Every one sins. Every one suffers. Every one needs to be redeemed by Jesus and to grow in their new identity in him. This is the baseline understanding with which Mike Wilkerson took up the task of writing Redemption: Freed By Jesus From the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry.
Quite honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from the book. Published under Crossway’s RE:Lit imprint, and written by the Redemption Groups and Counseling Pastor at Mars Hill Church, the book was initially hard to pin down. Written for the context of Mars Hill’s “Redemption Groups,” – which are something like small groups that center around redemption and recovery, avoiding issue-specific branding –Wilkerson’s piece is part exegesis, part redemptive-history, part pastoral theology, and part storytelling. At first the variety was frustrating, and even a bit jarring, but ultimately, I think, it holds the key to what Wilkerson is attempting to do with Redemption.
First, the book is exegetical: it takes the Exodus story as its skeleton. Wilkerson interacts throughout with major evangelical commentators and provides helpful, thought provoking insights that lead the reader to approach the text afresh. For example, his discussion of what it meant for Christ to despise the shame of the cross (Heb. 12:2) re-opened and made a familiar passage come alive again. He grabs nice quotes here and there, and provides detailed footnotes for those interested in digging deeper. It’s important to note, however, that though he’s doing exegesis, he doesn’t get overly bogged-down in semantics or historical background. He only employs them when needed, providing a helpful model for how one can rightly, undistractingly display the fruits of exegetical labor.
The book is also redemptive-historical: it plugs the story of Exodus into the broader context of Scripture. With the help of authors like Tim Keller and the late Meredith Kline, Wilkerson works to connect the penultimate Exodus event to the ultimate exodus that Christ provides for his people through his death and resurrection. In this way, the book is also Christo-centric, often making connections between the events of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and the Christian’s deliverence from sin through Christ.
Another thing that Wilkerson does, and does quite well, is pastoral theology: he uses the scriptures to counsel, exhort, challenge, comfort, and even rebuke his readers. To do so he draws on the help of counselors like David Powlison, Paul Tripp and Dan Allender, together with pastors like Keller and Mark Driscoll. In this way, Redemption not only gets at the idolatrous heart issues of readers, but also connects them to resources that can help them on their way to Gospel-driven change.
Also laced throughout the book is a generous portion of storytelling: stories of redemption and restoration, often from horrendous circumstances, are placed alongside the Exodus narrative. So, each chapter features one modern individual’s story alongside a portion of the Exodus story. This helps the reader in application, and also helps the author to keep the book from becoming an expository commentary. Though one wishes that Wilkerson had included a few more examples of redemption from more insidious sins (ex. a controlling husband, a self-loathing college student), these sections help us as readers to connect ourselves to the biblical narrative.
What, then, is Mike Wilkerson doing in Redemption? Briefly, he is doing very good practical theology. He weaves together all of these different theological strands into a book that is both convicting and heartwarming. In essence, he takes the kind of “top-shelf” material typically garnered in the seminary classroom and puts it within the reach of any and every reader. He either eschews or explains theological shoptalk. He writes both cordially and cogently. He looks to speak to both the head and the heart. And, in all of this, he succeeds.
Redemption could be helpfully employed in small groups, book clubs, as counseling session “homework,” or by pastors looking to integrate and rightly articulate Gospel-centered theology for their people. I, for one, look forward to further books by Wilkerson, and hope that we as his readers can begin to engender the bold, careful, comforting application of the Gospel that he has demonstrated here for us.