If there is anything within evangelicalism that has been watered down or oversimplified in the name of convenience, it is the Fall. And yet, if there is anything that is central to Christianity proper, it is a proper understanding of the forced entry of death into our world. Bible professor and New Testament scholar Shane Wood recognizes and understands this, attempting to answer important questions about what sin and death are, as well as unpack the Edenic account. Questions of sin, death, and Eden are indeed complex and thus deserve careful answers, but the answers given are often rushed, over-simplistic, and given little thought. Wood pushes past all this, relentlessly attempting to give us a more accurate, robust, and biblical picture of these things.
Wood points out just how severely we downplay death in our society, noting that (according to Scripture) death is not just what happens to our bodies at a given point in time; death is much more sinister and deeply ingrained within our world, our minds, and our bodies. Death, though an invader, is at home in God’s world, busily at work not just in our deeds but first and foremost in our minds (our ways of thinking) and hearts.
Although evangelicals today tend to define death in linear and dry ways, we must take into account just how layered death is on the pages of Scripture. Scripture and experience equally attest to the fact that we eat, live, and sleep death (we cannot get enough of it) as it has become, in the author’s words, the “native tongue” of our world.
The author likens death to a parasite which, though impersonal, still has an intelligence and is also in need of a host. And death has found a suitable host for thousands of years: humankind.
The author poses the question, Why couldn’t God simply dispose of death? But he also notes that this would inevitably mean the disposal of humans in light of mankind’s unholy union with death. Because of how intertwined death and humanity are (humans having become one with death), God would run the risk of destroying humans when seeking out to destroy death. God then needed a more finesse approach. God’s solution to our plight, then, (to vanquish death without vanquishing humanity) is found in Jesus, who, taking on human flesh, eventually takes on death itself, and is able to rescue humanity from its grip.
A reminder of how deeply embedded death is in our societal infrastructures and in the human heart, Wood here seeks out to expose this “parasite” within humanity, exposing along with it our comfortableness with its presence, as well as its at-home-ness in us. Because our tendency is to be blinded to its work in our worlds and hearts, death is severely underestimated by the common man, and unfortunately even by the common Christian.
But why is it necessary to go to such great lengths to paint a more accurate picture of what the Bible says about sin and death? It is all pretty depressing, after all. However, if we offer rushed definitions and explanations of the problem, we risk diminishing and downplaying the solution: God’s cosmic redemption through Christ. Only when we adequately understand the problem of death can we fully appreciate the solution offered by God in and through his Son. If Wood is right (and I think he is), many modern Christians spend far too much time talking about the solution and far too little time contemplating the problem. This is by no means a call to less Christ-centeredness, but rather a call for us to fully appreciate just what we have been and are being delivered from.
Full of vulnerability, thoughtfulness, and theological rigor, Shane Wood does not merely provide another great Christian book; rather he offers a raw and realistic look into dark forces at work in our world, forces set on disrupting and ravaging God’s good creation. Equally, the author sets about expanding on and illustrating vividly the biblical themes of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration, all the while refusing to paint such themes in triumphalistic fashion (=he remains a realist). Wood points out the ugly reality of sin and death in our world (these things are not merely abstract realities), hiding in the shadows of sexual abuse, social injustice, subtle and overt racism, and the like. We see sin and death daily but have become so accustomed to them that we no longer see them as foreign to God’s good creation.
With one foot in our world (a world which prefers union with death to union with God) and one foot in the world of Scripture, Wood takes us on a vivid journey exploring both how prevalent death is among us, as well as God’s solution to its tyranny that is found only in Christ.
Wood has some great things to say about being human.
“Lacking sin…doesn’t make Jesus less human, but more human than you or I have ever been. Often in our struggle with the place of works and passages [like]…“all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), we embrace the lie that sin is essential to humanity. That sin is a prerequisite to being human.” But “If that were the case, Adam and Eve weren’t truly human until they sinned and ate the fruit” (p. 209). “To sin is to be less than human” (same p.).
Though I would have liked to see more talk the Spirit’s role in all of this (especially given just much the apostle Paul talks about the Spirit when talking about sin, death, and “the flesh”), this is a great book that I readily recommend. Profound, deep, readable, and thoughtful, Between Two Trees does a great job of exposing some chinks in the armor of evangelicals in how we subtly downplay sin and death, ultimately reducing them to things they are not.
This is a great book which needs to be read by more Christians. Not only does it provide a more accurate portrayal of misunderstood themes of Scripture; it also provides a vivid portrait of the reality of redemption through Christ, who has conquered evil and the dark forces at work in our world.
Invigorating, poetic, vivid, powerful, creative, and rooted in biblical truth, Between Two Trees is an invaluable resource exploring the tension in human existence between glory and suffering, life and death, the utter beauty in this life and the dark horridness.