Count It All Joy

 
(Edited Transcript of Podcast)
 
A book on joy leaves me joyless. I disagree with how the esteemed Dr David Jeremiah writes, but I agree with what he writes. It gives me great joy to bring you today’s review.
 
80 years old, 80 books
Today’s book is “Count it all Joy” by Dr David Jeremiah, founder and host of Turning Point for God and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church. It’s a mega church of the Southern Baptist Convention that is attended by over 10,000 people a week. From Dr Jeremiah’s website, I count 80 books, including the Jeremiah Study Bible and two Gold Medallion award winners. USA Today and Wall Street Journal list his books in their best seller list. Dr. Jeremiah is 80 years old this year, which means, on average, he has written one book for each year of his life.
 
The original title of the book I’m reviewing today was “Turning toward Joy”, published in 1992. In 2013, it was republished and re-titled to “Count it all Joy”. It’s the same book. Dr Jeremiah’s introduction in both books are exactly the same, they are both dated 1992.
 
Count It All Joy is a devotional exposition on the Epistle to the Philippians. In the introduction, Dr Jeremiah writes, “The theme of this letter is joy. The word rejoice is found nine times, the word joy four times, and the expression “rejoice with” two times. Even though he was writing as a prisoner, Paul was filled with joy, and that joy permeates his letter. The secret of his joy was his relationship with Jesus Christ. The letter begins and ends with the name of Jesus.”
 
This book is not Joel Osteen’s “Your Best Life Now: Seven Steps to Living at Your Full Potential”, where step number seven is “Choose to be happy”. No, not at all. In Dr Jeremiah’s book we don’t choose to be happy. We choose Jesus, and when we choose Jesus, we have joy in Jesus.
 
So that is the big difference between Dr Jeremiah’s book on Philippians compared to Osteen’s.
 

Joys, Small Group Guide and Commentaries

The study on Philippians is structured as 12 chapters. Every chapter begins with the words the “Joy of…”. The first chapter is titled, “The Joy of Community”. The next is “The Joy of Adversity”, and this naming pattern continues until the last chapter, which is “The Joy of Serenity”.
 
After these 12 chapters, we have the Reader’s Guide. Nervous small group leaders will benefit from Dr Jeremiah’s guidance and tips on leading a small group study. Here you’ll find chapter summaries, icebreakers, discussion questions, application questions, optional activities, prayer focus and assignment. You have everything you need to make sure you have a good group study. He encourages you to make a prayer box – he tells you how to make one – and to keep a journal. The questions he has are thought-provoking and some of the questions can keep the whole group up the whole evening.
After this, you have a chapter on footnotes and a chapter which lists the commentaries. I count 23 commentaries. The oldest is Moule (1897), Meyer and Ironside, both published in 1920s are frequented quoted . The newer ones are Jim Boice (1971), Warren Wiersbe (1974) with the newest: Alec Motyer’s The Message of the Philippians (1984).
 
This means if you are looking for a book that deals with recent scholarship or recent issues, then this is not the book for you. Having said that newer does not mean better. A book published 100 years ago can be better written, more convicting than a book published yesterday. So there’s still something to be gained from reading old books. Now that you know how the book is structured, let’s turn the page to chapter one.
 

Staccato

The Joy of Community. It begins with a heartwarming anecdote. In prison, Paul longed for the Philippians and this pain is described by a quote from Dr. John Townsend. Later on, we get a word study on what the name Paul means, and the meaning of servants and saints. A paragraph quotation from Amy Carmichael, immediately followed by another paragraph quotation from J. I. Packer. A quote from Motyer, then a quote from McClain, an anecdote on John Newton, a poem from unknown author, another poem from Judson Edwards, a quote from Marian Evan’s letter, then a quote from C. S. Lewis. Along the way we have word studies on pronouns (I, me and my), the Greek background behind words: knowledge, discernment and offense, which is skandalon in Greek. The chapter ends with an anecdote from Alan McGinnis on Viktor Frankl.
 
Well, having heard my review of Chapter one, what do you think? I failed to properly convey the joy of community that Dr Jeremiah writes, but I wanted to convey to you the reading experience of chapter one.
 
In this book, it is evident that Dr Jeremiah loves good writing. He quotes extensively from the Bible. He quotes extensively from other writers. He loves good writing, but in this book doesn’t offer much of his own.
 
Reading the chapter is like reading clippings. He picks good quotes or anecdotes, and he lets these carry the burden of describing his thoughts. Or to give an example from our Internet habits, reading the chapter is like reading a Facebook page. We read posts or shares, which are accompanied by some comments that show how it’s relevant to the whole page.
 

Count It All Quotes

Now that is a big claim. Let me support it with some evidence.
 
Taking the first chapter as an example, I copied the whole first chapter into Microsoft Word. Then I highlighted the paragraphs, and I categorize them as anecdote, quotation, Bible verse or the author’s words that are not dependent on anecdotes or quotations to carry the message.
 
According to Microsoft Word, there are around 4000 words in chapter one. By my estimate, from least to most, 3% of those words were Bible verses. 16% were Dr Jeremiah’s study on the Greek word, 21% were anecdotes, 21% were quotations and 40% were the author’s own words that did not depend on anecdotes or other people to carry the big idea.
 
Is this a problem? It may not. I know people who prefer reading Facebook post, than reading a book, and they might be prefer a start-stop, start-stop book full of anecdotes and quotations rather than a sustained building of an idea. of a big thought, to a conclusion.
 
If you prefer well written book, then this review might have saved you some time and money. But a good book is not reduced solely to writing style. We should ask the question: What is the content? Is the content true?
 

Whatever is True, Think on Them

Do you remember the list of commentaries? Dr. Jeremiah quotes them in a positive light. If you’re familiar with any of the authors, then you could guess the nature of his teaching and you would be right. His teaching is from the solid evangelical tradition. I can’t vouch for the preacher because I don’t listen to his sermons, but I can vouch for this book.
 
What is a quick way to assess a commentary? If you are familiar with the episode to the Philippines, you will know that there are a few flashpoint versus versus that have caused much heat within the Christian family, for example, between Arminans and Calvinists. But there are also verses that have been reinterpreted to support dangerous and even heretical views.
 
Let us look at three verses from Philippines and see, how does Dr Jeremiah deal with with them?
 

Christ Emptied Himself

Philippians 2:7: “Christ emptied himself by taking the form of a seven, so Christ emptied himself.”
 
Now there is a teaching that says Christ is divine, but because he is a man, he has no divine nature. How can Christ be divine and not have a divine nature? Maybe that’s a question that you leave to theologians to argue. After all, it doesn’t affect you on how you live and how you go to church and how you worship, right?
 
Well, let me read to you how one author/teacher endorses this teaching: “He [Jesus] performed miracles, wonders, and signs, as a man in right relationship to God… not as God. If He performed miracles because He was God, then they would be unattainable for us. But if He did them as a man, I am responsible to pursue His lifestyle. Recapturing this simple truth changes everything… and makes possible a full restoration of the ministry of Jesus in His Church.”
So this author/teacher writes that we are responsible to pursue Jesus miracle-performing lifestyle, and it is possible for a full restoration of miracle-performing ministry in the church because Jesus was a man without any divine nature, just like us. This teaching stems from a faulty interpretation of Philippines 2:7.
 
Writing 30 years ago, Dr. Jeremiah states the traditional understanding which condemns that teaching. He write:
“Jesus Christ was not simply like God; He was the very nature and substance of God. All that God is, Jesus Christ was and is and ever will be. To say that Jesus was in the form of God is the same as saying that Jesus was God.”
 
Very clear. I like that. So that is his understanding of Philippians 2:7. Let’s look at another one.
 

Joy of Responsibility

Philippians: 2:12-13: “So work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” If you’re familiar with this passage, you will hear the debate of God’s sovereignty (it is God who works in you) and human responsibility (work out your own salvation).
 
Under the chapter titled, “The Joy of Responsibility”, Dr. Jeremiah writes, “The New Testament is very clear about the nature of salvation. It is not the result of man’s efforts but comes through the grace of God.”
 
Later, in the same chapter, he writes, “God has worked in us. He is working in us. He will continue to work in us. We are to work diligently so that we might realize the benefit of all that God has done and is doing for us. Both divine enablement and human responsibility are involved.”
 
Dr Jeremiah doesn’t resolve the tension here and he doesn’t do it in his chapter on God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Where does it start? Where does it end? But he states and asserts our traditional understanding that both are true, that God is sovereign and humans are responsible.
 

I Can Do All… Whaddya Mean I Can’t?

The last Philippians verse that I wanted to check when I read this book is a famous one. And I’m sure you have heard it quoted, cited and prayed. That is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
 
Alas, Dr Jeremiah doesn’t address the misuse of this verse. He doesn’t write the negative case, what this verse does not mean. Instead, he writes the positive case, what this verse means. He writes on the contentment and also the people that Paul is mentioning in this chapter. So I didn’t get to see how he addresses the abuse of the verse, but I am happy with what he wrote this chapter.
 
 

Bad Book or Bad Review?

At the end of the day, as I finished the book, it is a book with good teaching, poorly written. Now that is a very harsh comment I know. And how can I make such a conclusion of a book written by the esteemed and respectable Dr David Jeremiah?
 
His Turning Point to God Ministry reaches untold numbers around the world. His sermons feed 10,000 people weekly. His books number 80 and he has his own study Bible.
 
And if you look at Amazon for this book “Count It All Joy”, 187 reviewers gave him an average of 4.7 stars. In Good Reads another book review site. We had 147 reviewers, and it ranks 4.14 stars, There are many people who give this a five star review.
 
Is there something wrong with my review?
 
One of the reviewers, one of the very few who did not give five stars, wrote, “It’s basically a quote book”. After counting all the words in the first chapter, I have given you evidence for that.
 
Another reviewer, Debbie from “Christ Focused Book Club” writes, “some parts of the study felt disconnected due to the frequent quotes and serial word studies.” Later on, she kindly concludes, “I recommend this book to those who are interested in studying Philippians and who like this author’s style.”
 
Maybe her last comment helps us understand the high rating, the many five stars, for this book.
 

Four Reasons

Let me give you four reasons why I think the book scores so highly despite my very low review.
 
1. People like this. Anecdotes and quotations heavy, yes, and people like that.
 
2. I bash his writing style, but I wholeheartedly endorse the teaching. Maybe this is one of the rare times when substance beats style. Awesome. It should happen more often.
 
3. Dr. David Jeremiah’s ministry, whether it’s preaching or radio or others, has helped many, many people and hearing his voice as they read this book, they might have overlooked the flaws. In other words, he teaches so well in other areas that his readers appreciate him and are less critical. That’s good.
 
4. Maybe readers have not been introduced to other books on Philippians. If true, then let me correct that right now.
 
If you are a teacher who needs to go deep into Philippians, pick up one of the technical commentaries he listed or the newer ones. I recommend the new International Commentary on the New Testament, Golden Fee’s book on Philippians. “Count It All Joy” was not written for deep study. And if you do any deep study, you already knew that.
 
If you are a small group leader and you don’t want to read one textbook just to understand one letter, and you like Our Daily Bread and want something like that, I ask that you go and get Warren Wiersbe “Be Joyful”. By the way, in the Acknowledgement chapter, Dr Jeremiah thanks Warren Weirsbe for encouraging him to write “Count It All Joy”. So I’m sure Dr Jeremiah supports my recommendation that you get Warren Weirsbe’s “Be Joyful”.
 
If you are looking for less reading and more discussing, then get this book “Philippians: The joy of living in Christ”. It would be perfect for you. Guess who wrote it? Dr. David Jeremiah as part of the Jeremiah Bible Study series.
 
Last recommendation. If you’re not looking for a deep technical book and you’re not reading for a small group, you’re just looking for an engaging book for personal reading, I recommend Don Carson’s “Basics for Beginners: An Exposition of Philippians”. I really like this book. Let me read his opening paragraph of his first chapter:
 
“I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please. Not too much—just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust. I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation. I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races—especially if they smell. I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged. I would like about three dollars worth of gospel, please.”
 
And that’s how Dr Carson begins his exposition of Philippians under the chapter titled “Put the Gospel First”.
 

Award Winner, Christ Wins

Now that you have spoilt for choices on Philippians, let me make a few things clear. If you like Dr David Jeremiah’s “Count It All Joy”, good for you and I mean that sincerely, not sarcastically.
 
I strongly criticized the writing style. It’s a book of quotations. But I strongly affirm what he taught, the conclusion he makes, and how he makes those conclusions based on Scripture.
 
Having been so critical, I did wonder how his writing won awards and became best sellers. So I dug a little deeper, and I note that Count It All Joy was written in 1992 and this was one of his earliest books, either book number two or number three. I then read, snippets of his other books and found he still likes his stories. He still gives a lot of anecdotes and so on, but the stories in his later books don’t interrupt, but rather they flow with his easy to read, warm and inviting writing style.
 
He gets better over time. In his 40 years of writing 80 books in all, we see the development of a novice to a seasoned writer.
 
With that, I actually wonder whether Dr Jeremiah might agree with my review of this book. Perhaps he would chuckle, half-embarrassed the same way we would if we look back at our earlier works: writings or recordings.
 
But there is nothing here for writer or reviewer to be embarrassed about. More importantly, both writer and reviewer agree that the joy of the believer is in Christ. Count It All Joy is a book that brings out the joy in the epistle to the Philippians through many quotations and anecdotes. While I do recommend other books, I know that many of us love a book full of anecdotes and quotations. Count It All Joy scratches that itch. This concludes my review of Count It All Joy by Dr David Jeremiah.
 

Give Me Some Happiness

Before you go, can I count on you to give me some joy today? Sorry, I meant happiness, not joy. It would make me momentarily happy if you would subscribe or write a review. You can also visit readingandreaders.com to contact or support me.
 
Let me end today’s episode by quoting Dr Jeremiah, who, writing 30 years ago, could not foresee today’s pandemic. In the introduction, the final paragraph, he writes:
“The reason for Paul’s joy was his relationship with Christ! As we study his letter to the Philippians, we will observe the testing of that joy in the crucible of Roman imprisonment. If Paul’s relationship to his Master could bring him joy under those conditions, then surely we who also love the Savior can learn to rejoice in our difficult times as well.”
 
Thank you for listening.

Book List

Count It All Joy by David Jeremiah. Amazon. Faithlife.
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (NICNT) by Gordon Fee. Amazon. Faithlife.
Be Joyful by Warren Wiersbe. Amazon. Faithlife.
Philippians by David Jeremiah. Amazon. Faithlife.
Basics for Believers by D. A. Carson. Amazon. Faithlife.