Book Review: Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

Since watching the book trailer a few years ago (a relatively new phenomenon within the publishing community), “Dug Down Deep” has been in the top ten ‘books I want to read’ list, but I hadn’t gotten around to it until recently. The topic of orthodoxy and having a deep faith is very close to my heart and vision. So close, in fact, that my preferences for how to approach the issue massively affected how I read this book. With that said, I have wrestled for a couple of weeks on how I would review and recommend this book. So please, take this with a grain of salt and understand the I have a great deal of respect for Harris and his attempt here.

Like most movies which have really tempting trailers, what you see initially is not always what you get. The trailer for this book is spot on, creative, and empowering. Just watching the video makes me want to poor into theology and understand God more. The book, on the other hand, doesn’t quite hit a home run for me. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time and consideration.

Joshua Harris is a well known author, pastor, and conference speaker who has written several books on the topic of dating and purity. Even his book on the church first boasted a title humorously playing off this theme (“Stop Dating the Church”, now “Why Church Matters”). Harris started writing when he was 21 and one thing is clearly evident, he has grown up a great deal since then. “Dug Down Deep” is a narrative of sorts which catalogs his development into a mature scholar of theology. Harris writes primarily from personal experience and sometimes his stories cast a long shadow over the message he is trying to teach. As I’ve found with most of his books, I feel the gnawing desire to rewrite most of his chapters. But personal preferences aside, the message of this book is vitally important in out society today.

“Dug Down Deep – Building You Life On Truths That Last” is built on the analogy of Jesus’ Parable about the two men who built separate houses. One built his house on the sand and when the wind and waters came, the house fell down. The other, wiser builder dug down to the rock and built his house on a firm foundation. When the wind and waters came, his house withstood the storm. With this metaphor, Harris builds his argument that our faith needs to be built on theology, with deep and firm foundations.

The first two chapters, making up the introduction to the book, center around why it is so important that our faith becomes personal. While compelling in many ways, I feel that the argument is under-developed and could use further Scriptural support. This is what I mean by my personal preferences getting in the way and wanting to re-write the book. In many ways, his arguments fall flat and the illustrations he uses confuse rather than clarify. There are so many biblical passages that explain better what Harris is attempting to say (Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8-10 come to mind), but as I stated before, he relies heavily on his personal experiences.

Furthermore, Harris makes some unfounded theological statements that I found difficult to overlook in light of the fact that he is writing about right opinion. Harris states flippantly that babies automatically go to heaven (a doctrine I know many people hold to, but one that cannot be proven through critical exegesis). His opinion on the matter only heeds in confusing people on the process of a proper hermeneutic and was an unnecessary comment I would have left out altogether. Surely Harris knows his view is not generally accepted without opposition.

While his chapters on theology are a hit and miss, his chapter on the Holy Spirit greatly concerned me. As a charismatic, Harris spends the bulk of his time defending his position from critics on the right while overlooking the blatantly obvious way the Spirit is abused by those to his left. I don’t mean that he doesn’t state where they are wrong, but he quickly gets past it to defend his position from attacks from non-charismatics. I found his argument lacking support and consistency. Changing the definition of prophecy to ‘not foretelling events’ and accepting healings as a possibility just so that he can affirm his views on tongues is not a compelling argument for their validity. Personally, I think the gifts are a minor issue to really understanding the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Sticking to what we know about the third Person of the Trinity and avoiding the controversy would have been a better approach. There is a lot that Harris overlooks for the sake of focusing so closely on the issue of gifts. Still, Harris is a charismatic that I could fellowship with closely. It’s just that his views don’t reflect well on a book that is centered on theological accuracy.

My final issue with the book is that while Harris is talking about going deeper into God’s Word and discovering who He is, he does not describe how that process can be accomplished. In the end, he lays out his thoughts and develops a desire to know God better, but he fails to provide the tools in which we can go deeper in our faith. Proper exegesis does not come naturally. It must be taught. But “Dug Down Deep” does not lay the necessary ground work for practically going deeper in theology. Each chapter is a rough overview of select doctrines. They are not conclusive, and not altogether sound in establishing a firm foundation. A fear I have about this book is that people will draw the conclusion that they have gone deep enough, thus preventing them from doing any of their own digging.

This is a tough balance for authors, pastors, and teachers, so I don’t mean to cast a blanket disregarding critique of the book without examining it’s valuable takeaways. The message of this book is critically important. Young Christians have not been challenged enough in their faith, and in light of our generations emphasis on tolerance, orthodoxy has become a negative word associated with radical and fundamentalism. Because we live in the information age, truth is relegated to knowledge and not discernment, therefore wisdom is rarely achieved. Harris’s book is fresh, current, and right where it needs to be on our time and culture. Harris notes through personal experience how settling with theological knowledge is not enough. We cannot simply accept the teachings of those who have gone before us. We must get our own shovels out and dig our own foundation.

This book was not written for a scholar like myself to pick apart, but instead for the new Christian, the immature believer, and the shallow liberal who is wrestling with their faith’s significance in the real world. In this way, “Dug Down Deep” is the best medicine currently out there.

With that said, I’m still waiting for that book which is solid and sound, enough theology but not too much to replace self discovery, and clearly concise that is yet to be written. Until then, I will recommend this book, with warning, to anyone who is at a place where they are ready to take on their own salvation and go deeper with their faith. As a starting point, I don’t know of any better book.

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6 Responses to Book Review: Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

  1. Nate says:

    Congrats on getting noticed! Actually led me to read the review too…I’m curious though, would you mind going into more detail with the statement “enough theology but not too much to replace self discovery,”?

    It strikes me because I’m a firm believer in the power of doubt to propel self-discovery…so the whole idea of withholding information to propel self-discovery seems foreign to me. It seems to me the ideal theologian can go as deep as he or she likes so long as they are also explicit in recognizing honest doubts. To say both “What have I answered?” and “What have I not answered?”

    When an author points out the weakness in his argument, it’s much harder to rationalize any blind acceptance. We must dig deeper if we are to put aside our doubts. I worry that it is the claim that we don’t have to dig any deeper that draws people to put so much value in a book enough to purchase it, though. “Magic Elixir, right here! The last you’ll ever need to cure all your ills!”

    • Adam Miller says:

      Thanks Nate. I always appreciate your insight. First of all, I don’t deserve the cudos. That goes to Joshua Harris and his staff for having the kind of character to post such a critical review. It takes great humility to handle critique like that.

      To answer your question. I don’t think my words fully express what I intended. What I wanted to say is that I don’t want another systematic theology book that rips the life and pleasure out of reading deep doctrine in the narrative of life. I appreciate that Harris used experience, I just wish he had used less of it. But that’s mostly preference, not scholarly critique.

      I don’t think you can ever be overly clear, or overly orthodox. But I do see how a lot of theology books lack the sort of integrative principles which make them personal, real, and relevant.

      The only thing I would withhold would be the narrow perspectives that many theologians take, Wayne Grudem for example (I just reviewed his book on politics). And I know we would disagree in hermeneutics and the 2KT points, but I’m a firm believer that we need to stick with what we can say with certainty and allow the Spirit and the process of sanctification to do the rest. I extrapolate these principles form Romans 14.

      I hope that clarifies my intentions. If it doesn’t feel free to ask away.

  2. Paul Kellen says:

    Adam,

    What I most appreciated about your review of DUG DOWN DEEP was your many acknowledgments of the strengths of Harris’ book. It certainly fit in with the title of
    his last chapter called “Humble Orthodoxy.” Obviously you are well stepped in
    theology and the temptation for someone like you would be to be much more
    critical of the book than you are. However, I find you so in tune with the great strengths
    of the book – particularly the power of narrative (his own journey, primarily in chapters
    one and two) in communicating the importance of theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy
    in a way that people unfamiliar with it’s importance can relate to his transformation
    and thus become interested in what (like Josh) they never imagined were keys to
    a deeply satisfying relationship with the Person we’ve been made to long for. I truly
    respect you for your review/critique being done in such a way that when all is said and
    done, you have actually endorsed the book!

    The critical thing to keep in mind (from my perspective) is the question of Harris’
    overall objective – an objective you capture perfectly in your second to last paragraph:
    “This book was not written for a scholar like myself to pick apart, but instead for the
    new Christian, the immature believer, (etc). In this respect, DUG DOWN DEEP, is the
    best medicine out there.” Harris’ claims for the book are quite humble as he calls the
    eight doctrines he invites us into as simply a mix-tape of his own splashing in the
    shallow end of the theological pool. He comes across as a beginner who has found
    that building his life on both knowing and doing what the Word (Jesus) says is LIFE
    and not “just adding homework to Christianity” as he formerly thought. What a
    wonderful service he does in emphasizing relationship with an amazing Person as
    the core of our faith and that learning (like learning about a person we love) enhances
    the relationship. He writes, “We should study God like a deep, red-sunset or a woman
    we have our heart set on.”

    I think your review (even with it’s honest criticisms) is actually deeply insightful as to
    why this is a very important book and you write with genuine humility and respect which
    is so refreshing.

    Many young people brought up in church families become susceptible
    to doubt because they say they don’t feel anything. When people in this condition read
    Harris’ book, I think they can begin to understand that our relationship with God won’t
    have passion if we don’t take time to know Him in His Word, spend time with Him, and
    seek to learn to apply His words to our lives just as human relationships don’t have
    depth of feeling when we stop learning about, spending time with, and caring about
    each other. Viewing his book as simply an introduction to theology (a winsome one to
    say the least in my opinion), Harris suggests many other books to those whose thirst for God may be awakened through the disarming honesty of his own journey.

    • Adam Miller says:

      Thanks Paul. I do have a lot of respect for Josh Harris. Especially after he posted my review on his website. Apart from the few things I pointed out, I am thankful for his showing us how to wrestle with the Word of God.

  3. I think your last sentence sums up Joshua Harris’ intent for the book, as I understand it. He states in the book that it is not a full systematic theology. I think the book is a great place to start and anyone who really reads it and understands the idea behind it will be drawn to continue past it into deeper study and understanding. This is the intent I believe, to write something accessible and help provide a starting point.

  4. Wes says:

    Hello Adam,

    You stated in your last paragraph “With that said, I’m still waiting for that book which is solid and sound, enough theology but not too much to replace self discovery, and clearly concise that is yet to be written.” I would like to know what you think of the book “The World-Tilting Gospel” by Dan Phillips. I wonder if it gets any closer to the desired book explained by your comment.

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