Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Reading Rapture Ready!
July 28, 2008

Do you believe in parallel universes? Daniel Radosh found one. And if you’re reading this, you might very well be living in one.

Radosh is a secular Jew from New York who explores the world of Christian pop culture in his recent book Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture. With a combination of thoughtful critique, appreciation, good humor and above all graciousness, Radosh chronicles his year-long experience exploring the Evangelical subculture in America. A true outsider, Radosh immerses himself in the good, the bad, and the ugly of this sometimes bizarre world. Among other things, Radosh describes his encounters with “Jesus junk,” the Holy Land Experience, Christian romance novels, Bibleman, Stephen Baldwin, the Cornerstone music festival, Ultimate Christian Wrestling, Christian sex advice, creation museums, and even a Hell House. Seeking to understand this vast culture, Radosh does a fine job chronicling his experiences and offering some much needed outsider insight. I think this book is a must-read for Christians and non-Christians alike. Christians should read it for exposure to an outsider’s perspective on our strange world, and non-Christians should read it to better understand the growing diversity of the Evangelical movement. Everyone can read it for an entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny look at a much talked about but little understood element of American culture.

When I started reading Rapture Ready! I was hoping for a funny and entertaining read, and in that regard I was not disappointed. However, I wasn’t expecting such an insightful perspective, and I wouldn’t have guessed I would finish the book feeling challenged to live differently. Now don’t get me wrong, you probably shouldn’t read this book looking for a life changing experience. Read it to be entertained. But don’t be surprised if it challenges you to think seriously about your relationship to Evangelical culture (whether you are a Christian or not).

Radosh concludes his book with a call for greater interaction between the moderate and progressive elements of Evangelicalism and Radosh’s own secular culture. He believes an increasing interaction between these oftentimes separate universes will prove helpful for everyone. I agree. Radosh finds popular culture to be a good starting place for this interaction, but I don’t think he sees this as the only place for healthy communication. Personally, I finished Radosh’s book with two insights. First, I want to intentionally further separate myself from much of the Christian subculture I’m still part of. This separation has been happening fairly naturally over the past ten years but I think it’s time to cut the cord. I’m done with it. (Radosh is not necessarily calling for this kind of reaction) Second, I am more convinced than ever that this interaction between Christians and non-Christians should occur within environments open to the experience of God, the transcendent, and/or religious experience. In fact, I am most interested in the dissolution of this Christian/non-Christian divide. And I increasingly want to play a part in the creation of spaces where this very thing can happen.

In the final pages of his book, Radosh makes a statement I think Christians are in much need of hearing. After discussing the Christian notion of “lifestyle evangelism” Radosh takes it a step further and declares the following:

“Personally, I’m not sure how successful [lifestyle evangelism] really is in leading people to Christ, but I can attest that it’s a very successful method for generating positive feelings about Christians. The evangelicals I’ve felt the most fond of, the most comfortable around, and the most commonality with – regardless of political, social, or philosophical differences – were the ones who never tried to sell me on Jesus yet always seemed to be trying to live the life Jesus desired of them. The paradox of lifestyle evangelism is that while it might sound like a Christian’s loving, friendly actions are all driven by an ulterior motive, it only really clicks when they’re able to let go of that motive. The people who made the best case for Christianity were the ones who were genuinely unconcerned with whether I ever decided to become a Christian or not.”

I think this statement, and Radosh’s book as a whole, is something Christians need to hear. And hopefully we will take it to heart.

Reading Books for Free (and I’m not talking about the library!)
July 16, 2008

Because my blog is one of the top blogs in the universe, and because I am fabulously famous (which was the goal in starting a blog in the first place), I’ve started to receive free books as part of The Ooze Select Blogger Network. Yes, that’s right, I’m “select,” and you probably aren’t. Sorry. And don’t even think about being select until you start having at least five or six different people coming to your blog. And I mean every day.

[As an aside, I recently watched What Would Jesus Buy? and when Reverend Billy prays or conducts credit card exorcisms (yes, you read that right) he calls God the “fabulous creator” – or something like that. I like the word fabulous. Rolls off the tongue. I’m a fabulous blogger. Sounds good. Maybe it should be The Ooze Fabulous Blogger Network…I’ll see what I can do about that…]

So anyways, I’ve started receiving books in the mail with the expectation that I will read them and write about them on my blog. This is great news for you! Not only will you be reading a blog that’s part of a select fabulous blogger network, you will also be receiving free advice from me about books you should or should not be reading! Free advice from a fabulous blogger! You are very lucky people.

Alrighty, let’s get down to business. Here are my first reviews.

Hokey Pokey, by Mathew Paul Turner
Yep, the first book is called Hokey Pokey. It’s written by a former editor of CCM magazine and the book is about issues related to vocation and calling. These are issues I think about a lot. I’m not sure, but perhaps because I think about these issues a lot, this book didn’t do it for me. Turner is a good writer and has some good things to say, but no big revelations. And let me tell you, I need big revelations – especially when it comes to this topic. But if you are interested in a book to get you started thinking about vocation and calling, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

Feel, by Mathew Elliot
I only made it through half of Feel, but I actually did like what Eliot is saying. He’s basically trying to debunk the myth that feelings are always to be discounted. He is particularly interested in showing that the Bible does not support this way of thinking. I agree. However, I thought the book was repeating the same thing over and over. After reading half the book I just had a feeling the second half was going to be the same as the first. I decided to trust my feelings and skip the second half. But if this stuff interests you, I do recommend the book (or at least the first half of it).

We the Purple, by Marcia Ford
Marcia Ford believes we’re in the midst of a growing revolution of sorts – the growth in the number and influence of independent voters. Ford is an independent voter and is quite proud of it. And very excited. But I’m not as excited. I have nothing to say about this book. I only read a couple chapters. I wasn’t interested. Maybe I’ll pick it up again later. If you want to read a thoughtful review from someone who actually did read the book, check out Makeesha Fisher’s review of the book (by the way, I agree that it’s probably a good idea to read a book before reviewing it. I’ll try to follow that rule.)

Songs for a Revolution of Hope, Volume 1
This is not a book, so I did not read it. But since it’s a cd, I did listen to it. Songs for a Revolution of Hope is a collaboration between Brian McLaren and Tracy Howe of the Restoration Project. It’s a cd that tries real hard to produce a different kind of worship music for the church. As you know, typical worship music is something I definitely have a problem with, so I really do appreciate what this project is trying to do. However, I just couldn’t get into it. I like the lyrics to the songs (for the most part). I like the sounds. But I just have this block against worship music. Sorry. I love McLaren and I love what he’s trying to do here. Please go and check out this cd. Or at least check out the lyrics. It really does represent a good change in direction for worship music. I just have a problem.

Well, that’s it folks. I’m sorry there are no strong recommendations here. I’m just now starting to read the next batch of books provided by the Ooze Fabulous Blogger Network. I am hopeful there will be some good ones. Right now I’m reading The New Conspirators by Tom Sine and Rapture Ready by Daniel Radosh. I’m particularly excited about Rapture Ready.

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief
July 13, 2008

The third and final section of The Fidelity of Betrayal is focused on “The Event of God.” This portion of the book, as with the other sections, is very difficult to discuss in one blog entry. I could write many entries about Rollins’ notion that doubting God is not the same as doubting the miracle of faith – the intervention of God. I could also write many pages about Rollins’ call for communities where belonging comes before believing. And I think I could start a whole new blog to work through the ideas of the last chapter, where Rollins begins to discuss what it might look like to forge faith collectives where “transformance art” and “theodrama” provide space for God to give God. But I simply can’t address all of it. So instead I will leave you with a few of my final thoughts about fidelity, betrayal, and moving towards a church beyond belief.

First of all, I want to make it very clear that Rollins is not simply playing games with this call to betrayal. “The Fidelity of Betrayal” is not just a clever title to help generate interest in the book. Rollins is calling for us to betray Christianity. To betray the Bible, God, and the Church. But we must remember, Rollins is calling us to a faithful betrayal. Rollins believes our ideas about God and the Bible, which take form in the Church and Christianity, point to a transforming event, a miracle that we cannot deny. And this miracle is what provokes our faith and our attempts to explain our faith. But these explanations and beliefs always fall short of expressing the miracle that has transformed us from the inside out. The miracle is unexplainable but undeniable. So we must always betray the solidification of the radical miracle of faith into mere beliefs. This does not mean we cannot hold beliefs, but we must hold them with great humility, always being willing to betray these beliefs – to rethink and reformulate these beliefs. And we must always acknowledge that these beliefs cannot hold the transforming event they attempt to describe.

I sincerely appreciate Rollins’ call for faithful betrayal, but more than anything I am intrigued by Rollins’ call for a church beyond belief. Again, this is not merely clever wording. Rollins is challenging us to move beyond churches centered on commonly held beliefs. Again, let me make it clear, beliefs are not bad. But we must move beyond beliefs as the central focus. Instead, we must acknowledge the centrality of the life transforming miracle these beliefs attempt to describe. A miracle that is truly beyond belief. A miracle that is beyond the system of Christianity. So what might a church beyond belief look like? This is what interests me more than anything else. With Rollins, I am interested in the development of this type of church. In the past I have called it “a church that’s not a church.” (also see this post, which describes a significant shift in my thinking about church). Rollins plays with the terms “religious collective,” “transformance art,” and “theodrama” as he tries to describe such a group.

In conclusion, I leave you with some of Rollins’ thoughts about the formation and nature of these experimental collectives:

“Here I am referring to the formation of passionate, provocative gatherings, operating on the fringes of religious life, that offer anarchic experiments in theodrama that re-imagine the distinction between Christian and non-Christian, priest and prophet, doubt and certainty, the sacred and secular – gatherings that employ a rich cocktail of music, poetry, prose, imagery, soundscapes, theatre, ritual, and reflection: gatherings that provide a place that is open to all, is colonized by none, and that celebrates diversity.

“Such an immersive, theodramatic space would aim to affirm the need for (1) collective reflection; (2) a space where individuals can lay aside political, religious, and social identities; and finally (3) offer creative, ritualistic acts that invite, affirm, recall, and relate the event housed within the religion without religion that is Christianity.”

And finally:

“These temporary spaces will likely appear as much in art galleries, on street corners, in bars and basements, as they will in churches and cathedrals…[E]verything, absolutely everything, will be designed to invite, encourage, solicit, seek out, recall, remember, reach out to, bow down before, and cry out to that unspeakable miracle that dwells, quite literally, beyond belief.”

I realize this is all pretty wild and crazy. Would something like this even be a church? Would it be Christian? Personally, I think those are the wrong questions. I don’t care if it’s really a church or truly Christian. I think it might be something “other.”

What do you think? I’d really love to hear your thoughts about a church beyond belief.

________________

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal

1. Initial Thoughts
2. An Introduction
3. Betraying the Bible
4. Betraying God
5. Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer
July 5, 2008

In Part 2, as Rollins is betraying God, he turns to both Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer to assist him in this betrayal. As you know, Bonhoeffer has been much on my mind over the past nine months or so, so it was interesting to read Rollins’ thoughts about how Bonhoeffer connects to some of the ideas of faithful betrayal. This was particularly interesting in the context of Rollins’ thoughts on Nietzsche, who certainly influenced Bonhoeffer’s prison theology.

With Nietzsche’s assistance, Rollins addresses the issue of finding meaning in the world. If the core of Christianity is related to finding purpose in our lives and knowing that God loves us, then is Christianity merely a way of finding meaning in life? Is this the primary purpose of Christianity – to give us meaning and purpose within the context of our understanding of God and his purposes for the world?

I think this is largely true of Christianity – faith in God primarily as a way to find meaning.

The problem with this scenario is that these intellectual beliefs can become a hindrance to us truly living in the world. And these beliefs do not necessarily lead to a transformed life in this world. In fact, in many cases, finding peace and meaning in life can lead towards a rejection of this world and/or the creation of a false dichotomy between believing and living.

Rollins contests that Nietzsche’s protest was against any system (including atheism) that provided an all-encompassing way of finding meaning in life. Instead, Nietzsche hoped for a time when we would live with a full embrace of this world – embracing both its beauty and its terror. Rollins concludes that Nietzsche’s argument was not necessarily for or against the existence of God. Rather, his argument “claimed that the question of God’s existence was redundant.” Instead of asking the big question “why,” Rollins sees Nietzsche undermining the question entirely. Rollins asserts, “In response to the question ‘Why?’ [Nietzsche] replied, ‘Why ask why?’”

As I was reading this I couldn’t help but think about how related this is to Bonhoeffer’s prison theology. So I was quite excited when the very next page introduced Bonhoeffer’s “religionless Christianity” into the discussion! Connecting Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer, Rollins writes:

“[Bonhoeffer] wondered how to express the relevance of God (the God of faith) to those who do not feel the need for God (the Cartesian God that provides a matrix of meaning), while encouraging those who embrace such ideological religion to grow beyond it – helping those who have forsaken God (the Cartesian God) to find God (the God of faith) and those who have found God to forsake God.

“By exploring these issues he was responding to the idea that Christianity for a long time has been aimed at responding to a need in people (such as the feeling of guilt). As such it has been expressed as good news that can only be heard once a person has been brought low by the bad news…Bonhoeffer wondered whether it is possible to embrace God out of love and lightness of heart, out of a seduction that is caught up in the call of God rather than the need of God.”

How about that! Yes! The very questions I think are the most important regarding how to be a Christian/person of faith/lover of God in today’s world.

Any thoughts? Does this make any sense?

________________

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal

1. Initial Thoughts
2. An Introduction
3. Betraying the Bible
4. Betraying God
6. Towards a Church Beyond Belief

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Betraying God
June 29, 2008

In Part 2 of Peter RollinsThe Fidelity of Betrayal he takes up the topic of the being of God. Whereas in Part 1 Rollins’ argued that we must betray the Bible, in Part 2 he proposes we must also betray God. Rollins concludes this section with the following summary:

“…we must learn that in order to approach the God of faith and the truth affirmed by Christianity, we must betray the God we grasp – for the God who brings us into a new life is never the God we grasp but always in excess of that God. The God we affirm is then, at its best, inspired by the incoming of God and born there, but it is never to be confused with God.

“In the aftermath of God’s happening the true worshipper attempts to paint the most beautiful pictures imaginable to reflect that happening. It is this heartfelt endeavor to paint the most refined and beautiful conceptual images that speaks of God, not the actual descriptions we create.”

Rollins sees many problems with the common method for attempting to understand and speak of God. This method, which views God as an object of our contemplation, involves creating a distance between the believer and the source of the believer’s faith, so that we can dissect and explore the object (God), in much the same way as we might take apart and examine a computer. By attempting to examine God as a disinterested observer we have distanced ourselves from the most intimate and personal relationship in our lives. We have approached the question of God “as a problem to be pondered, dissected, and solved, rather than a mystery to inhabit and be transformed by.” Rollins believes this method hands over all authority to the experts and creates a false dichotomy between seeking truth and pursuing a life of devotion and service. Rollins is fearful of reducing Christianity to “a set of claims concerning ideas such as the world’s being created for a purpose, God’s loving us, and the existence of heaven.” By reducing Christianity to these claims we lose the transformational potential of the encounter with God. In addition, this view of Christianity can cause an unhealthy, and even dangerous, abandonment of this world, as we look solely to the next world.

Instead of viewing God as an object to be contemplated, “God is named as a verb,” and a happening being “made known only in action, only as blessing.” God is beyond understanding but is also intimately near to us. God is not an object but “a mystery to participate in,” giving new life. This new life “fundamentally changes how we interact with the things we see, touch, and experience.” God is not an object but is that which radically changes our own way of experiencing the world and everything in it. As with our rejection of the Bible, our rejection of God does not mean we can no longer speak of God, but it does mean we must always recognize that our words about God always come up short. God is always beyond our words and our conception of him. We must not attempt to distance ourselves from God in order to understand him. Instead we must welcome the incoming of God and embrace the mystery and transformative nature of this event we always fail to adequately describe.

(more to come on Part 2 – some thoughts about Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer)

________________

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal

1. Initial Thoughts
2. An Introduction
3. Betraying the Bible
5. Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer
6. Towards a Church Beyond Belief

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Betraying the Bible
June 14, 2008

In concluding Part 1, “The Word of God,” Peter Rollins writes:

“It is all too common for Christians to attempt to do justice to the scriptural narrative by listening to it, learning from it, and attempting to extract a way of viewing the world from it. But the narrative itself is asking us to approach it in a much more radical way. It is inviting us to wrestle with it, disagree with it, contend with it, and contest it – not as an end in itself, but as a means of approaching its life-transforming truth, a truth that dwells within and yet beyond the words…And so, in our desire to remain absolutely, totally, and resolutely faithful to the Word of God, we come face to face with the idea that we must be prepared to wrestle with, question, and even betray the words.”

In Part 1, Rollins discusses the Bible. He begins by revealing the people of God in the Bible, Israel, as those who wrestle with God. In contrast to Islam, which means peace or submission, the people of Yahweh are called Israel, meaning those who wrestle with God. This notion of those who seek, follow, and love God being those who wrestle with God, is the central idea of the book. As he continues to discuss the Bible, Rollins proposes that in order to be faithful to the Bible, we must in fact “wrestle with it, disagree with it, contend with it…contest it…and even betray [it].” Rollins encourages us to refuse both of the common ways of dealing with the difficulties and ambiguities found in scripture – the two ways being 1) attempting to explain away the difficulties, and 2) accepting the difficulties but refusing to view the text as the divine Word. In place of these two options, Rollins proposes that we do not need to see the seeming contradictions in the Bible as a great dilemma. In fact, he believes the contradictions in the text are exactly what we would expect to find in a text inspired by God. Rollins sees the various stories of the Bible as attempts to put into words that which cannot be put into words, namely, the experience of God. So, in wrestling with the text we must realize that it is not merely an academic exercise in which we attempt to find the one true meaning of the text. Instead, to read the Bible in a truly transformative manner we must recognize that the text itself does not hold God. Rather, the text points to an encounter, an Event, that occurred in the lives of the authors. This encounter, this gaping hole in the text, is the Word of God, something behind and beyond the text itself. Rollins compares this to a crater, which is a sign of the occurrence of a volcanic eruption. The crater, or text, is not the Event itself, but rather points to the Event.

I believe Rollins’ view of the Bible has the potential to radically transform our reading of scripture. In fact, I believe this view saves the Bible and reinstates it as a text that can transform the reader. So much of modern Bible study is viewed as an academic exercise aimed at dissecting the text in order to find the original meaning and intention of the author. When taken to its logical conclusion, this method of reading robs the average reader and establishes the Biblical scholar as the only person capable of truly understanding the text. At best, with this most common method, we are all dependent on an expert who has been able to study the most recent Biblical scholarship. Rollins’ argument does not dispute the importance of Biblical scholarship, he simply desires to restore the rightful place of the Bible as a transformative text – a text that can radically change us as we struggle to encounter the true source, God, who is found beyond the words of the Bible.

________________

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal

1. Initial Thoughts
2. An Introduction
4. Betraying God
5. Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer
6. Towards a Church Beyond Belief

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: An Introduction
May 27, 2008

After immediately devouring Peter Rollins’ new book The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief (read my initial thoughts), I am now going back and rereading the book, slowly sifting through the material and thinking through the implications of Rollins’ provocative work. As part of this process I will be blogging through the book over the next few weeks. I hope you join me as I wrestle with the significant concepts presented in this book. And I’d love to hear your thoughts along the way.

In the introduction, Rollins presents the question, “What Would Judas Do?” Rollins uses this question as a tool to delve into his notion that we must betray Christianity in order to remain faithful to it. He writes:

“In other words, what would Jesus do when confronted with Christianity today? Would Jesus do what Judas did, and betray it? In saying this I am not hinting at the rather mundane insight that Jesus would betray the anemic, inauthentic, self-serving Churchianity that so often festers quietly under the banner of Christianity today. I am not asking whether Jesus would turn the tables on what passes as contemporary Christianity in favor of a more robust and radical version that may have once existed in an age long past. Rather, by asking whether Jesus would betray Christianity as Judas betrayed Christ, I am asking if Jesus would plot the downfall of Christianity in every form it takes.”

Continuing the introduction, Rollins sees the consequences of this faithful betrayal as twofold:

“First, we are led to embrace the idea of Christianity as a religion without religion, that is, as a tradition, that is always prepared to wrestle with itself, disagree with itself, and betray itself. Second, this requires a way of structuring religious collectives that operate at a deeper level than the mere affirmation of shared doctrines, creeds, and convictions. It involves the formation of dynamic, life-affirming collectives that operate, quite literally, beyond belief.”

At the Emergent Village blog, Rollins further explains the core concept of the book:

“In this work I make the claim that, in order to remain faithful to Christianity, we must be courageous enough to betray the bible (section 1), God (section 2) and the church (section 3). Why? Do I think that we must abandon them as redundant relics of a by-gone era? Do I think that they have served their purpose? Or do I feel that they prevent the world coming of age? By no means! Here I argue for a betrayal that remains faithful to these very words by helping us to re-discover the truly untamed, white-hot, life-transforming reality that they house.” (HT: EV blog)

I hope these quotes intrigue you enough to join in as I discuss this book, and perhaps you will even buy the book and read it with me – I hope you do.

You can read the entire prologue and introduction online.

________________

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal

1. Initial Thoughts
3. Betraying the Bible
4. Betraying God
5. Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer
6. Towards a Church Beyond Belief

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Initial Thoughts
May 15, 2008

Ever since reading Peter Rollins’ How (Not) to Speak of God I have been looking forward to his next book. In fact, I can’t remember a book I have anticipated more highly. So when The Fidelity of Betrayal arrived on Tuesday I was filled with excitement. That night I read about two thirds of the book and yesterday I finished the last third. I devoured it. I couldn’t read it fast enough. It was wonderful. Sometimes I find it helpful to start engaging a book by reading through it quickly, in order to gain the overall big picture, and then to go through it slowly, savoring every word. I am really looking forward to reading it again and blogging through it, just like I did when I read How (Not) to Speak of God for the second time. Hopefully I can start that in the next couple weeks.

Here are few initial comments related to the new book.

First, I think this book successfully builds upon the concepts in Rollins’ first book and takes them to the next level. So if you’re interested in Rollins’ work, I recommend buying both books and starting with How (Not) to Speak of God. Basically, The Fidelity of Betrayal builds on an idea Rollins started working with in the first book. In fact, he builds on the idea that most intrigued me in his first book – the notion of giving up Christianity in order to truly fulfill it. In his first book Rollins relates a powerful story from the movie Amen in which a priest in Nazi Germany gives up his Christian faith and becomes a Jew in order to identify with the persecuted, a move the priest believes is necessary in order to truly live his Christian beliefs. The Fidelity of Betrayal takes this concept and examines it through three lenses, the Word of God, the Being of God, and the Event of God, which forms the structure for the book.

Second, I’m convinced that Phyllis Tickle is right in her assessment of Rollins’ work. She writes, “Here in pregnant bud is the rose, the emerging new configuration, of a Christianity that is neither Roman nor Protestant, neither Eastern nor monastic; but rather is the re-formation of all of them. Here, in pregnant bud, is third-millennium Christianity.” I really believe it. What Rollins (and others) is writing about and doing may not be the future of Christianity but it is certainly a future of Christianity. And the possibility of this future gives me much hope. I believe the core concepts of this book are going to, and already are starting to re-form Christianity in our world. I’m not talking about a shift in the core beliefs of Christianity, but rather a revolution of how Christianity is experienced and expressed in the world.

Third, Rollins ends his new book with some discussion about starting communities that are forged in the midst of these ideas. He quite literally proposes “a church beyond belief” (the subtitle of the book). In short, Rollins is looking at the implications of moving from the church as a bastion of beliefs, towards communities of transformation. Just as Rollins argues for a “religion without religion” I think he is imagining a sort of church that’s not a church, which is exactly what I am most interested in.

So go buy this book. Read it. Think about it. Argue with it. Soak in it. And in the process, allow God to transform you.

[Check out my series on How (Not) to Speak of God]

________________

Reading The Fidelity of Betrayal

2. An Introduction
3. Betraying the Bible
4. Betraying God
5. Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer
6. Towards a Church Beyond Belief

Memoirs, Idols, and Pete Gall
April 21, 2008

I read a recently released book this past week called My Beautiful Idol, by first time author Pete Gall. My Beautiful Idol is a confessional memoir following Gall’s faith journey through his mid-twenties. I’m a sucker for memoirs. Yes, they are all the rage nowadays, and as much as I might like to resist current fads, I can’t resist this one. I appreciate memoirs because they are honest. Not just honest about real life events, but honest enough to acknowledge that our understanding of God, faith, and spirituality always comes from our experiences. I agree with Frederick Buechner who says that ultimately all theology is a form of autobiography. Fancy theologians often fail to acknowledge this. The memoir puts it right out in the open – I appreciate that.

Even though I’m a sucker for memoirs, I’m also kind of skeptical of Christian memoirs from the past couple years. My tendency is to assume they are all just attempts to emulate Donald Miller and to make a buck off the memoir craze. So part of me almost didn’t want to like My Beautiful Idol. But I did enjoy it – it’s a good book. And even though it is a good story and an enjoyable read, that’s not really what won me over. Ultimately this is a book I can recommend because it really made me think, and that’s perhaps the most important element I look for in a book.

In the preface Gall sums up his book as “a story about how I’m a butt, and have been for some time now.” And then “the catch” – “I was also exactly the sort of Christian people tend to refer to as a hero.” The book follows Gall’s pursuit of “downward mobility” (uh oh) and tracks his various attempts at ministry, relationships, and finding meaning and significance in life. Gall’s theme throughout is that all of these experiences were ultimately a chasing after “a variety of beautiful idols,” and “the version of myself I’ve sought to create.” All of this talk about idols is what really got me thinking.

Gall spends a lot of time in his book describing how he created idols of what it looks like to be “a great man of God” or to really make a difference in the world. Through stories from his experiences he does a lot to deconstruct the popular ideas of what it means to be a “successful” Christian or a faithful follower of Jesus. His experiences in ministry also lead to quite critical conclusions regarding typical understandings of what it means to serve God and serve others. As you might have guessed, all of this really caused me to reflect on my own life and desires to be a follower of Jesus. Have I simply created a bunch of idols? Am I worshiping a bunch of self-created ideas of what it means, or might mean, to follow Jesus? I don’t know. But these are good things to think about.

In summary, if you are looking for an enjoyable and thought provoking read, and if you enjoy memoirs, then I definitely recommend My Beautiful Idol. While at times it is a little disjointed (what memoir isn’t?), and even though I wasn’t particularly happy with the conclusion, ultimately this is a thoughtful book exploring and deconstructing ideas of what it means to be a follower of Jesus in today’s world.

________________

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The Emergent Trifecta
April 15, 2008

Emergent Village has partnered with Jossey-Bass for a series of books under the label “A Living Way: Emergent Visions,” with Tony Jones as the series editor. Mark Scandrette’s Soul Grafitti, published in 2007, was the first book in the series. I read Soul Graffiti last year and found it incredibly helpful. I have recommended it to many people, blogged about it, and declared it one of my favorite books of 2007. I’ll say it again – go buy this book. Or save five bucks and wait until June when it comes out in paperback.

This year marks the arrival of two more books in this promising series. In February Jones’ The New Christians released and in June A Christianity Worth Believing, written by Doug Pagitt, will hit shelves. I have had the opportunity to read both of these books over the past month or so, and I can definitely recommend both of them to anyone who is interested in further exploring the Emergent conversation.

The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, despite its goofy cover, is an excellent introduction to all things Emergent. Tony Jones does a great job outlining many of the characteristics of an Emergent way of faith, while also providing an insider’s perspective on how much of the conversation began in the United States. This really is a must-read for anyone who is deep into the conversation, but is especially perfect for those who are new to the conversation and want to learn more about what it’s all about. In reading this book it’s important to acknowledge that it does primarily focus on the Emergent conversation in the United States. This is not a fault of the book, but must be acknowledged. For a more global perspective, or at least a perspective that includes the UK, one should read Emerging Churches by Gibbs and Bolger (another personal favorite, and a must-read).

A Christianity Worth Believing lives up to everything its subtitle promises (which is a lot) – it really does present a “Hope-filled, Open-armed, Alive-and-well Faith for the Left Out, Left Behind, and Let Down in us All.” To be honest, I was a little afraid Pagitt’s and Jones’ books would be too similar. I was completely wrong – they are both great reads, and are quite distinct from each other. This book is a great book for anyone in need of a more hopeful Christianity, a Christianity that doesn’t begin by telling us how we are such terrible sinners, but instead tells us the hopeful story of Jesus. Pagitt outlines a beautiful faith perspective, which is elucidated through many personal reflections and stories, which are at times quite moving. In short, this is a book for all of us. Don’t we all need to be reminded that the story of Jesus is a story about really, really good news? It was something I was very grateful to be reminded of.

So here’s the short of it, these three books are well-worth reading. And after you read the books, you can catch Mark, Tony and Doug touring the country this summer for their Church Basement Roadshow: A Rollin’ Gospel Revival – you wouldn’t want to miss an event with a name like that, right?!

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