Truth on Fire: Gazing at God Until Your Heart Sings by Adam Ramsey (The Good Book Company, 2021, 172 pages)
One of the tragic misrepresentations of Christian experience is that you have to choose between big on thinking or big on feeling. “Thinkers” love truth, doctrine, accuracy, precision, substance, teaching, and preaching that has depth. “Feelers” love experience, passion, excitement, joy, a felt sense of the Holy Spirit, and spiritual emotion. Each kind of person tends to look suspiciously at the other as being either too academic or too emotional.
But is that true? Must we choose between a faith with substance and faith that is felt? Adam Ramsey, in Truth on Fire, insists we don’t have to, and we mustn’t. “Here’s some good news: we don’t have to choose between theological precision and white-hot passion. God wants us to reject both dead orthodoxy as well as passionate ignorance” (20). The two belong together: “Right thinking is the hearth; right experience is the flame” (163). We need both reformation of our thinking and revival of our souls.
In twelve chapters, Ramsey, a pastor on the Gold Coast and regional network director (Australia, New Zealand, and Japan) for the Acts 29 church planting network, sets about drawing these two dimensions of real faith together. Each chapter dwells on a particular attribute of God, showing not only how wonderful the truth of that doctrine is, but how brilliantly designed it is to deeply shape our lived experience.
The chapters titles draw the two dimensions together. So, chapter one is entitled “God is Other: The Experience of Wonder.” As he opens up truths about God’s transcendence, his self-existence, and his immutability, he impresses on us as readers what it is to stand in awe of him and to recapture childlike wonder at who he is. In chapter two, as he deals with God’s sovereignty, he impresses on us the experience of assurance that the doctrine is intended to give us. In chapter six on the goodness of God he opens up what it means to trust God in suffering. In chapter eight, on God and time (“God is Never Late: The Experience of Patience”) he speaks of what it is like to live more slowly and to be patient because God is patient.
Ramsey approaches this from his own experience. Having grown up in experience driven churches he then came to a deep love of reformed theology. Wanting to combine the best of both, he has wrestled with how to pull doctrine and experience together. This is nothing new. It is what the best theologians have always done. But Ramsey does it in a uniquely accessible and contemporary way. He laces each chapter with stories, brilliant word pictures, great quotations, personal anecdotes, disarming honesty, and spiritual insight. There is nothing heavy about this book; but there is nothing light weight about it either.
Not only is the book personally edifying, but it could easily be used as a resource for a small group or catechism class. It also serves as a fine example of how to teach and preach doctrine well, so that truth is both clear and pressed experientially on the heart.
My own heart has been warmed, challenged, and encouraged as I have read Truth on Fire. It is what I want to experience and what I want others too as well. This book is a wonderful aid to that.