A little about the author first. South African writer and speaker Andre Rabe met his wife Mary-Anne while they were both involved in missionary work in southern Africa at the turn of the 1990s. After settling down to raise a family, in 2010 they felt the call of the road and decided to sell up and travel the world sharing their message of our belovedness as God’s children. Their intention, in their own words, is simply “to inspire love and reduce violence”.
I confess that I have another book by Andre Rabe on my Kindle that’s been there for a year or so and is still currently unread. However, having read a few of Andre’s Facebook and blog posts and watched the odd video on his YouTube channel, I was intrigued to find out how he might tackle the subject of mimetic theory and its relation to the gospel. So when I came upon the chance to get hold of a free review copy of Desire Found Me, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Andre Rabe is firmly within the charismatic stream of Christianity. For some people, that might conjure up images of emotion-laden worship and an over-emphasis on experience at the expense of solid theological foundations. Based on my own experience, I would say that such observations are true of at least some expressions within the charismatic stream.
However, having read Desire Found Me, I think Andre’s gift lies in understanding and communicating deep theological and human truths using a language and style that is very accessible to the charismatic community and beyond. In fact, as someone with a recognised ministry within that community, he may be uniquely positioned to lay down necessary theological foundations in a way that invites welcome and acceptance rather than pushback. (I am not for one moment suggesting that this book is of no value to readers from other streams; quite the contrary.)
Other reviews of Desire Found Me might say its subject is “mimetic theology”. I’m not sure how much traction that term has, and in any case, I suspect it’s too narrow to do justice to the scope of this book. The task Rabe has set himself is essentially to reformulate and flesh out Trinitarian theology in a way that fully incorporates the insights of René Girard’s mimetic theory.
A short book review is not the place to expand at length on mimetic theory, so a brief description will have to suffice. For our purposes, Girard has brought two key insights to the table. First, he contends that human behaviour is largely driven by desire, and that this desire is mediated through relationships and objects. In this understanding, sin is what happens when corrupted desire morphs into rivalry, which in turn escalates into crisis and murder (whether literal or figurative). The results are all around us.
Girard’s second crucial insight is into the nature of primitive religion and sacrifice. He was the first to understand the specific mechanisms through which violence operates at the heart of sacrificial religion, and to see that one of the Bible’s primary functions is to unmask this violence and, in the Gospels, to demonstrate and offer an alternative.
Rabe’s mission, then, is to take these foundational ideas of Girard’s and weave them into a Trinitarian theology in a way that makes sense to the casual reader. I would say he has done that job very well. The overall thrust of Desire Found Me is described in this subtitle taken from its flyleaf:
Exploring the unconscious movements of desire – how they form us, connect us, shape our greatest ideas, mold our societies, influence human history and ultimately, how they are unveiled.
The book is divided into three parts, each with a number of chapters. The first part, titled “Reflective Human Nature”, describes and unpacks the nature and operation of desire in light of Girard’s insights. These four chapters and eighty or so pages provide a very accessible entry point into mimetic theory for those who know nothing about it.
In the second part, “Developing Stories”, Rabe charts the development of human society from our origins through to the advent of Jesus. Drawing on a range of historical and theological scholarship, he surveys the Hebrew scriptures and shows how desire and sacrifice acted together to shape the the story of the Jewish people up to the time of Jesus.
The third part, “Redefined”, explores the meaning and significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in light of what the reader has already learned about desire and sacrifice in parts one and two. This part contains two chapters on atonement theory, but non-theologians need not be deterred: here again, the style is eminently accessible.
I confess that I had some slight misgivings when I began reading Desire Found Me, mainly because I often gravitate towards a style of writing that is more clinically precise. Rabe’s flowing and often faintly poetic style took me a little while to adjust to. But that’s just me.
I found I didn’t learn a huge amount from the first part of the book, which lays the foundations of mimetic theory, but that’s only because I already had some depth of familiarity with the subject. For those who have no such familiarity, I can confidently say that Desire Found Me is a very good introduction to the topic.
The real surprise for me came in the second part, and particularly in the chapters where Rabe recounts Israel’s evolution from polytheism to monotheism. His treatment also extends to the evolving understanding of satan in the minds of the Hebrew people. I found this to be a bold and exciting section, in which Rabe fearlessly punches holes in a flat, literalistic reading of scripture and instead lays out a much more convincing and compelling picture of the various influences that shaped Hebrew religion. This section certainly contains much that is likely to be new to many readers. Thankfully, the author’s assertions are backed up by quotes from the biblical text and references to scholarly works.
Since Desire Found Me is not an academic work, footnotes are kept to a minimum. However, the book is rounded off by a useful chapter-by-chapter recommended reading list that will help those whose appetite has been whetted know where to dig for more treasure. I’ve already added a couple of the recommended titles to my wish list.
In summary, Desire Found Me is not a work of systematic theology. Rather, it is an attempt to tell the human and biblical story up to and including the life and death of Jesus in a way that incorporates and makes sense of the groundbreaking insights of René Girard. Given its broad scope, it cannot possibly hope to provide the depth of answers that some more focused works might. What it absolutely should do is provide a very accessible entry point through which charismatics and others can gain a more cohesive understanding of the human, the divine, and the relationships between them.
[Disclosure of material connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.]