Book Review: Joseph by John Lennox

          John C. Lennox is the Professor of Mathematics (emeritus), University of Oxford; Emeritus Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College; and Associate Fellow of the said Business School. He holds doctorates in mathematics, science and philosophy/theology. Outside of his many articles and writings within the field of mathematics, he has written most extensively on the relationship between science, religion, and ethics. His debates with Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens and many other scientists and authors are well worth watching. He speaks Russian, French, English and German and speaks extensively around the world in his areas of expertise. Recently, he has begun to publish his research and reflections on different portions of the Bible. His first book in this vein was Against the Flow, which considered the Old Testament person of Daniel. This new volume considers yet another Old Testament figure – Joseph.

            Any potential reader who begins by reading a short biographical sketch of Professor Lennox (such as the one above),  might be initially tempted to write off any book by such an author as likely being too academic and boring to wade through. Yet, here is where a resume can be deceiving. Anyone who views one of Dr. Lennox’s debates or meets him in person will quickly find a kind, genial and friendly individual who can communicate some of the most difficult theological, philosophical and scientific truths in simple and picturesque language. God has given him that wonderful gift of knowing his subject matter extensively, from decades of immersion in the subject, and also the experience of having discerned how to helpfully and attractively communicate to many diverse audiences.

            In this short work, Dr. Lennox distills decades of study and reflection on the person of Joseph in the Old Testament. Having personally had the opportunity to hear his lectures on this topic, it is exciting to now see this work in print. He begins this work by giving an overview of the book of Genesis in order to show how Joseph’s story, which comes at the end of the book, fits in with the larger storyline. The connections made here could form their own booklet or small study, but the author makes sure to only give that which is necessary to better understand Joseph’s part in the book of Genesis and God’s purposes for him in the history of Israel.

            As he considers the beginning elements of Joseph’s story, the reader will quickly realize that Dr. Lennox has no desire to dwell only on brute facts from the text, but rather wants the reader to apply and consider those facts. What are the implications? How might these difficult realities of home life, betrayal by one’s family, deception, slavery and ultimate promotion all have been viewed and felt by the main characters. In essence, he causes the reader to feel the humanity of Joseph’s story.

            Along the way, Dr. Lennox also addresses the topic of forgiveness (chapters 15 & 16). These two chapters alone would be worth the price of the book. They are both gracious and clear on a topic that many seem to misunderstand from the Bible. He clearly shows that there is no “cheap grace” or “cheap forgiveness” in the Bible. God takes sin seriously, but true forgiveness and reconciliation are possible if one will follow God’s plan. He also clearly shows that repentance, or admitting and turning away from one’s sinful behavior is an essential part of the forgiveness process. Readers will be greatly helped by these chapters which are clearly illustrated in the life of Joseph.

            Throughout the course of this short work, the reader will be enthralled by this man, Joseph, who trusted in God and went from being sold into slavery by his brothers, to being falsely accused of a crime and thrown in jail, to ultimately being placed as the 2nd position in the greatest kingdom in the world of his time. Yet through all of this, Joseph showed a consistency of character and a reliance on God that is commendable. Through the lens of his life, the reader can learn many helpful life lessons and be pointed to that same rock-solid foundation that provided Joseph with such strength.

This book provides much needed clarity and hope from an old but applicable source. In fact, the reader will likely be struck by the similar human elements contained in this story and the struggles Joseph faced. Its easily readable style and brevity make it ideal both for personal reading and enjoyment as well as a gift for those who have less familiarity with the Bible but might be interested in this unique figure in history.

John C. Lennox, Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness. Wheaton: Crossway, 2019. 232pp.

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