Twofer book reviews

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a book review. I’m typically a blazing-fast reader, and finished one of the two books I’ll be reviewing today in a couple of nights. But N.D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl forced me to suspend my Evelyn Wood-style speed-reading habits in favor of the kind of slow savor I reserve for stunning, poetic writing. I don’t downshift into first gear very often as a reader. Wilson’s arresting, lyrical prose left me no other option.

Wilson’s artful exploration of creation and re-creation is light-years beyond the heavy-footed exposition most Christian authors use to invite people into a deeper understanding of the Gospel. His words are art. And they are surgery:

I know little, but I know this: When you have died and your leaves have been raked, when you have looked on the face of God and had your final conversation, exchanging words others may never know, you will be where you want to be. If you cannot let go of yourself, if you cling to the filth that you’ve loved so long, stroking the cherished scabs that line your soul – hates and bitternesses that you cannot lay down, an imagined mirror picturing a glorious self – then He will push you away. You will be sent out into the darkness, far from His presence. You will not like the darkness, but the other option seems worse. You couldn’t bear to be without those scabs. You will be in good company, wandering with preachers, priests and kings, and every lofty human unable to live without themselves. Many “righteous” will crowd into that corner with you, people who cannot imagine themselves as anything other than good, who cannot bend to a God who will not bend to them.

He references philosphy, art, science and literature in 14 chapters that are simultaneously raw and polished as sapphire. The book would make a wonderful gift for a literate friend who has weaned himself from sentimental, formulaic evangelical pulp. It is my new favorite book. Please buy it.

* * * * * * * *

Journalist Warren Cole Smith writes from a theological corner (Reformed) of the church adjacent to that of Wilson, and his book, A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church covers a small bit of overlapping territory. However, Smith’s work is diagnostic in nature, and focuses, as the title implies, on the woes of modern evangelicalism.

Those woes are not breaking news to anyone who has been involved in the evangelical world: provincialism, sentimentality, the merchandising of faith, media, decisions instead of disciples, megachurches. Smith is a seasoned reporter, and illustrates each of his points with solid, supportive stories.

Though he occasionally offers some prescriptions for these woes (church multiplication by church-planting congregations instead of the bigger/better/more of mega-church addition, for instance) the book’s focus leans toward thoughtful lament. He doesn’t offer many solutions for the problems he describes.

Five or ten years ago, this book would have been cutting edge critique. But there has been soooo much written about the often-unlovable evangelical church during the last decade that it didn’t feel like much new ground was covered in this volume. It would be a quick primer for someone new to the subject matter, and I hope that Smith considers penning a follow-up that offers a way forward from this sad, hurty place in which we find ourselves.

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