Thursday, September 22, 2011

BookTuesday: The Faith of Leap

BookTuesday is the weekly book review feature here on the blog that will, next week, return to Tuesdays.

Since I’ve started blogging, I’ve been the happy recipient of many books for review. While I’m no Tim Challies and don’t guarantee a best seller with a positive review, it’s been very nice to get to voice my opinion on various works. However, sometimes I get a book by committing to write a review and then I dread the writing.

This is one of those times. On the surface, the idea of The Faith of Leap seems like a good one. Too many people who are believers in Jesus Christ in the Western World live very safe lives in their faith. We do not take risks, we do not attempt things beyond our grasp, and we just settle for the basic things that come our way.

Frost and Hirsch want to push readers as people of faith to take risks. To live dangerously rather than to make the same safe decisions we’ve always made. The end-goal is one well worth the having, and if I had a book that would help church members see the Biblical case for charging forward in faith, I’d use it for a teaching series.

Unfortunately, The Faith of Leap isn’t that book. The intent is there, the idea is there, but the weaknesses are just too great for a recommendation. There are three major issues I had with this book:

1. Invented words. This is not just a complaint for this book, for it applies to many of the modern books on religion. We’ve substituted the 17th Century parlance of the King James for invented words that mix Latin, Greek, and English into a hodge-podge that means nothing. Present in this book are words such as “communitas” and “liminality.” The intent of the authors is to delve behind the words that have become clichéd in modern American Christianity, like “community,” but instead the reader is left flipping back for the definition.

Moreover, the invented words system makes it difficult to interact with the work. One of the claims made early in the book is that there are no major works about the concepts in the book. Well, no, if you search English-language writings for the last 400 years, there’s no real mention of communitas. There are a good many about community, brotherhood, relationships, bonds, and so forth---but the authors are right, there’s no “communitas” books. By formulating words, the authors elevate themselves beyond normal readers as great ones. This is counter to the idea of community, and I think it’s counter to “communitas” as well.

2. Quotations and characters. I’m a huge fan of Tolkien and Lewis and the adventure found in their stories. If we could all live as intensely as fictional characters from their works, we’d be in great shape. Who wouldn’t want to be Aragorn or Frodo or Samwise? Arwen or Eowyn? Great stuff.

The authors seem to quote from fictional works, however, nearly as much as they draw from Scripture. If we were looking at an interaction with literature and media, that would be fine. However, the standard for the Christian is God’s Word. Even running 50-50 between sacred and non-sacred text falls short.

Additionally, I fail to see the reason to illustrate with fiction at all. The history of the Christian faith is replete with biographies of those who have risked in obedience to Christ. With John Hus, Jim Elliott, Gladys Aylward, and Lottie Moon, who needs Frodo or Eowyn? We will not live in the days of elves, but we will live in the days of tyranny and religious warfare: from the real lives could come illustration beyond adequate.

3. Orthodoxy. Within the opening chapters, the authors speak of the theological movement called open theism. This is the idea that there are things that God does not know, that God is growing, changing, and sometimes is caught by surprise. This is left standing rather than blunted or denied. The authors present that God takes risks with humanity, pursues actions without knowing the result.

That just doesn’t cut it. Without going Systematic Theology on you or getting Medieval Scholastic on the authors, one of the prime characteristics of God is immutability: God does not change. You want to build a theology of risk? Build it on the foundation that God can sustain you, because He knows what you’re up against, not that God will be just as surprised as you are when it works.

This is where this book breaks down utterly for me: the overall reading left me with the feeling that the church should become spiritual adrenaline junkies. To fly from one extreme experience to another, living extraordinary lives without a shade of boredom.

Except real spiritual life has boring moments, real life carries mundane days, and our faith in Christ can be strengthened through that. We can see that God is ever present, even when we feel nothing.

In all, I can’t bring myself to recommend this book. If you want to build a theology of risk, start with Jim Elliott, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or Lottie Moon. Find the adventures of real people living real risks to obey. Let that grow you in Christ. Let it grow you in following a God who takes no risks with you, but holds you closely in His hand.

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