Book Reviews: General Christianity

I’ve read a lot of books in the last couple of years. These books helped me to understand more about the Christian church in general. I believe that each of these would be valuable to you, for varying reasons. I’ve included the Amazon blurb for each, as well as a link to the Amazon listing for the book.

# # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #


Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others” by Barbara Brown Taylor

Available on Amazon

Another highly-recommended book.

This may be scary or off-putting for some people, but here’s the thing that this book (and her other book “Leaving Church”) taught me: other world religions are not as fundamentally different as I had been taught, and there’s a lot to learn from them, and there’s a lot of room at the global table for cooperation instead of real or spiritual warfare between religions.

For a long time, I’d been curious about statements like “different religions all worship the same God” but honestly afraid to learn enough about them to understand if there was real truth to that statement. As an evangelical Christian, I was taught that Jesus was the only way to the Father, and the only name under heaven by which man shall be saved, and of course I believed that, and therefore understood that no other religion could bring salvation. And so I steadfastly avoided learning anything about those other religions because they must be anti-Christ and opposed to the one true God.

I now think that was a foolish and fearful position to take. Taylor, in this book, shows how learning about those other religions did not strip her away from the God of the Bible, but allowed her to breathe easier around those other religions and people who worship differently than Christians. She found things to value in them, while still holding onto Jesus. And I think that’s a deeply valuable thing to learn, especially in our increasingly pluralistic America, where we need to find ways to live with people of different faiths.
(Reviewed August 2023)

Amazon description: The renowned and beloved New York Times bestselling author of An Altar in the World and Learning to Walk in the Dark recounts her moving discoveries of finding the sacred in unexpected places while teaching the world’s religions to undergraduates in rural Georgia, revealing how God delights in confounding our expectations.

Barbara Brown Taylor continues her spiritual journey begun in Leaving Church of finding out what the world looks like after taking off her clergy collar. In Holy Envy, she contemplates the myriad ways other people and traditions encounter the Transcendent, both by digging deeper into those traditions herself and by seeing them through her students’ eyes as she sets off with them on field trips to monasteries, temples, and mosques.

Troubled and inspired by what she learns, Taylor returns to her own tradition for guidance, finding new meaning in old teachings that have too often been used to exclude religious strangers instead of embracing the divine challenges they present. Re-imagining some central stories from the religion she knows best, she takes heart in how often God chooses outsiders to teach insiders how out-of-bounds God really is.

Throughout Holy Envy, Taylor weaves together stories from the classroom with reflections on how her own spiritual journey has been complicated and renewed by connecting with people of other traditions—even those whose truths are quite different from hers. The one constant in her odyssey is the sense that God is the one calling her to disown her version of God – a change that ultimately enriches her faith in other human beings and in God.

The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright

Available on Amazon

The title of this book, and how the author addresses his topic, are clearly designed to be provocative.

Very much like “God: An Anatomy,” the author of this book insisted on talking about God, rather than how ancient societies understood God, even though he’s clearly doing the latter. So the flow is “and then God evolved again” instead of “and then man’s understanding of God evolved again.” He uses language similar to saying “And then God evolved again, because God realized that this or that thing wasn’t going according to God’s plan.”

Unfortunately, this tactic strips off any way for the reader to simply learn about the history of mankind’s concept of deity, by attempting to force the reader to think of God as changing to fit the moment – rather than allowing that man’s concept of the supernatural is changing as societies themselves change.

I’m certain that Wright doesn’t actually believe that it’s not man that’s changing, but instead that God is changing, because he admits this many times. But then he immediately goes back to talking about God’s changes.

This is perhaps not surprising, since the author is definitely not Christian, although he denies being an atheist.

As with “God: An Anatomy,” I don’t have any problem learning about Christian things from a non-Christian. As a non-believer, Wright is unconstrained by any theology or doctrine or dogma, and is able to see things that get masked for a Christian because it conflicts in some way with our own beliefs. For this reason, I find great value in learning about my own faith and its history from an agnostic or atheist or member of another religion. But Wright’s presentation illustrates the challenge that comes from such study: we have to see and accept the inevitable biases or activities of the writer amid the data that’s being presented.
(Reviewed September 2023)

Amazon description: In this sweeping narrative that takes us from the Stone Age to the Information Age, Robert Wright unveils an astonishing discovery: there is a hidden pattern that the great monotheistic faiths have followed as they have evolved. Through the prisms of archaeology, theology, and evolutionary psychology, Wright’s findings overturn basic assumptions about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and are sure to cause controversy. He explains why spirituality has a role today, and why science, contrary to conventional wisdom, affirms the validity of the religious quest. And this previously unrecognized evolutionary logic points not toward continued religious extremism, but future harmony.

Nearly a decade in the making, The Evolution of God is a breathtaking re-examination of the past, and a visionary look forward.

How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers – and Why That” by Peter Enns

Available on Amazon

It’s taken a couple years, and author Pete Enns’ podcasts and other books have certainly already played into my current understanding, but this book probably best captures my current sense of spirituality and connection with the Christian God. Other writers like Richard Rohr push my boundaries a bit too far, arguing for a more ethereal, almost post-Biblical connection with an all-encompassing God concept that sometimes seems to abandon the very concrete ideas in the Bible. But this book stays firmly grounded in the Bible – but gives me a lot of latitude to deal with the sense of contradictions that always troubled me (as a deeply logical, scientifically-minded Christian) but grew increasingly more strident in my mind as I started actually reading the Bible without tightly-attached evangelical lenses. So I think I can recommend this book to anyone who asks me why, if I don’t believe in an inerrant rule manual, I still claim to be a Christian.
(Reviewed June 2023)

Amazon description: Controversial evangelical Bible scholar, popular blogger and podcast host of The Bible for Normal People, and author of The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty explains that the Bible is not an instruction manual or rule book but a powerful learning tool that nurtures our spiritual growth by refusing to provide us with easy answers but instead forces us to acquire wisdom.

For many Christians, the Bible is a how-to manual filled with literal truths about belief that must be strictly followed. But the Bible is not static, Peter Enns argues. It does not hold easy answers to the perplexing questions and issues that confront us in our daily lives. Rather, the Bible is a dynamic instrument for study that not only offers an abundance of insights but provokes us to find our own answers to spiritual questions, cultivating God’s wisdom within us.

“The Bible becomes a confusing mess when we expect it to function as a rulebook for faith. But when we allow the Bible to determine our expectations, we see that Wisdom, not answers, is the Bible’s true subject matter,” writes Enns. This distinction, he points out, is important because when we come to the Bible expecting it to be a textbook intended by God to give us unwavering certainty about our faith, we are actually creating problems for ourselves. The Bible, in other words, really isn’t the problem; having the wrong expectation is what interferes with our reading.

Rather than considering the Bible as an ancient book weighed down with problems, flaws, and contradictions that must be defended by modern readers, Enns offers a vision of the holy scriptures as an inspired and empowering resource to help us better understand how to live as a person of faith today.

How the Bible Actually Works makes clear that there is no one right way to read the Bible. Moving us beyond the damaging idea that “being right” is the most important measure of faith, Enns’s freeing approach to Bible study helps us to instead focus on pursuing enlightenment and building our relationship with God—which is exactly what the Bible was designed to do.

Missional Theology: An Introduction” by John R. Franke

Available on Amazon

I read this book mainly because I’d had it recommended to me. I’m sorry to say that a few months later, I don’t remember much of it and therefore I am sure I wouldn’t be recommending it, because it doesn’t stand out in my mind. It wasn’t a bad book – it did have some interesting points about how the church can be more missional-focused. It was a good introduction, as it claims to be. But it didn’t impact my current drive to understand theology enough to stick for me.
(Reviewed April 2023)

Amazon description: The notion of missional church and theology has become ubiquitous in the current ecclesial and theological landscape. But what is it all about?

In this clear and accessible introduction to missional theology, noted theologian John Franke connects missional Christianity with the life and practice of the local church. He helps readers reenvision theology, showing that it flows from an understanding of the missional character and purposes of God. Franke also explores the implications of missional theology, such as plurality and multiplicity.

First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament” by Terry M. Wildman

Available on Amazon

Even though in some sense this is "just" a Bible, I couldn’t resist adding it to this page. I heard about this on a podcast, and read a sample, and I immediately went to Amazon and bought it. It’s a completely fresh way of looking at the same scriptures, because it forces me outside my own cultural mindset and lets me see it anew. You won’t regret getting this, and you’re helping Native American tribes have better access to the Holy Bible in the process.
(Reviewed December 2022)

Amazon description: Many First Nations tribes communicate with the cultural and linguistic thought patterns found in their original tongues. The First Nations Version (FNV) recounts the Creator’s Story—the Christian Scriptures—following the tradition of Native storytellers’ oral cultures. This way of speaking, with its simple yet profound beauty and rich cultural idioms, still resonates in the hearts of First Nations people. The FNV is a dynamic equivalence translation that captures the simplicity, clarity, and beauty of Native storytellers in English, while remaining faithful to the original language of the New Testament. Whether you are Native or not, you will experience the Scriptures in a fresh and new way.

A Portrait of Jesus” by Father Joseph F. Girzone

Available on Amazon

This was a fascinating but easy book to read. Father Girzone wanders across the Gospels telling stories about Jesus and His life and ministry – and in many cases, a bit of dramatic interpretation of how Jesus might have been thinking, giving His social and historical context. It really does personalize Jesus in a way that provides a wonderful insight into the heart and character of the God/Man who walked among us for such a short time, yet had such a huge impact on history.
(Reviewed July 2022)

Amazon description: There are countless paths to follow when seeking spiritual guidance, but thousands of years of religion and theology cannot replace the premier example that Jesus himself set. In A Portrait of Jesus, bestselling writer Joseph Girzone recaptures the truth of Jesus that is presented in the Gospels and gives a compelling vision of the person Jesus’ contemporaries must have known. In his most powerful work yet, Girzone seeks to personify Christ in the minds of readers by asking some simple questions: "What did people see in Jesus as he walked down the street? How did he approach others and what would these people take away from meeting him? What do his actions tell us about how we can live our lives today?" It is Girzone’s empowering and loving understanding of the heart of Christianity that will make A Portrait of Jesus a groundbreaking classic in the tradition of his bestselling books, Joshua and Never Alone.

Centered-Set Church: Discipleship and Community Without Judgmentalism” by Mark D. Baker

Available on Amazon

This was a stunningly useful book to me. Highly recommended.

I don’t think many Christians see how their church (or their denomination at a larger scale) tends to either create or tear down boundaries, to be either exclusive or inclusive, to find ways to expand the Kingdom or defend its existing boundaries. This book does a wonderful job of showing how the default for many churches tends to build fences and segregate people, rather than inviting more people into the Kingdom. I have quite a few people I think would benefit from reading this book – but its implications are scary to many Christians, who feel like doctrinal and liturgical purity are essential to the health of the church, and therefore any fence-tearing-down activity is to be avoided at all costs. So I suppose my response is to simply show something different, something better, as Baker does. I especially appreciate the flow of the book, how he goes from theory to practical application, leaving the reader with a sense of what steps might be taken to implement some of these ideas while addressing the legitimate concerns from conservative Christians.
(Reviewed September 2023)

Amazon description: Christians can be adept at drawing lines, determining what it means to be “a good Christian” and judging those who stray out of bounds. Other times they erase all the lines in favor of a vague and inoffensive faith. Both impulses can come from positive intentions, but either can lead to stunted spiritual life and harmful relationships. Is there another option?

The late missionary anthropologist Paul Hiebert famously drew on mathematical theory to deploy the concepts of “bounded,” “fuzzy,” and “centered” sets to shed light on the nature of Christian community. Now, with Centered-Set Church, Mark D. Baker provides a unique manual for understanding and applying Hiebert’s vision. Drawing on his extensive experience in church, mission, parachurch, and higher education settings, along with interviews and stories gleaned from scores of firsthand interviews, Baker delivers practical guidance for any group that seeks to be truly centered on Jesus.

Baker shows how Scripture presents an alternative to either obsessing over boundaries or simply erasing them. Centered churches are able to affirm their beliefs and live out their values without such bitter fruit as gracelessness, shame, and self-righteousness on the one hand, or aimless “whateverism” on the other. While addressing possible concerns and barriers to the centered approach, Baker invites leaders to imagine centered alternatives in such practical areas of ministry as discipleship, church membership, leadership requirements, and evangelism. Centered-Set Church charts new paths to grow in authentic freedom and dynamic movement toward the true center: Jesus himself.

This Is the Word of the Lord: How the Bible Became Text and Why It Matters” by Dr. Bill Thomason

Available on Amazon

This was a very well-written and approachable book about the history of the Bible – not the history IN the Bible, but the history OF the Bible. The author is a retired professor of philosophy and religion. From the perspective of an evangelical who was taught for decades to not question the Bible or its history, it was a hard set of concepts to absorb, but a lot of what he presents is clearly factual, although some of it is interpretive – although no more so than the literalist/inerrant interpretations. I plan to read several more books about Bible research, based on this book.
(Reviewed August 2022)

Amazon description: This book is an overview of the evolution of the contents of the Bible from its earliest oral traditions. Why is it important to know this history? Because the evolution of this text and the way historical circumstances shaped its content and transmission affect how we understand the Bible today. When armed with such historical knowledge, believers can respond to those who insist the Bible is inerrant – and to those who insist the Bible is irrelevant.

On Earth As It Is in Heaven” by Sam Soleyn

Available on Amazon

As a long-time follower of Sam Soleyn, this book was no surprise to me, but I still found it to be extremely useful and a very thorough consolidation of his positions on the Kingdom of God and how the Lord is revealing Himself to humanity and His church in this day and age. It’s a voice I haven’t heard so clearly anywhere else in the church, but one which I think is prophetically critical to understanding our place in the Kingdom and God’s goals for His people.
(Reviewed April 2022)

Amazon description: The Body of Christ on the earth connects creation to God and to heaven. Looking into what it means to be sons of God will lead us to inquire about God’s very nature and character. It was God’s intention to establish creation in a way that His character and nature, the aspects of His being, could be seen. This was supported by the seven attributes, or Spirits of God. (cf. Isaiah 11:1-2) The task of understanding God as spirit, and by extension, human beings as spiritual beings, requires the discussion of the characteristics of God’s person by which He reveals Himself and His nature. In this sevenfold display, God shows the distinctiveness of His person and makes Himself knowable and available. Our own transformation into His image and likeness is to awaken our spirit that lives and functions in these characteristics. His essential nature is love and it was His intention to impart fully all the various aspects of love into one visible being: a corporate Man comprised of many peoples of the earth and across the entire spectrum of humanity. He calls the people to Himself and arranges them according to the divine order known as the Kingdom of Heaven. He intends to put Himself, His glory, on display through all those in the earth who are governed by His Spirit and rule themselves by the dictates of heaven, as displayed by Jesus Himself when He lived on the earth. The corporate Man, though comprised of many members, is capable of presenting the intricacies of the divine nature of God in one observable, functional

Seven Things I Wish Christians Knew about the Bible” by Michael F. Bird

Available on Amazon

This is a very readable walk through some nearly-but-not-quite-obvious things about the Bible, which if we knew and consistently remembered, would enable us to represent Jesus to the world more richly, more fully, and more accurately.
(Reviewed March 2022)

Amazon description: Seven Things I Wish Christians Knew about the Bible is a short and readable introduction to the Bible—its origins, interpretation, truthfulness, and authority. Bible scholar, prolific author, and Anglican minister Michael Bird helps Christians understand seven important "things" about this unique book:

  • how the Bible was put together;
  • what "inspiration" means;
  • how the Bible is true;
  • why the Bible needs to be rooted in history;
  • why literal interpretation is not always the best interpretation;
  • how the Bible gives us knowledge, faith, love, and hope; and
  • how Jesus Christ is the center of the Bible.

    Seven Things presents a clear and understandable evangelical account of the Bible’s inspiration, canonization, significance, and relevance in a way that is irenic and compelling. It is a must read for any serious Bible reader who desires an informed and mature view of the Bible that will enrich their faith.

    Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus: How a Jewish Perspective Can Transform Your Understanding” by Lois Tverberg

    Available on Amazon

    Along with "Misreading Scripture," I found this book to be a good reminder that how we see the Bible is sharply different from how the original audience of the Bible would have seen it. A good quote I’ve seen recently is this: God wrote the Bible for us, but not to us. If we’re going to understand it properly, we need to understand how those to whom the various books were written would understand it, so that we can transfer the proper lessons to our modern context, and not make cross-cultural mistakes in the process.
    (Reviewed April 2022)

    Amazon description: What would it be like for modern readers to sit down beside Jesus as he explained the Bible to them? What life-changing insights might emerge from such a transformative encounter? Lois Tverberg knows the treasures that await readers willing to learn how to read the Bible through Jewish eyes. By helping them understand the Bible as Jesus and his first-century listeners would have, she bridges the gaps of time and culture in order to open the Bible to readers today. Combining careful research with engaging prose, Tverberg leads us on a journey back in time to shed light on how this Middle Eastern people approached life, God, and each other. She explains age-old imagery that we often misinterpret, allowing us to approach God and the stories and teachings of Scripture with new eyes. By helping readers grasp the perspective of its original audience, she equips them to read the Bible in ways that will enrich their lives and deepen their understanding.

    My Father! My Father!” by Sam Soleyn

    Available on Amazon

    This book sets forth Dr. Soleyn’s understanding of a proper scriptural model for the government of the Kingdom of God, which is based on the relationship between spiritual fathers and sons – but not in a gendered sense. It’s one of the first understandings of the Bible’s overall teachings that I have found to present a hopeful and encouraging and uplifting view for every Christian, to recognize our amazing part in the movement of God’s people throughout all of human history. Unlike many similar-sounding – but quite different – concepts of patriarchal organizational systems for the church, this one is squarely focused on the idea that the purpose of "rule" is for the benefit of those being ruled, not for the benefit of the ruler. It gives a Godly vision of how the whole body builds itself up, with each part working to fulfill its function (Ephesians 4:16).
    (Reviewed December 2011)

    Amazon description: In the Kingdom of God, each person’s destiny is the playing out of that person’s unique identity as a son of God, regardless of gender, race, or background. To embrace one’s identity as a son, one must change his prevailing culture. In this season, God is building His House in the earth, with the relationship of fathers and sons as its foundation. Effecting cultural changes requires a trans-generational effort, in which a change in the culture is but one of the first steps of a long journey to reestablish, fully, the House of God. This journey is meant to reposition man in the relationship with God as Father, as God intended from the beginning. The purpose of repositioning humankind as sons and heirs to God is to establish the family of God on the earth and to display the love of God, through his sons, to all of creation. Whereas the destiny of each son of God is vitally important, the entire purpose of God can only, ultimately, be accomplished through the corporate form—the House of God.

    Why I Left Church to Find Jesus: A Personal Odyssey” by Julie McVey

    Available on Amazon

    This was a very lightweight and fairly quick read. You might find value in it if you have deconstructed to the point of stepping away from the church and from God entirely.
    (Reviewed March 2022)

    Amazon description: Have you ever felt like you were outgrowing your childhood religion or the religion in which you have spent many years investing your time, resources, and most importantly, your faith? Have you ever experienced being shunned for religious reasons? It’s hard enough to spiritually evolve and accept that many doctrines of your once beloved religion no longer resonate with you, but to be shunned by family or close friends because of it is one of the most painful realities one can endure as it forces one to go through the loss of a person still alive. The grief is real. In Why I Left Church to Find Jesus: A Personal Odyssey, you will take a journey of carefree freedom in innocent faith to bondage in an authoritarian religion to freedom once again but not without the high cost that comes with spiritual transformation. Christians, ex-Christians, and religious outcasts will relate to the heartache, confusion, and betrayal of not only a religion lost in such a spiritual evolution but, more painfully, of friendships lost.

    The City Gate: The Prosperity & Protection of Cities & Churches” by John Kingsley Alley

    Available on Amazon

    This book actually first got me thinking about how institutional church sometimes works against its own best interests, and more importantly, sometimes works against the Kingdom. Starting with an amazing, well-documented miraculous story from Australia, it walks through the author’s process of personally encountering the Lord in new ways and new revelations about the Lord’s goal for His church.
    (Reviewed June 2016)

    Amazon description: This is a unique book. A combination of profound truths, presented in narrative and biblical theology, along with perceptive insight from a fathering heart, combine to bring an authoritative, apostolic message to the Body of Christ. This cut-through teaching, coming from a seasoned, mature, apostolic voice, is timely. In making clear the Word of our Lord Jesus and the words of His apostles, it calls for a profound change in the visible structure of the Church, and in the way we live out the expressed values of Christianity. To embrace the biblical imperative of establishing City Elderships would fly in the face of much vested interest in the Church. But vested interest does not stand in the judgement day. We must live, rather, by the fear of the Lord.

    Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World” by E. Randolph Richards and Richard James

    Available on Amazon

    This book was the topic of my third book study. This book is simply amazing. It is a lot more fun and interesting to read than any of the others listed here; it’s not emotionally challenging at all. Rather, it shares a different way of seeing the world – not more right than Westerners, just very different. But critically, it shows with dozens of specific examples how we Western Christians are missing some very important context in many parts of scripture, that really unlock a lot of additional meaning to the Bible.
    (Reviewed September 2021)

    Amazon description: The Bible was written within collectivist cultures. When Westerners, immersed in individualism, read the Bible, it’s easy to misinterpret important elements—or miss them altogether. In any culture, the most important things usually go without being said. So to read Scripture well we benefit when we uncover the unspoken social structures and values of its world. We need to recalibrate our vision. Combining the expertise of a biblical scholar and a missionary practitioner, Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes is an essential guidebook to the cultural background of the Bible and how it should inform our reading. E. Randolph Richards and Richard James explore deep social structures of the ancient Mediterranean—kinship, patronage, and brokerage—along with their key social tools—honor, shame, and boundaries—that the biblical authors lived in and lie below the surface of each text. From Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar to Peter’s instructions to elders, the authors strip away individualist assumptions and bring the world of the biblical writers to life. Expanding on the popular Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, this book makes clear how understanding collectivism will help us better understand the Bible, which in turn will help us live more faithfully in an increasingly globalized world.

    Church Comes Home: Start a House Church Network Anywhere” by David L. Barnhart Jr.

    Available on Amazon

    This was a powerful book, casting a vision for a different type of church model. Not everyone can do it, but Barnhart makes a compelling case for the need for and value of this different model.
    (Reviewed November 2021)

    Amazon description: People have lost faith in all collective institutions: government, corporations, the media, and the church. We are in the midst of a spiritual disaster, a flood of biblical proportions, and house churches provide lifeboats for people who are seeking a more authentic, life-giving form of Christian community. Many people remember that the early church started in homes, but they don’t understand that house churches are still a legitimate and viable model today. House churches can create the intimacy so many people are hungry for. They can nurture life-changing discipleship for individuals and create justice-centered communities. Networked house churches can become truly diverse, multi-ethnic communities that spread the Gospel by emphasizing practices over programs. These communities de-center the preacher, opting instead for grassroots organizing, but they are not leaderless — they are leader-full. This book provides an alternative model for denominations and established churches to consider. It will help pastors reconnect with the traditions of community organizing, itinerant preaching, and discipleship training that sparked Methodism and other church movements in the United States. Church Comes Home offers alternative ways to look at some of the problems facing our church and our culture.

    Listening to the Language of the Bible: Hearing It Through Jesus’ Ears” by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema

    Available on Amazon

    Not what I expected, but interesting nonetheless. This is more like a daily devotional than anything else, touching on a number of Biblical terms and phrases that have more rich context than many Western readers would expect.
    (Reviewed December 2021)

    Amazon description: Listening to the Language of the Bible is a guide for discovering the richness of the Scriptures in their Hebraic setting. The book contains more than 60 brief, illustrated devotional articles that unpack the meaning of biblical words and phrases for life today. By examining the Hebrew and Jewish cultural context of some of the Bible’s seemingly odd phrases, it shares insights that clarify reading and deepen Bible study. Listening looks at many topics from the perspective of the ancient writers, including prayer, family and the promised Messiah. It also looks at the words of Jesus in light of first-century Jewish culture. The book can be read by itself for a brief overview, or with the Companion Bible Study as a guide to explore the Scriptures from a Hebraic perspective.

    God: An Anatomy” by Francesca Stavrakopoulou

    Available on Amazon

    There’s a ton of data to absorb here, about how ancient cultures (not just the Hebrew ones) conceptualized and wrote about God. I learned a lot about the ancient cultures and their understandings of deity, and how that seemed to have shaped Hebrew and then Christian writings and concepts of Adonai or El and thus what we moderns simply call God or The Lord.

    I didn’t like the way that the author insisted on frequently referring to what deities were, instead of what I think is vastly more appropriate: how the ancient cultures used language to describe them. In other words, she spends chapter after chapter describing various seemingly physical parts of the deity’s anatomy, using quotes from ancient sources – but not seeming to acknowledge the fairly obvious fact that we humans use aspects of our own body structure to explain less-physical things.

    There is some lip service paid to this idea – that these literary works are anthropomorphic descriptions – but then she reverts to speaking about those works as if the authors truly believed they were being literal, not metaphorical.

    For example, we often talk about God’s hands as indicating some aspect of God’s creative touch – but I have never met anyone who thinks of a physical God with a physical pair of hands actually doing a tangible manipulation of creation.

    I really couldn’t tell if the author was just being deliberately provocative. It’s pretty clear to me that she doesn’t come from a Christian perspective. I don’t really care whether she does or not, because non-Christians often see things that Christians miss because of their worldview, and we can learn a lot from them. But in this case it’s pretty clear that there’s a significant amount of poking and prodding against Christians going on here.

    At some point I simply started scanning the content, rather than reading deeply, because I kind of felt that I understood her point and she was simply trying hard to hammer it home over and over again.

    I’m not sure I would recommend this book to anyone, unless you just want a good survey of descriptions of various anatomical references in ancient literature.
    (Reviewed September 2023)

    Amazon description: An astonishing and revelatory history that re-presents God as he was originally envisioned by ancient worshippers – with a distinctly male body, and with superhuman powers, earthly passions, and a penchant for the fantastic and monstrous.

    “[A] rollicking journey through every aspect of Yahweh’s body, from top to bottom (yes, that too) and from inside out … Ms. Stavrakopoulou has almost too much fun.” – The Economist

    The scholarship of theology and religion teaches us that the God of the Bible was without a body, only revealing himself in the Old Testament in words mysteriously uttered through his prophets, and in the New Testament in the body of Christ. The portrayal of God as corporeal and masculine is seen as merely metaphorical, figurative, or poetic. But, in this revelatory study, Francesca Stavrakopoulou presents a vividly corporeal image of God: a human-shaped deity who walks and talks and weeps and laughs, who eats, sleeps, feels, and breathes, and who is undeniably male.

    Here is a portrait – arrived at through the author’s close examination of and research into the Bible – of a god in ancient myths and rituals who was a product of a particular society, at a particular time, made in the image of the people who lived then, shaped by their own circumstances and experience of the world. From head to toe – and every part of the body in between – this is a god of stunning surprise and complexity, one we have never encountered before.

    Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women” by George MacDonald

    Available on Amazon

    This is my second George MacDonald book. I found the first – “Lilith” – to be more compelling, but this was worth reading for its vision of how one moves from self-indulgence and self-interest to having their eyes opened and choosing finally to do good at the risk of ultimate self-sacrifice.
    (Reviewed February 2024)

    Amazon description: One of the first great works of nineteenth-century fantasy fiction, Phantastes inspired many of the great Christian and fantasy authors of the twentieth century. A fairy tale for adults, it is the captivating story of a wealthy young man who takes an unplanned journey into a fantastic nether world. Led by an enchanting sprite (discovered inside an old desk once owned by his deceased father), he meets a diverse cast of characters, among them a fairy queen, as well as sinister figures who threaten his spiritual well-being.

    Outstanding for its imaginative characters, vivid action, and subtle yet powerful moral messages, this book, first published 100 years ago, earned MacDonald recognition as “The Grandfather of Modern Fantasy,” and a tribute from W. H. Auden as “one of the most remarkable writers of the 19th century.” Of this work, C. S. Lewis wrote, “It will baptize your imagination.”

    I’ll update this list as my reading continues.

    Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases, and we make a tiny bit of money – so far, just $16 – on these Amazon affiliate links. You can help support this blog simply by purchasing anything from Amazon within 24 hours of following one of these links.

    If you liked this article, then please follow us on Twitter logo and or join our email notification list.
  • Scroll to Top