The Loveliest Place: The Beauty and Glory of the Church by Dustin Benge (Crossway 2022). Note: I received an advance review copy of the book from Crossway as part of their Blogger Review Program.
As you scroll through social media or read Christian websites, ask yourself how many times “the church” is mentioned. How many paint the church in a negative light, as too “institutional” or helplessly blind to the sins of the past? How many descriptions of the church focus on programs or methods? By contrast, how many describe the church as “lovely”? How many describe it as “precious”? Despite their absence from much Christian discourse, terms like those last two are how God describes the church in His Word.
Christians have, perhaps, lost a full sense of the loveliness of the church. Dustin Benge’s new book is a much-needed tonic for restoring a healthy view of how dearly Christ views His Bride. The Loveliest Place is not a systematic treatment of all aspects of the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology). Through his book, Benge helps Christians form a Biblical view of the body to which they have been united (I Corinthians 12:12-20).
What the Church Is
“The church is,” Benge writes in the introduction, “the assembly of the redeemed . . . the corporate gathering of the redeemed citizens of heaven, who have been transmitted from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of Christ through his shed blood, glorious resurrection, exalted ascension, and present intercession.” (p.14-15) In order to understand the true beauty and glory of the church one must first understand what (or, rather, who) the church is.
In laying the groundwork for the rest of the book, the author also points to the Scriptural metaphor of the church as the “bride of Christ.” It is the picture that the Apostle Paul uses in Ephesians 5 and the one that we read again in Revelation 7. Better even than husband and wife can expect in this world, Christ and the church “are eternally satisfied in one another as they bask in the glory, majesty, and holiness of God.” (p.16)
“But why the church?” one might ask. “Can’t we see the beauty the beauty of God in creation itself?” We can and do see the beauty of God in creation, but it is not the exclusive display of that attribute of God. Rather, God has “decided to display his radiance within the hearts of the crown of his creation, humanity. . . . The church is beautiful because God is beautiful.”
Why the Church is Lovely
Benge approaches his theme from a variety of angles, but all are grounded firmly in Scripture. From defining what the church is, he proceeds to lay out how the church relates to God as Father, Savior, and Helper, devoting a chapter to each Person of the Trinity (chapters 3-5). He devotes two chapters (8 and 9) to the ways that faithful leaders beautify the church as they shepherd and feed the flock.
Chapter 6, “A Pillar and Buttress of Truth,” begins with a reference to the well-known story of the “little Dutch boy” who used his finger to plug a leaking dike, saving many lives in the process. This not to say that Christians are the pillar that upholds the church. Rater, Benge writes, “The truth given to us through Scripture is the pillar and buttress of the church, having the same authority, relevance, and sufficiency as God himself, for the Bible is his divine breath” (p.84). Thus, similarly to how the “hero of Haarlem” told the sea, “You shall not come through I will not run!,” Christians, Benge says, must be willing to cry out “The world’s lies and deceit must stay back now! My family, my church, my neighborhood, my country will not be drowned while I am here!”
Other chapters deal with the topics of worship, persecution, and unity. Alluding to Song of Solomon 1:4, the book’s epilogue reiterates that the goal to serve “as a visit to the sacred chambers where Christ dwells alone with his church.” In visiting those chambers, The Loveliest Place does not linger for very long on any one aspect of what the Bible teaches about the bride of Christ, but it certainly gives the reader a rich picture of what is so lovely, so dear, about the church.
Why devote an entire book to the topic of the loveliness of the church? Benge supplies the answer near the beginning of the book:
If we accurately grasped the church’s beauty and loveliness in all its glorious richness, how dramatically our lives would more appropriately reflect God’s plan and purpose. How quickly we would reject petty squabbles that mar our snow-white garments. How lovingly we would serve one another by following the self-denying footsteps of our bridegroom.
“Behold, you are beautiful!” Beholding the church’s beauty changes everything.
So, for Benge, this book is not meant as some high and lofty treatise, but rather as a book with eminently practical implications for ordinary Christians. Readers of Servants and Heralds certainly do not need to be reminded how the church has been maligned (from within and from without) in recent days. In The Loveliest Place, Dustin Benge has given Christians a well-written and thoughtful means to restore a right view of the bride of Christ. I give it an enthusiastic recommendation.