My rating: 2 of 5 stars
When I picked this book up, I had high hopes for it. After all, according to the title it’s about hanging on when you don’t see God’s plan, and that’s always been an issue for me. I’ve rarely seen a plan. It looked like an interesting book. Another plus for it was that author and minister Brian McLaren endorsed it on the back cover, and I like and respect him immensely.
Jones starts with the following premise: “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” According to Goodreads, this book is Jones’s response to that question. However, I never quite got that. I think if that’s what he was trying to answer, he failed. He did try though. He uses the Israelites crossing the Jordan river from the desert to illustrate that “God is always at work upstream in our lives.” He writes, “Where’s God? Whenever we face a problem in our lives — sickness, job loss, depression, tragedy, or discouragement — God is at work upstream in those situations, beyond our line of sight.” Interesting, but I don’t know if I fully buy it and he doesn’t really go there too much more in the book. He talks about being broken — that “in order for me to notice people in pain and reach out to them with authenticity, I needed to go through a slow, painful process of transformation. It’s the same process he is taking you through.” Interesting. So everyone is broken and going through Godly transformations. I don’t know. He doesn’t argue convincingly for me. Jones later argues for compassion, saying “When we have Jesus’ heart, we see what he sees as if we’re borrowing his eyes.” It seems a bit too trite for me, frankly. I want more theological meat on the bones. But maybe this book is intended for a different target audience, I don’t know.
Jones writes a chapter about doubt. He remarks,
“Perhaps you have a question that is bothering you. Maybe something happened to you or someone you love, and there doesn’t seem to be any rational explanation for its occurrence. How do we resolve these kinds of questions? Honestly, most times we don’t. We live with the ambiguity. We wake up every day knowing full well that we carry around with us just as many questions as answers…. At the heart of a life filled with unanswered questions lies the very nature of Christianity…. Doubt reminds us of this.”
Doesn’t this passage acknowledge that he can’t answer the book’s questioning premise? No one has answers. Isn’t that what he’s saying? The author’s solution to doubt is to reach out to others. Seriously. I’m glad that works for him, but I don’t know that it’ll solve my issues for me….
In the Witness chapter, I come across some big problems that I really don’t like. It’s Hell. Jones didn’t think too much of Hell early in his life, but at some point came to the conclusion that Hell is real and that everyone who doesn’t accept Jesus into his life as their personal savior is damned to eternal Hell. He writes,
“I had always assumed that the Bible contained only a few scattered references to Hell. I was wrong; it is taught everywhere. Take the book of Matthew, for instance, just one book among twenty-seven in the entire New Testament…. Thirteen separate passages record Jesus’ teachings about the judgment of nonbelievers and their assignment to eternal punishment.”
He then throws out words to allegedly describe Hell in Matthew: fire, eternal fire, destruction, away from his presence, thrown outside, fiery furnace, darkness, eternal punishment, weeping and gnashing of teeth. OK. I don’t know why Brian McLaren endorsed this book because he doesn’t believe in Hell in the traditional sense of a fiery place of eternal conscious torment. He thinks that’s flat out wrong. So does Rob Bell, author of Love Wins, a book I’ve read three times and have found great relief and joy in. Bell argues that Hell isn’t mentioned in the Bible 13 TIMES alone, let alone in one book, if I recall correctly. He covers every instance of Hell in his book. These loaded words that Jones throws out refer to the always burning garbage pit outside Jerusalem, if you go by the original Greek, according to McLaren and Bell. Also, words like “destruction,” “thrown outside,” “darkness,” etc, hardly convey images of the traditional Christian Hell. I grew up in a Hellfire and brimstone environment, a strong Calvinist upbringing where practically everyone who wasn’t a true Calvinist was destined for Hell. That, among other things, turned me off to God and Christianity for 20 years. I truly don’t know if there’s a Hell or not, but I think McLaren and Bell do a much better job of arguing their case than Jones does here. Very weak, and disappointing. He lost me as a reader in this section.
Anyway, Jones ends his book by talking about the importance of attending church (and most likely tithing the heck out of yourselves, since he is a minister), and he strangely argues that you should attend the SAME church for the rest of your lives. You shouldn’t church shop. His final words are “That ‘perfect church’ you’re looking for already exists. You attended it last Sunday.” SERIOUSLY??? What if the church you attended was Westboro Baptist? What if it’s a crazy church, filled with nutjobs? What if you don’t feel comfortable there and you do want to attend multiple churches? Is that a crime? Is it a sin? I can’t believe how much importance Jones places on this. I’ve never read this anywhere else. It’s bizarre.
Throughout the book, Jones interjects his own thoughts into various situations from his entire life, and I got the feeling that this book was his form of self therapy. That he was trying to work through things in his life and this is what came of it. I thought it was a book that didn’t answer a hard question and provided some misguided notions and advice, and I think it’s really a failure overall. Certainly not recommended.