter eight illustrates this. Using Jesus’s submission to the Father’s will in Gethsemane, we encounter Jesus’ self-less love. Ryken diagnoses our problem by writing, “Even when we try to love other people well, self-love keeps getting in the way” (p. 128). Yet he continues, “We can give to others only what we ourselves have received…Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for all our selfish sins. Then he came back from the grave to conquer our sin forever. Now, on the basis of his crucifixion and resurrection, the Spirit of Jesus gives us the power to love” (pp. 128-129). Time and again, Ryken lets the life of Jesus confront us. And time and again, Ryken provides this gospel balance, reminding us that the call to love is not a call to moral renovation or self-effort. Rather, Ryken’s applications flow out of the transforming grace and love God found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This short review cannot do justice to the spiritual depth of this book. However, several chapters are worth noting. Chapter three, “Love is Not Irritable” challenges us to repent of our irritation and to love difficult people. Chapter seven, “Love Hopes,” is very good. Ryken reminds us that when the world seems hopeless there is always hope in Jesus. Turning to John 17, Ryken points out that above all, Jesus hoped that he would be glorified. Working through Jesus prayer, other aspects of hope–perseverance, holiness, unity, and ultimately resurrection life–are pastorally explained and applied to the life of the believer. The book ends on a pastoral note in chapter twelve, titled “Love Never Fails.” Ryken’s point is that only Christ’s love is strong enough to never fail. His love to us is our hope for eternal life. Here Ryken departs from the Gospels and turns to Romans 8:31-39 reminding us that nothing can separate the Christian from the love of God. These are just three examples of what you will find in Ryken’s wonderful exposition; many more examples could be listed.
This volume will appeal to a wide audience. Love is something every Christian is called to practice. Therefore, Loving the Way Jesus Loves would make for a great Sunday school class or small group study. To this end, a study guide is included at the end of the book. Pastors and seminarians will also find this exposition on love extremely important. Ryken does not write specifically to pastors, but the pastoral implications glare at us on nearly every page. Ryken’s work would also serve well as a required text in seminaries pastoral theology classes. With the heart of a pastor, Ryken has given the church an invaluable resource and gift. I am not a gambling man, but if I was, I would be willing to bet my children, who are all under eighteen months old, will be reading and talking about this book, which will surely be a spiritual classic. So buy a copy for your pastor, or a seminarian you know. Buy a copy for yourself and meditate on the love of God in Christ Jesus. Let Ryken point you to Jesus, the true Lover, and, for the Christian, the Lover of your soul.