Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Reviews (Page 3 of 7)

Book review: Eve by Wm. Paul Young

EveToday I’m delighted to be reviewing the latest offering from Wm. Paul Young, titled Eve.

Young shot to fame in 2007 after a book he wrote for his children was picked up by a publisher and became a multi-million-dollar bestseller. That book, of course, was The Shack, now in production as a motion picture. He also published a second book, Crossroads, in 2013, which I have not read.

The Shack is a book that has both enjoyed success and stoked controversy. Many have hailed it a transformative masterpiece for its creative reworking of common misconceptions about the nature and character of God, while others have condemned it as at the very least playing fast and loose with scripture, and at worst embracing outright heresy. (For myself, I found it very helpful in my own journey towards a deeper, richer understanding of God and my faith.) I suspect Eve may meet a similar response.

Eve is a novel, but beyond that it is difficult to categorise. In it, fiction meets both science fantasy and biblical (re-)interpretation. The surface-level story begins with main character Lilly Fields washed up in a shipping container on the shores of a mysterious island somewhere between our world and the next. There are strong hints at a background as a victim of abuse and trafficking – a highly topical subject that is guaranteed to resonate with many readers. While on the island, as well as encountering a number of strange and quirky characters, Lilly will undergo a physical and emotional healing process that will see her witness the Bible’s creation narratives brought to life before her very eyes. Indeed, her own eventual psychological and emotional healing is rooted in the fresh understanding of God and his relationship to his children that she gains from these experiences.

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Book review: Questions Are The Answer by David Hayward

Hayward questionsToday I’m delighted to be reviewing the brand new offering by David Hayward, Questions Are The Answer: Nakedpastor and the Search for Understanding.

[Apologies for the lack of recent posts: I’ve been on holiday. (North Americans, that means vacation.)]

Anyone who’s been around the “Christian internet” for any length of time will know David Hayward as the (in)famous Naked Pastor, who styles himself a “graffiti artist on the walls of religion” and has been posting irreverent but piercingly insightful cartoons on a near-daily basis since 2006. While Questions Are The Answer is not his first book, it is surely his most personal and widely accessible writing to date.

In short, the book recounts Hayward’s story from childhood dreams of pastoral ministry through to his current status as unofficial agent provocateur and commentator on all things related to western religion and its shortcomings.

At the core of this book, as its title indicates, is the idea of paradox: Hayward sets out to show that, while much of the Western evangelical church is unrelentingly engaged in hot pursuit of dogmatic certainty, the real satisfaction is, in fact, to be found in the very questions that stimulate uncertainty and prevent crystallised certainty. The genius of the book is that Hayward accomplishes his task not by setting out an apologetic or series of arguments, but by simply and honestly telling his own story. As we read about his childhood and teenage passions, his on-off love affair with more than one church community, his theological studies, and his processing of all this with wife and close friends, we feel not threatened but rather privileged to have a disarmingly real and vulnerable insight into one person’s spiritual development.

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Author interview: Anthony Bartlett, Pascale’s Wager

A few days ago, I published an interview with theologian and author Anthony Bartlett about his book Virtually ChristianIf you want to get an idea of where he’s coming from theologically, it would be best to go back and read that interview before you move onto the rest of today’s post. That will also save me repeating my mini-biography of the author. Go on, read it: I’ll wait for you.

Today’s post is a follow-up interview based on another book of Tony’s, titled Pascale’s Wager: Homelands of Heaven. This book is a very different animal from Virtually Christian, the most obvious difference being that it’s a novel. Perhaps the easiest way for me to give you an idea what to expect is to quote the synopsis found on the book’s back cover:

Cal and Poll belong to a world of brutal cold, relentless routine, and hi-tech religion. They live in the frozen Homeland, the artificially engineered last-stand of humanity on an earth wrecked by storm and flood. While cal tries to block out her world, Poll continually questions it. He is drawn instinctively to the remote young woman, believing she alone has the abilities to help him get answers. Very soon the two of them are pitted against the old order, demanding to know the truth even if it turns their whole existence upside down. Step by step their journey of discovery brings them to a dramatically different place, beyond anything they could have imagined…

Pascale’s Wager is a bold and unusual book, for at least a couple of reasons. First, while there is no shortage of post-apocalyptic fiction, this book is set in a future world that is both dystopian and utopian. Second, it’s written by a theologian, and so works on two levels: the narrative itself, which is quite self-contained, and the deeper meanings that are illustrated and explicated through that narrative. It is at this second, deeper level that Pascale’s Wager gives the reader much to ponder; I found it to be in some sense a social, theological, anthropological and spiritual commentary on the world and its future trajectory. If you like futuristic science fiction with a difference, I’d encourage you to give it a try.

Anyway, enough from me. Let’s get to the interview.

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PW coverRob G: Thanks for being willing to answer some more questions, this time about Pascale’s Wager. First, I’m interested in how you found the writing process. Having previously written theological non-fiction, what gave you the idea of writing a novel?

Anthony Bartlett: The thing about Pascale’s Wager is that it says more than I can think, or think logically, if you see what I mean. A story works on many levels, and some of them may not make complete sense in a standard sort of universe. But that’s okay because you go with them for the sake of the larger picture they make possible. As Picasso said, “Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth”. It is this larger picture I was interested in (and still am), and at this level the picture exceeds what you can express in strict propositions. For me PW has the excitement and thrill of opening a space you hardly know exists and yet in some way you do know otherwise you would not write it. Writing in this way is completely different from writing formal theology. But, at the same time, it is deeply related to theology. Theology is about something you cannot see directly with your eyes, although you see evidence of it in many different ways. A story like PW can suggest to the mind’s eye a theological truth that reason and even rhetoric would struggle to present. So, having done some of that other kind of writing I decided to turn to fiction as a way of communicating. I thought, “If you let your imagination almost out of control, or just this side of the impossible, then something new can become visible”. At the same time the story has to stand up, it has to work. In fact it is only in writing a successful story, one that draws you in and fills your senses, that the opening up of a new space becomes possible.

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Author interview: Anthony Bartlett, Virtually Christian

VC BartlettI apologise for my long media silence. I was away on holiday (“vacation”, for you North American readers) for a week or two, after which it’s taken a while for my thoughts to return to anything so mundane as regular blogging.

Anyway… today I’d like to introduce you to an author who is probably new to most readers. However, rather than post a straightforward book review, I asked the author in question if he’d be prepared to answer some interview questions. He was happy to do so, and his answers will hopefully give you more insight into his work than I alone would be able to provide.

This is the first of two book reviews, so make sure you come back in a few days for the follow-up to this post.

Before we get into the interview proper, let me introduce our author. Tony Bartlett emigrated with his family from Britain to the US in 1994. He has a PhD from Syracuse University’s Department of Religion and has taught theology in seminaries and local church programmes. Born in 1946, he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in his mid-20s, resigning the clerical ministry in 1984. He currently resides in Syracuse, New York, and leads a small study and prayer fellowship with his wife. In addition to Virtually Christian, he has also written Cross Purposes: The Violent Grammar of Christian Atonement and a futuristic novel, Pascale’s Wager: Homelands of Heaven.

So, onto today’s interview-cum-review. Virtually Christian was published in 2011, and claims on the back cover to sketch a picture of “a God deeply implicated in the human story and labouring with us for a transformed earth”. Having read it a few months ago, I can tell you that this book is a radical and searching re-examination of the meaning of the gospel and its significance and impact in the modern world.

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Rob G: If you had to write a two or three sentence summary of Virtually Christian, what would it be?

Anthony Bartlett: Like the tiny coral which over time produces a massive reef, the Christian Gospel has uniquely refashioned the human landscape. The nonviolence and forgiveness of the Crucified One has seeped into the deep structure of human affairs, throwing into relief the victims of human violence, and, at the same time, evoking life-giving responses of compassion, forgiveness and nonviolence. In this sense our world can rightly be called “virtually Christian.”

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Book review: A More Christlike God by Brad Jersak

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Today I have the honour of reviewing Brad Jersak’s soon-to-be-released new book A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel.

“God is like Jesus.”

There has been an increasing chorus of voices making this proclamation in recent times. In my opinion, it’s been a very welcome chorus, because it’s a most necessary message.

But… for all its increasing popularity, if this message is not to become a mere soundbite, it needs to be explained, nuanced, understood in all its myriad implications, and generally shown to be the premier way of understanding what God is like.

Enter Brad Jersak.

I hold Brad in high esteem for two reasons. First, it was listening to him speak about the atonement that spurred me on to the earth-shattering realisation that God did not in any way, shape or form kill Jesus – a seminal moment in my theological journey. And second, I had the privilege of meeting him last year. The opportunity to put a name and a story to a face is worth more than many printed words on pages.

Brad is a Canadian author and teacher based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. His active, ongoing experience in the evangelical and charismatic streams and his interest in the Orthodox Church, in which he is a confirmed Reader, give him a unique perspective on what it means to live out an ancient faith in a modern, fast-changing world. Brad has solid theological credentials and is currently part of the core faculty of Westminster Theological Centre (UK).

One of Brad’s gifts is to take profound and complex theological truths and translate them into language that the rest of us can understand.

So… what are the implications of the statement “God is like Jesus”? Brad basically spends three hundred pages answering this question.

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Book review: Desire Found Me by Andre Rabe

Desire Found MeToday, I’m delighted to be reviewing Desire Found Me, the latest offering from Andre Rabe.

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.)

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Book review: Her Gates Will Never Be Shut by Brad Jersak

Her GatesToday I’m delighted to be reviewing Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem by Brad Jersak, published in 2009 by Wipf & Stock.

Hell is a subject which, in my experience at least, is not often openly spoken about in churches and among believers, but which nevertheless plays a vitally important role in the doctrinal apparatus of many Christians.

If I speak of a “hellfire and damnation” preacher, most people will immediately have a good idea of what I’m talking about and be able to form an associated mental picture. The thought of such a preacher might make many Christians squirm, but in the majority of cases, if those same Christians would stop and consider their most fundamental beliefs, they would have to admit that they and the hellfire preacher have much in common. The way they express those beliefs might differ drastically, but the basic message is the same: give your life to Jesus or burn in hell forever.

In fact, the belief in a hell of eternal, conscious torment for unbelievers is so deeply ingrained in the contemporary Christian psyche that to question its necessity is to run the risk of being seen as a doubter at best and a renegade or a heretic at worst. But is such a belief actually necessary to authentic Christian faith?

For those keen to explore the subject, there’s no shortage of books on hell, both old and more recent. Most either present and defend a clear pro- or anti-hell stance, while the occasional volume includes a range of differing views, usually set out by different scholars, and leaves the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. Her Gates Will Never Be Shut doesn’t really fall into either of those categories.

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