How God works through Irony

How God works through Irony January 10, 2020

The Short Studies in Biblical Theology continues to be excellent with the release of Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom by G.K. Beale. As with previous books in this series reviewed here at Schaeffer’s Ghost, this short volume is well-written, engaging, and devotional.

Image: Crossway

The title gives away the substance of this book: what we see over and over in the Bible is God working through unexpected means that seem counter-intuitive to human wisdom. Sometimes this means specific ironies, like God punishing the sons of Aaron with fire after they offered ‘strange fire’ on the altar. Sometimes this means general, big-picture ironies, like the fact that people are judged by the very sins they commit in rebellion against God–they are turned over to their sins. Idolaters become rigid and hard-hearted. The lustful and gluttonous are consumed with a desire that can never be fulfilled. Etc. And we also see the ultimate irony: the omnipotent Creator of the universe saves a rebellious people through the weakness of dying on a cross.

This is the point to which all of the other ironies direct us. Our natural inclination is to glorify our ourselves by saving through an exercise of our own power or intellect or awesomeness or what-have-you. A God who rides in on a chariot of fire and crushes his enemies like Gandalf at the battle of Helm’s Deep, we can understand. A God who out-argues the devil and wins the courtroom battle like, well, any number of procedurals, we can understand. Or a God who is just too cool not to win like a Don Draper or a Al Swearengen, we can get that too. But a God who meekly bows his head and takes the undeserved punishment in the place of someone else? That seems counter to everything we would expect (and of course we could use our literary examples there as well–Christianity has certainly affected our culture enough for that to be a common theme at times as well). The irony of the cross is thus the major theme of this book.

One (minor) criticism of Redemptive Reversals is that it at times felt like sermons that had been hammered into book chapter form. That is because at least one of these chapters was a sermon hammered into book chapter form (or so the footnote said). They felt like they could have used a little more time on the editing floor, as reading a sermon is a very different matter from reading a book. Still, that’s a minor criticism. The book is generally excellent overall.

Highly recommended.


Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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