I’m reviewing Rory Shiner’s book “One Forever” which tackles to topic of union with Christ. You can grab the book from the Matthias Media store; click HERE.
“In Christ” was the topic of National Training Event (NTE) the year before last. That meant thousands of university students coming together to learn to read and teach the bible, and to do Christian life and ministry in the contexts we move in. As well as the national director of AFES, there is always some beast of a guest speaker who comes to unravel God’s word for us. That year it was Rory Shiner, and God used him well, to break down what can seem like a confusing and abstract concept.
So I was stoked when I heard that he was writing a book on the topic. Here’s the thing: One Forever is essentially those same NTE talks, put on paper, warts and all [note: that’s a nasty way of saying that even the jokes are the same]. If you’re a fan of his preaching, you’ll more than likely enjoy the book. If you were at NTE but lost your notes, this book is your solution.
One Forever is short. It can’t cover a huge amount of ground, or do a lot of detailed exegesis. It can’t really weigh in on the academic side of things. There are a few really big, profound and nuanced doctrines tied in here – take, as an example, the federal theology of Romans 5 (i.e. Adam and Christ). Shiner uses simple, effective analogy to explain this passage – an essential one that underlies much of being “In Christ”. While both this section and the whole book are very effective in explaining the concept in real terms, the complexities and knock-on topics weren’t explored in depth. That said, there is still plenty of bible, and a generous spread of ideas from philosophy and theology through the ages.
In reality, though the geeks may want to dive deeper (I’ve heard that Con Campbell’s book is a good place to head), the streamlining is a definite selling point. As is clear from the introduction, One Forever is concerned with expounding an – even the – essential aspect of Christianity in a straightforward, concrete manner. The aim was to show how being in Christ is not abstract and difficult but real, beautiful and overtly practical. One Forever admirably achieves this goal.
Clarity is one of the great calling cards of One Forever. Short enough to read in one or two sittings, the book is still broken up with plenty of headings and subheadings which are helpful in tracing the flow of thought and allowing you to read snippets one at a time, without getting lost. This means you don’t have to be a reader or a nerd to dig into this book. Furthermore, you won’t find wordy jargon or cheesy clichés.
So what about what he actually says? The groundwork is laid in terms of unity; unity in creation, incarnation and salvation. Touching on the significance of the sacraments, Shiner launches into the significance of union with Christ for salvation. With a survey of relevant scripture, Shiner offers a simple but incredibly helpful way of thinking about faith and salvation; “…Christ is the site of God’s new creation.” [p. 39]. As he did at NTE, Shiner introduces an incredibly helpful analogy, which he uses at several points along the way: that of an aeroplane. The secret to reaching the destination is to be in the plane. The way this analogy is used to explain Romans 5 is, in itself more than enough reason to get hold of this book.
This book is both informative and just super helpful to the Christian, whatever stage they are at. It reminds of the objective nature of justification, and it powerfully asserts that being in Christ is something ontological – a powerful stroke against either legalism or legalism. A proper understanding of what it means to be “In Christ” frees us from fear of weakness, and from works righteousness. This is, in my mind, the greatest strength of the book: it oozes the gospel!
This means that One Forever is not just for Christians, but is a resource for outreach. It’s very approachable and offers a good explanation of how Christianity is not based on morality or church attendance. The gospel story is present before union is even introduced, and at every stage the gospel of grace is faithfully represented. This is not where it ends, though. Shiner doesn’t leave it in the theoretical. How this union with Christ impacts our everyday experience – makes the church important, informs the sacraments, and affects every aspect of life – is also clear.
One Forever is an easy read, and brings the concept of union with Christ out of the abstract and into the real world. It is saturated with the gospel, and can offer a lot to seekers and new Christians, as well as offering foils for the traps of legalism, individualism, and fear of weakness. It also shows how this plays out concretely in the church and life.
You can get hold of One Forever HERE.