Review: Thank God By Reuben Bredenhof

“Thank God!” It rolls right off the tongue. It is so easy to say most times that you do not even need to think about it. But perhaps that is the problem. How often do we think about giving thanks? When and to whom should we be thankful? If we should be thankful, why? Thanksgiving is more than a seasonal holiday experienced in certain locales around the world. Giving thanks is much more than a common polite response or the token saying, “Well, that’s just how we were raised.” It is a phrase which comes from the heart and mind of gratitude, a sense of need and dependence met. It is our only right response as receivers.

In a culture desensitized and even antithetical to our desperate dependency on so many things in life (hint: all things), Reformation Heritage has published a fine little handbook on gratitude entitled, Thank God: Becoming More Grateful to the Greatest of Givers, by Reuben Bredenhof. In volume, Bredenhof leads his readers on a theological and practical journey through thanksgiving and living a life of gratefulness. Being the forgetful people we are, this book is a helpful reminder to be thoughtfully thankful in all things.

Knowing Ourselves and Knowing God

The content of Bredenhof’s book asks some significant questions of us. The common prompts of any question—the what, the who, the why, the where, the when, and the how—are spread throughout the chapters of Thank God. Helpfully, too, at the end of each chapter are discussion questions to mull over, individually or in a group.

Take the title of chapter one as our first example: “What Do You Have That You Did Not Receive?” As Bredenhof notes, “The question invites—even demands—our reflection” (1). This question, taken from 1 Corinthians 4:7, should lead us to numerous other questions. Within this question, Bredenhof immediately confronts us with the undeniable fact that all the various blessings of this life, including our very life itself, includes reception. Our very existence is given to us. We are the recipients of a multitude of blessings—which leads us to ponder who the giver is.

The giver is twofold: It is those who give to us in the here and now, our family, friends, and neighbors. But penultimately, behind all those co-actors is the ultimate Creator-Redeemer-actor acting, the one true and good giver. Thus, we cannot only reflect on what we have; we must be moved to contemplate from whom these good gifts come. “This question humbles the proud, enlightens the ignorant, and refocuses the preoccupied” (4).

So Give Thanks

Bredenhof’s insight into a grateful heart and way of life for the Christian is aptly summarized in the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks.” If every single thing we have is given to us, then we are to always give thanks. “Yes, it is divinely commanded as well as being ethically expected” (5). In a word, to not give thanks is an ethical and moral blunder, not only against neighbor, but ultimately against God.

Everything received, therefore, was given to us by someone. It is important to realize and appreciate the vital people in our lives who have given to us. So too, we should be grateful for the things we have received by our “own work”—our blood, sweat, and tears. Bredenhof calls this the inventory of our lives (1–2). But if this reflection does not move us to the ultimate Giver, then any thankfulness will fall flat, or worse, even be sinful. The triune Lord puts people into our lives and gives to us the talents, gifts, and abilities from which to act for the benefit of self and others. Our predicament then is to uncover any false gratitude or self-fulfilling thankfulness, to and return to the true image-bearing capability of joyful and worshipful gratitude and thanksgiving in Christ (7–10).

Give Thanks to Whom?

Without a doubt, we regularly fixate on the gifts rather than the giver. This happens in our human relationships, but also in our relationship to the ultimate Giver of all gifts. As Bredenhof reminds us, our attention and thoughts since the fall are usually on ourselves and not turned toward God.1 So thanksgiving is difficult. In fact, part of our nature refutes the notion! Recall the first question: What do you have that you did not receive? We already know what the true and honest response is—everything.

God is good. That is why we are to be thankful. Everything we have, we have received from God, even though through his various agents, that is, secondary causes.2 The Father, in the Son, and by the Holy Spirit is also a graciously generous giver. We are not deserving, yet we reap bountifully the goodness of the Lord. For this reason, we give thanks. But why does God act so graciously and so generously towards us? It is simply who he is.

We should know as Christians why we are to be grateful. But why does God give? He gives of himself because he is the supreme good, full of grace and truth, and all things are at his disposal. He has crown rights over all things and can do as he pleases. “It belongs to the holy character of God to give liberally” (30). That is good news for undeserving creatures. The complete gospel is the ground for our triune God’s impetus for giving, and so too, for ours (30–39).3

The How-to of Thankfulness

The only way to give thanks properly and worshipfully is to be renewed by the Spirit in Christ Jesus. Gratitude will be a resulting fruit of our faith in Christ. Will our gratitude be perfect? In no way. Should we then not worry so much about being thankful? By no means. Life is hard, and in connection with the Christian life, sometimes doubly so. So how do we “work out” our thanksgiving in our lives?4 Bredenhof gives us a few helpful tips to meditate on.

In chapter four we are reminded to count our blessings. This follows the idea of taking inventory of our lives. Reflecting on the goodness of God should lead to giving him thanks. Bredenhof also calls to our memory certain things we can be thankful to God for that may escape our minds or we might take for granted, such as the beauty of creation, our families, good friends, our vocation, modern medicine, and many others (44–51). These are very good common grace things that bless us immensely, but Bredenhof goes on to discuss those specially gracious goods that bless us beyond this passing age, such as the Lord Jesus Christ, baptism, prayer, repentance, the church, preaching, and the creeds (53–60). For these we give thanks to the Lord.5

Due to our renewed lives still in the flesh, our gratitude can be found lacking sometimes. This, Bredenhof will note, slips into the idolatry of gifts and an entitled forgetfulness of who we are. We also resort to thinking we have received good gifts by our own strength, only later to be discontent with those same gifts. In numerous ways, this is an affront to God. These are gratitude killers, says Bredenhof, and we must be vigilant to press on towards seeing these blessings rightly—as a true gift.6

Grow in Gratitude

The last chapters end with a more positive theological development about growing in the virtue of giving thanks to the Lord of all. We are blessed and it is good to see and taste that the Lord is good. Bredenhof reminds us to pay attention to our many blessings and even our difficulties, remembering how the Lord carries us through in all circumstances. No matter what, always look to Christ with thanks. Job is the perfect case study (112–5).7

The last chapter highlights gratitude in light of the consummation of the kingdom of God at Christ’s return. With our eyes fixed upon that day, it is nearly impossible to not have a grateful heart toward all that the Lord has accomplished and is accomplishing. Our time now is a time of getting ready for his appearing, and we should be thankful.8 And it is also practice for glory. Bredenhof cites Revelation 11:17, “We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was and who is to come” (128–9; italics original).9 This is a picture of the exuberant thanksgiving that we will issue everlastingly to our faithful triune God!

This book is not only a short introduction to gratitude, a quick page-turner on giving thanks; it is also a deep and hard look at the reasons for thanksgiving, whom to give thanks to, and how we should think about being grateful, along with methods and practices. This is not simply a how-to manual—rather, it points us to the divine priority of thanksgiving, for which the only real manual is the Bible functioning in the Christian life by the working agent, the Holy Spirit. Thank God is a worthy addition to your book collection. When reading it, you will find yourself with every chapter and page-turn, every sentence and every breath, giving thanks to the great God who alone is worthy of all praise and blessing and thanksgiving and glory and honor.

Notes

  1. “Apart from God’s gracious help, we will persist in the most blameworthy ingratitude. Apart from God’s powerful resetting of our focus, humankind will forever fixate on the gifts and withhold worship from the Giver” (15).
  2. See Chapter 5 “On Providence” in the Westminster Confession of Faith for more.
  3. “By setting our mind on the glories of Christ and considering the great things He has done, God will surely work in us an increase in gratitude” (39).
  4. “Thanksgiving should be the sanctified instinct of the Christian life” (43).
  5. Bredenhof in chapter five describes a specific Christian thankfulness that alone is worth the purchase of the book. Here, he talks about practicing thankful prayer, worship, giving, and living.
  6. For details in this paragraph, see chapter six (79–92).
  7. Though in no way diminishing the very real pain of suffering and loss, “The book of Job is full of insight and encouragement for any believer”—Job knew that his Redeemer lives (114; cf. Job 19:25).
  8. “It is gratitude for grace that is already, but not yet” (128).

© Charles Vaughn. All Rights Reserved.

Reuben Bredenhof, Thank God: Becoming More Grateful to the Greatest of Givers, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2023)


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    Post authored by:

  • Charles Vaughn
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    Charles lives in San Diego county with his wife and four covenant children. He has a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies from Regent University and an M.A. in both Biblical and Theological Studies from Westminster Seminary California. Charles works as a Junior High history teacher at a Christian school in Escondido, CA.

    More by Charles Vaughn ›

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