Book Review – “Captivated” by Thabiti M. Anyabwile

temporary - captivated book cover Thabiti Anyabwile’s latest work (published by Reformation Heritage Books) is both brief and theologically rich. Here, the author exhorts his readers to temporarily set aside the culturally established dictate that we shouldn’t stare at others, and instead seize this opportunity to “take a long look at Jesus” (1).

He further explains that Scripture itself calls on us to regularly “behold” or “come and see” our glorious Savior – especially when it’s raising profound questions about his crucifixion and resurrection. So, while people in our own day tend to become paranoid if we simply stare at them for too long, this book reminds us that – in Scripture – we are lovingly invited to consider the questions that are raised by and about Jesus, and by doing so to grow in our own love and appreciation for the one who accomplished salvation for all who trust in him.

The five questions that are raised throughout this 95-page book (not counting the last few pages of book advertisements) are as follows:

– “Is there no other way?” (Matthew 26:42)

– “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

– “Where, O Death, is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)

– “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)

– “Do you not know these things?” (Luke 24:18)

By contemplating each of these questions in turn, and offering a series of thought-provoking questions for personal reflection at the end of each chapter, the author reminds us that even in the questions of Scripture, God is still teaching us! Indeed, these verses, which are so often read yet so rarely reflected upon, are loaded with theological implications that should help us grow in Christ-likeness as we see what these profound inquiries actually mean for our lives.

When considering the question “Is there no other way?”, which Jesus asks of the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, Thabiti explains that, “As we ponder this question, we find that God’s perfect will accomplishes far more than all our imagined alternatives. A no from God does more for our good than a yes to all our dreams” (6). He then proceeds to offer six biblical reasons why God the Father replied with a “silent no” to the Son, who raised this question to the Father three times while he anticipated his arrest and crucifixion.

One reason, according to Thabiti, is that “The one silent no in Gethsemane resounds in double duty in answer to the centuries-long question of whether God was fair to forgive. The cross proves that God is just in punishing sinners and in forgiving sinners who trust in Jesus Christ” (16-17). He then applies this to believers by reminding us that “Man owes God complete submission to His will. In Gethsemane, the only perfect Man bowed before God and concluded His prayer, ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’ (Matt. 26:39). Such is the heart mankind should have before God – a heart of complete submission and faith” (18).

When contemplating Jesus’ cry to the Father from the cross – “Why have you forsaken me?” – Thabiti brings us back to the original context of that quote in Psalm 22, where we gain a much clearer understanding of what sorts of painful experiences cause us to feel “forsaken” by God. Specifically, we feel emotionally forsaken by God when our prayers seem to go unanswered (Psalm 22:2-3), when the righteous are forsaken and sinners are delivered (Psalm 22:4-5), when faithfulness seems to be repaid with abandonment (Psalm 22:9-11), and when our enemies seem closer to us than God (Psalm 22:12-21) (31-35). In all of these ways, our Savior experienced desertion from the Father as he hung on the cross, making atonement for sins that he had not committed, as an undeniable display of his love for us.

Truly, this is an inspiring and edifying book, reminding us of God’s amazing love for us as it’s demonstrated most clearly – through the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. By thoughtfully reading these pages, we should grow in our knowledge and understanding of the gospel, as well as in our love for Christ and in our desire to become more like him so that we, too, may honor God by the choices that we make. Though readers would do well to read this book in any season of the year, I believe it’s ideally suited for use at Easter, when the Resurrection of Christ is most likely to be proclaimed with boldness from even the most timid pulpits!

NOTE: I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books (through Cross-Focused Reviews) in exchange for my preparation of this honest review of the book.  I was not required to write a positive review of the book.