Everyone has a past and many people struggle to rightly deal with their pasts. Pastor Stephen Viars takes aim at this problem in his new book, Putting Your Past in Its Place: Moving Forward in Freedom and Forgiveness. After twenty years of pastoral ministry and countless cases of biblical counseling, Viars is well-qualified to write on the subject of handling the past through the gospel.
Viars’ main purpose is to develop a biblical theology of the past that is practical, helpful, and down-to-earth.1 With a deep concern for readers who are stuck in past suffering and sin, the author presents biblical hope and help. Yet, the book is not about a step by step process. It is about a Person-God Himself. Viars writes, “My greatest concern is not that you learn a series of biblical principles or even take a few steps of behavioral obedience. Ultimately, God offers us the possibility of experiencing a vibrant, joyful relationship with Him. Unfinished business in the past will rob us of the delight we can find in Christ.”2 He masterfully shepherds readers toward lasting change; putting the past to work for good.
For every person, the past has a tendency to work like a belt. The belt of the past may become too tight, painfully squeezing the life out of someone. The past may be fastened too loosely, rendering it virtually useless. Viars works to cultivate the past in a third way. By setting out a plan for dealing with the past biblically, readers are equipped to respond to past events in a godly and Christ-centered way. The result is a greater ability to understand the past and live in view of God’s pleasure.
Viars approach to dealing with troubles from the past can be summed up in three phases. First, readers are encouraged to examine the events of their pasts and organize them into one of four biblical categories. These categories are analogized by four buckets.
Four Categories of the Past
Bucket 1: The innocent past when you responded well.
Bucket 2: The innocent past when you responded poorly.
Bucket 3: The guilty past when you responded well.
Bucket 4: The guilty past when you responded poorly.
Second, once the reader’s past events are categorized into this paradigm, key Scriptures are applied for the purpose of self-examination and obtaining a thoroughly biblical understanding of what went wrong. For each category, Viars provides just the right amount of instruction so as to help readers embrace and practice God’s way of change without overwhelming them with information. The third phase uses the previous biblical categories and Scriptural insight to determine the appropriate response to the past; authentic suffering, humble analysis, joyful remembrance, and humble self-confrontation. Throughout this process, the author keeps the Person of God central, preventing a mechanical approach to the past. Viars writes,
“My prayer is that you will use what you’ve learned in this book to address any unresolved issues from the past. I hope you’ve discovered that you can sort out your past and take care of specific aspect of it with the help of truths from Scripture. Along the way, make sure you focus not simply on the principles of the Bible, but also on the Person of our God.”3
First and foremost, Putting Your Past in Its Place is uniquely biblical. From cover to cover, a high premium is placed on the Scriptures. With compassion, insight, and a pastoral hand, Viars draws his insights exclusively from God’s sufficient word. Subsequently, readers gain a clear picture of how biblical counsel profoundly impacts every human problem, experience, and need. Today, secular insights and man-made wisdom is pervasive among books that attempt to fix the past. Not so with here. At the same time, Viars carefully avoids the read your Bible and call me in the morning approach to life change. Instead, Putting Your Past in Its Place majors on mining the deep and lasting truths of God necessary for authentic Christian growth.
Second, Viars is highly relevant. The author’s storyteller style and interpersonal approach draws readers to identify with the case study characters used to illustrate the points. Most notably, the story of a struggling Christian named Jill plays out across each chapter. Jill’s story of change provides the reader a mirror in which he can see his life intersecting with the hopeful help of the gospel by the grace of God.
Third, the four-bucket paradigm of understanding past events is immensely helpful as it provides readers with a simple and workable structure from which they can examine their lives, apply the Scriptures, and pursue Christ in a careful and honest way. This structure provides an useful guide for knowing what questions to ask, what biblical answers to apply, and how to respond to the gospel today; even as believers. Above all, the four-bucket approach is in no way a simple four-step mechanism for change. Instead, it is a guide to pursuing and pleasing Christ by learning to deal with the past on Christ’s terms and living today in submission to His sovereign and loving plan.
Putting Your Past in Its Place is an excellent resource for every person with a past. Everyone can deeply benefit from reading this book.