Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Putting Your Past in its Place: A Book Review

Many secular and Christian authors have written on the vital subject of dealing with one’s past. However, Putting Your Past in Its Place is the first book on the subject that I would call truly biblical. In this volume, pastor and biblical counselor Steve Viars carefully unpacks the all-sufficient truth of Scripture, and skillfully applies it in a way that makes it fresh and practical. Yes, Viars’ has produced an ample theology of the past that will serve to aid struggling Christians to gain freedom and forgiveness. Moreover, it will equip pastors and biblical counselors with a powerful and trustworthy tool for ministry to those struggling with the past.

Viars divides Putting Your Past in Its Place into three sections. The first section describes how many Christians are not growing spiritually because they are hindered by their past. Viars explains these Christians tend to fall into two categories. Some view their past as everything and others view it as nothing. Those who view the past everything often use it as an excuse for their present bad choices, and rarely take ownership for their sinful responses to perceived hurts. In contrast, those who view the past as nothing are inclined to focus on works. Viars say these folks eventually run out of what he calls “behavioral steam” because they have ignored the issues of the heart, which eventually catches up with them. Since the Bible teaches that all behavior issues from the heart, Viars’ conclusion makes sense.

The second and third sections of Putting Your Past in Its Place are the how-to sections of the book. In these sections, Viars divides one’s past into four categories or mental buckets. The first is the innocent past when one responded well. Next is the innocent past when one responded poorly. Third, is the guilty past when one responded poorly, and finally, the guilty past when one responded well. He does a thorough job of explaining, illustrating, and unpacking the scriptural principles related to each category. Additionally, Viars uses real life case studies, which demonstrate the power of biblical truth to transform those struggling with the past.

Putting Your Past in Its Place is unashamedly biblical. Viars carefully exegetes and applies the Scriptures. He clearly demonstrates his belief in Scripture’s authority, and sufficiency for dealing with one’s past and all of life. In contrast to many authors in the Christian counseling genre, Viars does not misapply Scripture. Too often, Christian authors teach the right truth, but use the wrong Scripture to do so. Viars has avoided this critical error in Putting Your Past in Its Place.

In addition to good exegesis and sound application, Viars expounds sound biblical theology. Putting Your Past in Its Place is not just a theology of the past. It addresses a wide range of related topics that are vitally relevant to living the Christian life, such as suffering, forgiveness, repentance and sanctification to name a few. Perhaps, the most helpful section of the book is the one in which Viars unpacks the biblical view of suffering, and the proper response to it. Suffering is something every Christian experiences, but sadly, many grow bitter through it because they do not have a solid theology of suffering. Viars has provided a sound remedy for this problem.

No Christian book can be called truly biblical if fails to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Viar’s book definitely passes this test. He proclaims the gospel in a way that makes it clear, relevant, and necessary for day-to-day living. Too many contemporary Christians view the gospel in past tense, but Viars demonstrates that we desperately need its powerful truths daily.

Putting Your Past in Its Place practicality is evident on every page. Viars has simplified what many have perceived to be a complex problem. He clearly establishes that dealing with one’s past is not complicated if one is willing to address it biblically. That is no to say the process of dealing with the past will be easy or pain-free. Self-confrontation, sorting through past suffering, and confessing sin can be sorrowful and painful to say the least. However, the joy and the freedom at the end of the process will make it more than worth struggle. Viars does a wonderful job of explaining and illustrating this truth from the Scriptures, and by means of case studies from contemporary life.

Another feature of Viars’ book that makes it extremely practical is the simple diagram he developed to illustrate the process for dealing with one’s past. The diagram enables one to easily remember the basic teachings of the book, which makes it particular helpful to pastors and biblical counselors. They can use that diagram to unpack the entire process of dealing with one’s past in just a few minutes. In addition, a pastor or counselor can use it as a diagnostic tool to determine what category of the past with which someone might be struggling.

I would equate reading Putting Your Past in Its Place to having the rare opportunity of being apprenticed under a highly experienced pastor and biblical counselor. In short, Pastor Viars has taught me more about dealing with the past in a couple hundred pages than I had previously learned in over twenty years of ministry. Interestingly, he did not teach me anything new. Instead, he did what all good Bible teachers do. He took the ancient and trustworthy truths of Scripture wove them together in a way I had never before seen.