People “tend to drift between two extremes when considering” the role of the past, says Steve Viars: (1) the past is nothing, or (2) the past is everything. Christians ought to recognize the influence and the limitations of the past in the formation of an individual. In Putting Your Past in Its Place Steve Viars gives readers a theology of the past that allows us to appreciate and qualify the importance of our past experiences. The past is influential but not determinative.
How we interact with our past has massive implications for our present lives. A proper theology of the past will explain the role and nature of our past, its current impact on us, and the place of God in our past experiences. Together these details will help us to think rightly about the influence and limitations of our past and help focus our responses to past suffering and sin. Written from a Biblical perspective, by a well-respected Biblical Counselor, this book will give readers a “practical, understandable” introduction to a “biblical theology of the past (18). The aim of the book is not, however, simply to provide readers with information, but rather to equip them to asses and evaluate their own responses to the past and help them grow from such reflection. The book’s topic may be a theology of the past, but it is a practical tool for both personal self-evaluation and counseling.
The book is broken down into three sections. Section one introduces us to the “Power of the Past,” analyzing its influence on us. Viars warns readers of the danger and bondage of unresolved issues from the past. He invites readers to see how our past can be both our “worst enemy,” especially when it hinders our spiritual growth (Viars lists six ways it can do this), and our “best friend,” especially when it reminds us of God’s sovereign care throughout difficulty. He also gives readers hope that they can “put the past in its place.” In the final chapter of section one Viars introduces a powerful framework for confronting our past, one that focuses on our response. He depicts the past as four buckets, grouped into two categories: our innocent past (innocent only in the sense that we suffered not as a result of our direct sin) where we respond well, our innocent past where we respond poorly, our guilty past (where we suffer because of our direct sin) where we respond well, and our guilty past where we respond poorly. The emphasis is on our response to the circumstances. We cannot go back and change the past, but by evaluating and focusing on our response we can directly impact the present.
The final two sections of the book break down the categories further. Section two unpacks the “Hurts of the Innocent Past.” Here, Viars helps readers to reflect on their responses to bad things, suffering and sorrow. He introduces a general theology of suffering, though much more could be said. He gives readers a lens through which to evaluate themselves, and a Biblical framework for responding well. Section three explores the other category of the “Guilty Past.” Here readers learn “honest self-confrontation” and repentance. In each category Viars gives readers both Biblical case studies, like Naomi (from the book of Ruth), David (focusing on his sin with Bathsheba), or the apostle Paul, and also real life case studies from his own counseling practice. Readers will learn first hand how to handle their pasts from the examples provided.
This is a phenomenal resource, unlike any other on the subject of suffering and the past. Viars’ framework provides a wonderful tool for self-analysis and reorientation. He avoids the two pitfalls of ignoring or over-emphasizing the past. He really helps Christians acknowledge the influence of our past without giving it the power to determine our identities and futures. Most helpfully, Viars does all of this by means of Scripture itself. Steve Viars has been one of the leading voices in the Biblical Counseling movement since almost the very beginning. His wisdom, experience, and insight are evident throughout this book. Counselors will find that Putting Your Past in Its Place is a great tool for counseling, either for direct use with counselees or as a manual to guide your personal interactions. Beyond counselors, however, the average Christina will find this work a tremendous gift and guide. I highly recommend Putting Your Past in Its Place as the best book on confronting our past available today.