I don’t know how you feel about the Ecclesiastes but when I hear my Bible Study group is to spend a term exploring the book my heart sinks. I mean apart from the ‘there is a time for everything’ passage and of course the ‘remember your Creator in the days of your youth’ bit, the rest of it seems a little dark and depressing. I saw the book of Ecclesiastes is essentially nihilistic, denying life’s value, meaning and purpose.
Then I picked up this book by Tremper Longman III and Dan Allender, it appeared to have a really helpful angle on studying, understanding and applying the book of Ecclesiastes to the Christian’s life of discipleship. Now in college I was made to read Tremper’s ‘Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation’ which was worthy if at points a little dull. So I wasn’t expecting ‘Breaking the Idols of Your Heart’ to be quite so engaging, easy to read, and enjoyable as I found it.
It seems that the starting point for their exploration of Ecclesiastes is the idea that the Teacher’s study of this life can serve to disturb our spiritual complacency, shake us from our idolatrous trust in the things ‘under the sun’ and point us towards what is truly worth living for. In seven chapters, the authors’ examine in a fresh way our desire to find meaning in control, relationships, work and money, pleasure, wisdom, even spirituality and immortality.
Each chapter follows the same pattern. Opening with Dan’s narrative rooting the study of Ecclesiastes in the lives of Noah, Joan, Jack, Marcia, Jessie and Mimi, a fictional church house group, going on to Tremper’s wrestling with the Teacher’s seemingly paradoxical statements about life’s meaning, and ending with a few questions for self-examination.
It is a topical rather than linear study of the book of Ecclesiastes, but I think it would be appropriate for private devotional or small group study (though you would have to pad the questions out a little). I think sometimes the fictional narrative is fits too comfortably with the study as a whole. This raises questions for me about what we do when our lives don’t strike a chord with our beliefs and understanding of Scripture. But on the whole I found this book engaging and uplifting, it helped me to understand Ecclesiastes place within the wider narrative of the Bible. So I happily commend it to you.