Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Book Review: God Is a Gift by Doug Reed

Some say God has no needs; He is complete in and of Himself and could be perfectly happy if He were alone. From a certain perspective, this is true. However, if God is love, He does have one need: Love needs to give itself away. Love needs a beloved. - Doug Reed, God Is a Gift

As a pastor, I'm asked every so often about what book I might recommend to someone curious to hear more about the Christian faith. What would I give to someone who barely has even a minimum understanding of the faith culled from Sunday School 20 years earlier? Or what would I give to someone struggling with traditional Christian ideas; seeking a different way to think about God?

Strangely enough, I'm usually stumped by this question. Outside of recommending one of the Gospels, I've never been very certain about an answer. Sure, I could point to favorite books that have aided my own faith journey, but they're mostly the sorts of books that may shock, scandalize, or confuse someone trying to get a better grasp on this Jesus thing.

It may be that Doug Reed has provided a possibility for me in the future. Right off the bat, the title and basic concept struck me: God primarily has a gift to give us, and actually has already given it and awaits and encourages our receiving it. It was reminiscent of my spiritual direction program's excessive emphasis on Karl Rahner's theology, a basic point of which is that God's presence is grace in and of itself; God's presence is a gift.

I didn't think that he was off to a very good start, to tell you the truth: in the third paragraph of the introduction, he delivers this line: "the way to change our lives is to change what we think about God." This caused me to worry that I was about to slog through a book advocating for correct doctrine. Fortunately, that was not the case. What Reed really seems to mean is that if we view God as being more of a punitive tyrant, we will live according to fear and guilt. However, if we view God as giving and gracious, we will live according to love and thankfulness.

Jumping off of this basic point, Reed proceeds first to explain what he means by it. He revisits many Biblical stories, interpreting or re-interpreting them from this perspective. The scholarship he uses for this part of his project is sound, emphasizing the highly relational aspects of the culture in which the scriptures were written. For instance, his discussion of the second creation story includes the suggestion that Adam and Eve didn't experience physical death so much as relational death when they ate the fruit: they "cut off" their relationship with God by not honoring the boundaries set in the garden. Later on, he discusses just how scandalous Jesus simply touching those considered unclean would have been, communicating a God that considers no one untouchable.

The book isn't perfect. Some will be put off by various aspects of Reed's theology that lean more conservative, among them his use of male language for God (and for people) and his preference for penal substitutionary atonement. At least part of his main audience seems to be people who have either been put off by more traditional forms of Christianity. As he notes in his introduction, how we think about God affects how we live; thinking about God as a gift will result in a gracious life lived in love.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)