Having read and enjoyed Leadership Journal editor Skye Jethani’s first book The Divine Commodity, I had high hopes for his new one. Specifically, as that first book had been long on well-placed criticisms and short on answers—and to be fair, a cry for imagination in the church that was a breath of fresh air—my hope was that those answers might start emerging. And I guess in a sense, they do. But in the end, I feel like I read two really strong chapters’ worth of material padded out into 200 pages.
The central premise—what you’ll want to pick this up for if you choose to do so—is that we tend to try to approach, or rather manipulate, God’s will for us in one of four ways:
Life From God—seeking God’s blessing and gifts rather than God Himself (example: the “prosperity gospel”)
Life Over God—abandoning God’s leading for human strategies and formulas (megachurches, certain publishers we’ll get to below)
Life Under God—the reasoning that says “If I’m/we’re obedient, God will bless me/us.” (i.e., the God Is an American crowd)
Life For God—those seeking “purpose” in their lives by serving God, and thus who also tend to be perpetually frustrated by those who don’t (Admittedly, this was the chapter where I felt most convicted, and hoped this was where the book would go to another level.)
Instead, Skye correctly proposes, our focus should be Life With God. So what does that look like, and how do we get there? Let’s just say he answers the first half of that question better than the second. Even though half the book is dedicated to this premise, there’s far more illustration (including literal ones) than instruction, and for me at least, little in the way of inspiration.
The sense of invective is here again—this time Radical, Joyce Meyer, and for the second time in two books, my former employer, are among those singled out as examples of what’s wrong with the church today. But unlike with The Divine Commodity, the shots don’t seem fresh or even necessarily helpful. Again, they feel more like padding than anything else.
And the “with” half of the book is especially guilty of this—secondhand anecdote after quote after retelling. Not that some of it isn’t useful, but ultimately as a result the message doesn’t feel very “lived in.” Sharing from his own experience of walking with God—the highs, the lows, the “have I turned the relationship into a law, and how do I get back to just being with God?” experiences—would’ve been so much more useful.
The appendices, for further individual and/or group study, are also curious. The first gives a quick overview of traditional practices such as lectio divina and Ignatian exercises; the second provides a handful of discussion questions for each chapter. Neither section is much in itself. But if groups were to do both—work through the spiritual practices, then debrief their times with God with the group, THEN do the maybe-half-hour of discussion about the chapters—you’d actually be on to something significant. But as this isn’t suggested anywhere, I’m pretty sure it’s an accidental epiphany on my part rather than the result of any intent on the part of publisher or author.
So bottom line: Yeah, I’m disappointed. Skye can certainly write, he certainly cares about deeper life in Christ, and I find it hard to believe he doesn’t live it out personally. But I’m still waiting for the book that expresses—and thus transmits—that life. Maybe next time.