Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Searching for a Better God-- A Review

I approached Wade Bradshaw's new book "Searching for a Better God", knowing that he comes from the Reformed tradition. I am usually turned off by this tradition because most of those that I have conversed with (along with the more visible mouthpieces) from the Reformed tradition spend more of their time fighting against the culture-shift (reality) than they do trying to engage it. However, in reading the back of his book I became excited when Bradshaw acknowledges that the past/present caricatures of God are misunderstood and in need of examination. I began to have high hopes for this book wanting to see how he reimagined the questions. However, don't be fooled into thinking that he is reimagining anything...in fact, he argues against that "impulse".

Bradshaw does indeed explore questions about God. The three questions Bradshaw chooses to focus on are:
Is God Angry?
Is God Distant?
Is God A Bully?

Bradshaw constructs his book to make it look as though he is taking the questions as serious as they are (and indeed he may think he is, each question is multiple chapters long), but then in the end can "answer" these tough questions in a short neat paragraph. I enjoy exploring the questions with him, but his round-up seems to then belittle the questions, leaving me to wonder why he wasted so much paper examining them in the first place. To add to that, his answers are both shocking and expected. "Is God Angry? Yes, but it's ok, God is good and it is for our best interest." After almost 20 pages of exploring that question (in two parts), this comes across as kind-of a flippant "answer".

Bradshaw's book hinges on the idea that there are two stories in play. The "Old Story" centers around the question, "does God exist?" while the "New Story" has moved to (and I'm summarizing his definition here), "Who is God, and why should He be trusted". His definition is a little more complex than that, but in reading through, that's a good summary. What is great about this, is that in his tradition, there are few who are exploring the "New Story". I think Bradshaw's understanding of the "New Story" is a little simplistic, but at least it is being recognized.

So Bradshaw is less engaging with his 3 questions than I would like... but at least he is engaging them and, better still, acknowledging them as real. Other things that bother me are his analogies and examples. His favorite source for these are movies. Now I'm a movie buff, but sometimes if you haven't seen the movie, his analogy is lost on you. As many movies as I've seen, I still added a couple to my netflix queue just to satisfy my curiosity. Simply stated, his analogies and examples are weak or forced most of the time, and unfortunately he's at his best when using personal experiences. However, he forgoes this strength by using movies 90% of the time.

However, there are several good parts to this book. Although I question the structure, the book is still an easy read. By that, I mean it is accessible to anyone. What most makes the book worth picking up to me is his chapter on Ethos and Wisdom. I think this is the best written and most challenging part of the book. Unfortunately, this chapter is not split into parts and I would like to have seen more on this subject. For me, this chapter by itself was worth the read. Most intriguing are the parts where he challenges doctrine and morality in the way that it has been used in modern Christianity. The conclusion of the book comes for me when he says,

In other words, the New Story is a quest for wisdom, an attempt to find the good
God--but it can also be a tragic tale of folly if the goodness of God is
mistaken for evil and left behind as the search moves on.
Here he draws his understanding of wisdom back to the fact that the "New Story" sees ourselves morally superior to God. This comes, according to Bradshaw, when we see an antiquated God who's morality is less than our own "common sense morality" (like when we perceive that God doesn't care about poverty, AIDS, genocide, etc...). It also appears when we
don't interpret God's anger, distance, and "bullying" correctly. He argues that our tendency is to replace the "true God" with a made-up version. Or we simply leave the God of Christianity behind and proclaim him evil. I don't think this is an accurate portrayal of the reality of "New Story". I'm sure that some people come to this conclusion, but I have yet to encounter it among anyone I know. In my experience it isn't God who is truly being questioned, but the PRESENTATION and UNDERSTANDING of God that is receiving scrutiny.

Searching for a Better God can be a challenging read. I wish Bradshaw would have played to his strengths better, defined "true" as he is using it, and had not flippantly ended his discussion on the three main questions. Yet, this book is still worth the read for anyone who wants to delve into these questions, or questions Christianity in general. This book has sparked some fantastic discussions between my wife and myself, as well as filtered into a previous post. Bradshaw has the ability to make you think, even if you don't agree with his outcome.

Other links/reviews:

Ongoing Discussion Boards-Derek Webb's website
zoecarnate- review
Capturing the Low Ground-Wade Bradshaw Article
Apologizing for God-review
My Friend Amy (Blog)- read the first chapter

No comments:

Post a Comment