I didn’t do very much non-fiction reading this summer, so we can fit them all into one post. It’s all religious (since that’s the way my non-fiction taste tends to run) and I won’t be scoring these (since I don’t think non-fiction lends itself to that sort of thing). Instead, I’ll try to give you feel for who I think might find this book helpful.
This is a book that aims to be provocative. Hamilton digs into more than one sacred cow (biblical inerrancy, evolution, homosexuality) in a way that challenges preconceived notions while still staying grounded in the biblical text. It would make a great group study; in fact, there is a video and study guide companion for just that purpose. Read as a stand-alone book, Hamilton gets repetitive after a while, and you do wish he’d get to the point a little more quickly. Though honestly, that might have been more because I’d already spent the last ten years having these same arguments with myself, so there were no surprises. Your mileage may vary.
Ms. Held Evans freely admits she is too young to be writing a memoir. And she’s right. And yet she does a wonderful job of it. Raised in Dayton, Tennessee, home of the Scopes monkey trial, she makes evolution the central metaphor of the book. Specifically, that faith which does not evolve is not a faith that will last. She drops by some of the same sacred cows Hamilton does, as well as some different ones. She is far less lecture-y though. She explores and explains her evolving faith with stories that are both inspiring and amusing.
“Sometimes I think that John the Revelator might have been a crazy old man whose creative writing assignment for Patmos Learning Annex accidentally made it into the Bible.”
That zinger is followed by a chapter where she wrestles with the loss of life following the Boxing Day tsunami, and what would be the eternal fate of those who had never heard the message of Jesus. This eventually lands her on the bathroom floor at 2 AM, looking for comfort in her Bible. She finds it, of all places, in the very words of John the Revelator, when he speaks of a great multitude from “every nation, tribe, people, and language” before the throne of God, and every tear being wiped from their eyes. And it occurs to her that perhaps the key word here is every. Not just every tears, but every nation. Every tribe.
“Funny how after twenty years of sophisticated Christian education and apologetics training, I put my last best hope in the prophetic ramblings of an apocalyptic preacher.”
If you’ve ever struggled with doubt, this book is for you. Which is to say, if you have a brain, this book is for you. Because as Ms. Held Evans says, “doubt is the mechanism by which faith evolves…a hot flame that keeps our faith alive and bubbling about, where certainty would only freeze it on the spot.”
There is a lot to like in Ms. Held Evan’s writing style, as well as a lot of substance. You should read this.
I wanted to love this book. A tattooed, cursing, recovering addict of a mainline preacher? Yes, please! Sadly, I only liked it. It felt more like a collection of sermons and anecdotes (sermanecdotes?) than one cohesive piece.
Not to say that there aren’t parts that shine. The Slaughter of Holy Innocents of Sandy Hook was brutally powerful in its reminder that Jesus was born into a world where Herod slayed (and still slays) children. She relates her bundle of neuroses in ever amusing and self-effacing ways. But it feels like this book could have been better with tighter editing.
Though one good thing about the way the book falls together is you can pick it up at any point and dive in, no matter how long ago it was you last put it down. So maybe a good nightstand book? Warning for the squeamish: just about all the curse words are here, even the big ones.