Michael J. Kearney
Entering God’s Rest: The Sabbath from Genesis to Revelation (And What It Means for You), by Ken Golden. Lancaster, PA: Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, 2018, 81 pages, $7.99, Kindle.
Ken Golden has provided a relatively brief introduction to the importance of Sabbath rest in God’s purposes for humanity, something that could be read in under three hours. This is not an exhaustive, in-depth study. It is useful, rather, in acquainting readers with the biblical concept and reality of entering God’s rest and how this is to be tasted through observance of the Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day. It also goes out of its way to respect Christian liberty in terms of what Sunday is to look like for Christians. Judging from his interactions in certain footnotes with another author (Joseph Pipa Jr., in his writing on The Lord’s Day), along with the book’s overall content, it is safe to say that Golden is offering a more moderate alternative to strict Sabbatarianism.
In accordance with the subtitle, Golden traces the development of biblical Sabbath rest from Genesis to Revelation, starting of course with the creation ordinance in Genesis 2:1–3, whereby God’s rest on the climactic seventh day of creation becomes the basis for humanity sanctifying the seventh day of the week. Mankind in Adam would fail to fulfill the covenant of works and thus fail to enter the rest divinely held out to God’s image-bearers (Gen. 2–3), but the hope of God’s rest is not dashed to pieces. Starting with Genesis 3:15 and the first announcement of the gospel promise, the future Savior is hinted at—the One to be bruised, but whose bruising would be his and his people’s victory, displayed in his bodily resurrection from the dead, ushering redeemed humanity towards its appointed rest, grounded upon God and his faithfulness to the covenant of grace. As Golden points out, we enter God’s rest by faith in Another, in this seed of the woman, the “second Adam,” Jesus Christ, through the perfection of his active obedience.
While his treatment is nuanced enough to recognize a temporary, judicial-law aspect to it, as operative in Israel’s life as a theocracy, Golden goes on to demonstrate that the fourth commandment is reflective of God’s abiding moral law, and in substance therefore still in force under the new covenant. This is a key point to make for those ignorant of the relevance of the Ten Commandments for the church today (like those from a dispensational background), perhaps especially when it comes to the commandment in Exodus 20:8–11 to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Related to this, Golden takes pains to unpack how the designated day of rest would change to Sunday, starting with Christ being raised from the dead the first day of the week, what could also be considered the eighth day, with the number eight suggestive of a new beginning.
Golden, however, does move on to “what it means for you.” One part that stands out is “Present and Future Rest,” in which he mines some of the riches of Hebrews 3–4 (with Psalm 95 as backdrop) to draw out the already/not yet dynamic of Sabbath rest as we know it as Christians. We have not yet fully experienced it, and yet worshiping God together on the Lord’s Day is like participating in a “dress rehearsal” for the glories of the heavenly rest to come, namely the eternal Sabbath.
Finally, though some of what he says about Isaiah 58 in an earlier section anticipates it (check out his appendix on this passage as well), Golden more fully addresses the issue of current Lord’s Day practices in the concluding chapter on “Sabbath Wisdom,” in which he argues for it being a matter of wisdom as to how one or one’s family is to pursue rest on Sunday. While seeking God with the church publicly as his worshipers and being given to the means of grace is non-negotiably to be the focal point, how the day is otherwise spent is a matter of debate. Golden is concerned that while some of us may have scruples that govern what we do or don’t do on Sunday, we ought to exercise caution lest we unduly impose these standards on others. In particular, he comes down in favor of allowing some measure of freedom as to how one handles certain activities that could, but might not necessarily, interfere with resting in the Lord and worshiping him. Moreover, there are conceivable scenarios where these activities might even enhance it.
Personally, I found myself believing that on these matters it might have been helpful to also, or at least more explicitly and emphatically, ask, “How can we most glorify and enjoy God in our Lord’s Day activities?” Golden openly wrestles over the problem of what is actually forbidden by Scripture (cf. the prohibition of needless involvement in “worldly employments and recreations” in WLC 119). Yet, in fairness, it must be said that he raises a host of practical questions that are valid, doing so in a pastorally sensitive manner (e.g., about eating out or watching sports or engaging in recreation on a Sunday, under certain conditions). More absolute, hard-and-fast interpreters and practitioners of the Sabbath principle need to reckon with these challenges. Even in Reformed circles, there has been, and remains, a range of beliefs and approaches, and Golden does a pretty good job of representing his end of the spectrum.
Controversies aside, though, it shouldn’t be lost that Golden has made an accessible case for the positive recovery of the Christian Sabbath. There are other perspectives on the topic, to be sure, but this would be a solid book to share with someone who is unfamiliar with these themes and interested in learning more—that person who is just beginning to follow Christ or investigate Christianity, or is coming out of broad Evangelicalism, or is new to one of our churches. In fact, as David VanDrunen points out in his foreword, any book that takes the Lord’s Day as seriously as Golden does in this work should be appreciated by a wide variety of readers.
Michael J. Kearney is the pastor of Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Ordained Servant Online, January 2020