Christians who attempt to address the crucial topic of the past tend toward extremes. At times, we fall into the trap of “the past is everything” mindset. We blame our past and use it as an excuse. At other times, we careen to the opposite extreme of “the past is nothing.” We rip out of context and misapply Paul’s words about forgetting the things which are behind (Philippians 3:1-15).
In Putting Your Past in Its Place, Pastor Steve Viars avoids both extremes. As he notes:
“Both extremes are problematic for students of Scripture. If the past is nothing, then why did God create us with the ability to remember? Why are we instructed, for example, to not let the sun go down on our wrath (Ephesians 4:26) if today isn’t going to affect tomorrow? But the past is everything view is equally troubling. The Scripture does not encourage us to view ourselves as helpless victims whose choices today are outside our ability to understand or change” (p. 18).
Viars then spends an entire chapter developing a “theology of the past.” With that foundation laid, the rest of Putting Your Past in Its Place is a practical theology of what the Bible teaches about how we deal with our past scripturally.
Suffering and Sin
The modern biblical counseling movement at times has emphasized the confrontation of sin, somewhat to the neglect of comfort for suffering. Viars addresses both by helping readers to organize their past into their innocent past (suffering) and their guilty past (sin). He then delineates between whether we handled our past well or poorly.
The rest of the book treks with readers through the four categories of:
The “Innocent Past” (suffering) when you Responded Well: You were sinned against, but did not sin in return. Respond now with “Authentic Suffering.”
The “Innocent Past” (suffering) when you Responded Poorly: You were sinned against, but your response displeased God. Respond now with “Humble Analysis.”
The “Guilty Past” (sin) when you Responded Well: You blew it, but then acknowledged your failure and handled matters appropriately. Respond now with “Joyful Remembrance.”
The “Guilty Past” (sin) when you Responded Poorly: You sinned and then took additional steps that displeased God further. Respond now with “Honest Self-Confrontation.”
Viars is anything but naïve. So immediately after introducing these four categories, he explains:
“It is okay if your ‘baloney detector’ is going off right about now. I am not suggesting that the Bible teaches these four categories in some sort of absolute and rigid fashion. Rather, these categories help us to clarify what happened and how we responded. That, in turn, helps us to know what biblical principles to apply” (p. 67).
Viars devotes three chapters to “authentic suffering” and dealing with our innocent past. He emphasizes biblical principles of facing it honestly, biblically, hopefully, and missionally. He develops “humble analysis” and dealing with our guilty past in two chapters. Here he encourages readers to ponder six diagnostic questions to discern how to respond today to one’s guilty past.
The three chapters on “joyful remembrance” help readers to respond to their guilty past when they handled their sin biblically. Here Viars focuses on what to do when we do not feel forgiven and when we continually rehearse our failures. The two chapters on “honest self-confrontation” teach how to handle our guilty past when we responded unbiblically. Here Viars helps readers to address heart issues and patterns rather than focusing on symptoms, while also directing readers to their only hope—rejoicing in the forgiveness of our Redeemer.
At first glance, these four categories might imply something of a mechanical approach. Nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout Putting Your Past in Its Place, what shines through is Viars decades of experience as a pastor and biblical counselor working with real people with real issues. His creative illustrations, engaging stories, personal examples, weaving in of Jill’s story, real-life testimonials, and questions for personal reflection and group discussion all result in the most reader-friendly counseling book you’ll ever find.
Viars has devoted his life and ministry to helping others change—biblically. Putting Your Past in Its Place is the result of that lifelong ministry. Whether you’re struggling with the process of change related to past suffering or to past sin, this book provides the seasoned, compassionate, pastoral, hope-filled, biblical wisdom you need.
While I highly recommend Putting Your Past in Its Place for the person in the pew, I’m also convinced that it will be a theory-altering, practice-changing book for pastors and biblical counselors. Viars models the sufficiency of Scripture for everyday life like no one I have read. Pastors and counselors can learn from him not only how to help their parishioners and counselees to deal with the past, but even more, how to view and use the Scriptures to develop a theology and methodology for dealing with any life issue.
In an era when our resources seem at times to bounce between theology unrelated to life and self-help manuals not grounded in God’s truth, Putting Your Past in Its Place is a breath of fresh air. The “sufficiency of Scripture” has become something of a buzz word in biblical counseling—used at times without definition or real-life descriptions. By grounding his practical theology in a biblical theology of the past, Viars models a robust, relational, real-world approach to the sufficiency of Scripture. He shows that God’s Word is relevant to all of life, and offers uniquely profound insights for living.