rating: 3 of 5 stars
It is frankly unusual for me to like a bestseller that is a religious book. Most of the religious books out there are hype and non-sense, and are quite anti-Christian.
I haven’t decided about this one yet.
My initial read was that I liked it in some respects, but that there were elements that left me uncomfortable. The book (which has been reviewed a bazillion times elsewhere) is the story of a man whose daughter was brutally murdered, and about an encounter that this man (whose name is Mack) had with God at the place of his daughter’s murder. God is personified as three people: The Father (Papa) is an elderly black woman; the Son (Jesus) is a non-descript man; and the Holy Spirit (Sarayu) as a small oriental woman. There are some fairly obvious Trinitarian problems where, which I don’t think need to be belabored.
This is what I liked about the book. The book does a good job of describing the all encompassing love of God for us fallen sinners. There is a strong sense of redemption in the book, which I found to be powerful and kind of addictive.
Here’s what I didn’t like.
1. It’s hard to pin down difficulties when you talk about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. I think that for the most part the book was okay. I did feel, however, that there was a sort of residual modalism that crept in every once in a while. I’ll try and look through it again to see what else that might mean.
2. More problematic, though, was the confusion of Law and Gospel. It wasn’t that bad, but you could easily take from this point a complete sense of anti-nomianism. As a Lutheran, I kind of run things through the Law/Gospel filter when I read them. Sometimes the Law is presented as virtually man made, institutional, and that the Law is really a reflection of our human falleness. The Law is the perfect will of God, and is fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ. That is a problem.
3. Even more confusing and potentially dangerous is the view of the atonement set forth in the book. While there is a general sense of redemption put forth in the book, it is unclear to me whether the author sees the death of Jesus as the payment for sin. I didn’t see much justification talk, and I worry that the really point of the author’s view of the atonement is that Jesus died so that we can see how much the Father loves us. It’s hard to pin down.
4. There is also a problem with the means of grace. God is personified as three people, which I can understand from a literary point of view. However, there is very little sense that the way that God speaks to us today is through His Word. Certainly there is no sense of the Sacraments at all. It is clearly Reformed in orientation. You get the sense, too, that God “speaks” through lots of different ways, even through other religions. While I wouldn’t call the book universalistic, there is enough problem there to give me pause.
Finally, I didn’t think the writing was really that good. The dialogue was unrealistic, and he uses the word “sarcastic” way way to much. The book could have used another good edit to fix some of that. But then again, since it has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, what do I know?
All in all, an enjoyable read with a beautiful story of redemption and forgiveness. I can’t recommend it because of the theological problems, but it does have some merit.
Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church