Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review: Unoccupied Mission Fields of Asia & Africa

Rating: ★★★

Author: Samuel M. Zwemer was a pioneer missionary among Arabs along the Persian Gulf. His later career was spent writing, teaching and mobilizing for missions among Muslims while he was based in Egypt for many years, and later at Princeton Theological Seminary. (Click here for more on Samuel M. Zwemer, or read his biography.)


The genre of this book requires some explanation. Unoccupied Mission Fields, especially the first half, falls into the category of missions survey. Missions survey books sought to compile information from European explorers and pioneer missionaries to explain basic information that we would expect to read today on Wikipedia: geography, demographics, population statistics, religious statistics, as well as other information pertinent for missionaries and intercessors. Missions survey is not well represented today in publishing, but in comprehensive resources and websites such as Operation World, The Joshua Project, and some resources by Voice of the Martyrs. Missions newsletters, biographies, and some large-scale studies (like A Wind in the House of Islam) also may meet the same goals as missions survey.


Zwemer writes in the preface:

The purpose of this book is to give a survey of the extent and condition of the wholly unoccupied mission fields in Africa and Asia . . . and to consider the questions that bear on their occupation. (Preface, loc. 18)

This twofold purpose is roughly how the book is divided. After a lengthy rundown of neglected areas (especially Muslim-majority populations), the second half of Unoccupied Fields deals with heart issues and head issues involved with missionary advancement in these pioneer fields.

The book begins with many accounts of geographical areas with no missionaries (as of 1911). These are mildly interesting, since we can clearly see which areas have experienced rapid progress in the past century (mainly sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Asia), and others that have seemingly changed little since Zwemer’s day.

Zwemer then discusses the obstacles to missionary advancement in each region, the social and religious poverty among the unreached, missionary strategy, and the need for pioneer efforts.

Zwemer’s sources are primarily missions reports and missions biographies, with some explorers’ accounts and travelogues.

Despite many dated quotations, the second half of the book shows what made Zwemer famous. Aside from his very thorough research, the book is dripping with a pioneer spirit for the glory of Christ among the unreached, and that is the book’s chief value. The last few chapters are especially potent, and “The Glory of the Impossible” is worth the price of the book.


“These fields are the enemy’s citadels, the high places of his dominion, flaunting defiance in the face of a militant church.” (ch. 1, loc. 167)

“The first Missionary came unto His own and His own received Him not.” (ch. 1, loc. 169)

“God does not deal with mankind in the mass, but as individuals, nor should we. [sic]” (ch. 1, loc. 678)

“Decentralization in the mission field itself is another pressing problem.” (ch. 2, loc. 855)

“Meanwhile, how slowly move the hosts of God
To claim the crown He hath already won!” (ch. 3, loc. 1099)

“The march of missionary progress throughout the past century of Protestant missions has, with some exceptions, been along the line of least resistance. When the whole non-Christian world was awaiting pioneer effort, the Church sometimes postponed the harder tasks. . . . ” (ch. 3, loc. 1128)

“The gradual breaking down of barriers . . . is a call to greater faith and enterprise.” (ch. 3, loc. 1594)

“Long neglect, trying climates, political barriers, national jealousies and religious intolerance in all the unoccupied fields are only a challenge to faith and intended of God to lead us to prayer. All difficulties can be surmounted by those who have faith in God.” (ch. 3, p. 107, loc. 1630)

“The eyes of the Christian world turn as instinctively toward the lands closed to the Gospel in this missionary age, as do the eyes of a conquering army toward the few remaining outposts of the enemy.” (John Muir, qtd. in ch. 6, p. 166, loc. 2546)

“The pioneer stands in a class by himself, like Paul among the Apostles. His glory and joy is the magnitude and the difficulty of the task. The unknown attracts him. Obstacles allure him, and difficulties only knit his moral fibre and strengthen his purpose.” (ch. 7, p. 198, loc. 3027)

” . . . men who do not know what discouragement means. . . .” (ch. 7, p. 200, loc. 3059)

“God does not put the Polar bear on the Congo, nor the hippopotamus in the heart of Arabia . . . Lambs are provided with wool, and it is untrue that God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb. He does not need to temper the wind, because He does not shear the lamb.” (ch. 7, p. 214, loc. 3267)

“Heap the difficulties together recklessly . . . He is the God of the impossible.” (Lillias Trotter, qtd. in ch. 8, p. 225, loc. 3436).

“We are not to choose conditions, but to meet them. The early apostles did not wait until the Roman Empire was ‘opened.'” (S. C. Rijnhart, qtd. in ch. 8, p. 227, loc. 3467)

Zwemer cites Bishop French’s tale, adding that MacKay had called for six young men and only French responded (ch. 8, p. 233, loc. 3572)

Livingstone challenged Cambridge men: “Do you carry out the work which I have begun. I leave it with you.” (ch. 8, p. 240, loc. 3674)

Selected quotes on Arabia and Islam:

“But in its native Arabian soil, the tree planted by the Prophet has grown up with wild freedom and brought forth fruit of its own kind. As regards morality, Arabia is on a low plane . . . ” (p. 142, loc. 2171)

“A religion that does not purify the home cannot regenerate the race.” (Fairbairn, qtd. p. 136, loc. 2085)

“The Gospel is the only hope for the social uplift of the world.” (p. 135, loc. 2061)

Zwemer cites amulet use (p. 118, loc. 1801); open slavery (p. 113, loc. 1729-1730); prostitution in Mecca veiled as ‘temporary marriage’ and the like.

“The chief barrier is that of Moslem political authority and not primarily religious fanaticism.” (p. 94, loc. 1437)

“Northern Oman together with the coast along the western side of the Persian Gulf has a large number of villages and cities. Only the coast towns thus far have been visited by missionaries and colporteurs and the people would welcome medical missions, yet there is no station in the entire area of the map.” (p. 45, loc. 675)

“Missionary work in Arabia so far has been largely preliminary.” (p. 34, loc. 518)

“The eastern tribes . . . are pagan . . . Their dialect is distinct . . . their customs are peculiar and primitive.” (p. 33)

Sources cited with recommendations:

In the Torrid Sudan
With Tibetans in Tent and Temple
Across the Sahara 
Fighting the Slave-Hunters in Central Africa (Swann, 1910)
The Lower Niger & Its Tribes (Leonard, 1906)
Leaves from an Afghan Scrapbook
Six Months in Meccah
(Keane, 1881)


Review: A Pilgrim of the Infinite

Rating: ★★★★

Author: William Valentine Kelley (1843-1927) was an American Methodist preacher and author. He was a talented essayist and was editor of The Methodist Review from 1893 to 1919.

Kelley is an engaging writer with a florid, literary style. His breadth of subject matter is similar to literary preachers like Boreham, Gossip, or Stewart; but his content is less pointed.

Overview: A Pilgrim of the Infinite (1914) is a long essay on the subject of personality. Its overall argument, while rather philosophical, will ring a bell for readers of Mere Christianity or The God Who Is There; Kelley argues from human personality to the infinite.

Meat: Kelley argues convincingly that we have “eternity in our hearts”; the potential of human personality is boundless, and it can only be satisfied by an infinite God. Truly each of us is a “pilgrim of the infinite.”

Bones: Kelley’s style is sometimes over the top.

Review: The Grave Robber

Rating: ★★★½

Author: Mark Batterson is the pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C. and author of several Christian living books. His training and affiliation are from the Assemblies of God.

Overview: This book deals with Jesus’ seven miracles in the Gospel of John, organized into 25 short chapters. Although Jesus performs more than thirty miracles in the four Gospels, John only details seven, leading expositors to believe that each one has a  specific theological purpose.

This is the first of Batterson’s books that I have reviewed. One high point in Batterson’s writing/homiletical style is his variety of sources. He tells personal anecdotes, uses scientific examples, and recounts unique biographical material. This must resonate with his urban, well-educated congregation, and it makes his writing very engaging.

Meat: The most memorable section of the book for me was in the last few chapters (ch. 22-24) in which he asks why Jesus allowed Lazarus to die. It is a fascinating question for expositors. Batterson talks about how God can—and often does—allow a dream to die. He mentioned making an offer on a house and being turned down, but afterwards buying the same house for the same price, one year later. But Batterson could have gone much further on this topic:

  • He could have discussed Joseph’s imprisonment.
  • He could have discussed Abraham, Sarah, and the birth of Isaac.
  • He could have discussed Abram leaving Haran, setting out for the second time.
  • He could have used other examples in the life of Jesus—his wilderness experience, Gethsemane, the loss of John—or Jesus’ resurrection, in more detail that is.

Jesus as “the grave robber” and reviver of dreams is a theme that could be explored at more length.

Bones: One low point is the somewhat trite Pentecostal obsession with miracles and how to make them happen—usually something about either avoiding rationalization or risking reputation. I am not sure if miracles in and of themselves are a topic so central to the gospel that we should preach week after week on them. My position is closer to that of George MacDonald: miracles continue to fill an indispensable place in the witness of the gospel, as they did during Christ’s lifetime; but their role in our Christian lives is rarely as monolithic as it is in Pentecostal preaching. Sometimes I think that the logic might be, because cessationists are preaching almost nothing about miracles, we have to preach double.


“Don’t seek miracles. Follow Jesus. And if you follow Jesus long enough and far enough, you’ll eventually find yourself in the middle of some miracles.”

“God is in the business of strategically positioning us in the right place at the right time, but it’s up to us to see and seize those opportunities that are all around us all the time.”

Review: Christus Victor

Rating: ★★★★★

Full title: Christus Victor: A Historical Study of Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement.

Author: Gustaf Aulén was a Swedish theologian known mainly for Christus Victor. In historical context, he is also part of a movement towards neo-orthodoxy in Swedish Lutheranism (the “Lundensian” movement).


The book begins with the following statement:

My work on the history of Christian doctrine has led me to an ever-deepening conviction that the traditional account of the history of the idea of the Atonement is in need of thorough revision.

Aulén sees previous atonement literature as divided into two camps, while a third option has been overlooked since the Reformation. Many previous studies of the atonement used a dichotomy of two logical theories: the “objective” atonement theory (penal substitution) and the “subjective” atonement theory. Aulén’s book, however, traces atonement theory from a third, older view: the “classic” or “dramatic” view seen in Scripture and the Eastern Church Fathers, which is less logically rigorous but just as important. In a nutshell, the classic view is exemplified in the Narnia novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, wherein the atoning triumph is specifically over evil forces, not against an angry deity. The triumph is also sometimes seen as an act of deception over the devil, who attacked Christ at Calvary, not knowing that such a violation of divine law would overthrow his own kingdom:

Christ—Christus Victor—fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the “tyrants” under which mankind is in bondage and suffering, and in Him God reconciles the world to Himself. Two points here require to be pressed with special emphasis: first, that this is a doctrine of Atonement in the full and proper sense, and second, that this idea of the Atonement has a clear and distinct character of its own, quite different from the other two types. (ch. 1)

In Aulén’s view, the atonement as conflict and triumph over Satanic forces (including sin and death) is the most prominent explanation in the New Testament and Church Fathers, and the objective and subjective theories are later attempts to iron out tensions in the New Testament’s account of atonement.

Thus, Aulén divides atonement history into:

1) The classic view (conflict and triumph), which was the usual explanation in the New Testament and the Church Fathers for the first millennium of church history;

2) The objective atonement (satisfaction theory or substitution), which was developed by Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century and became the “orthodox” Protestant view;

3) The subjective atonement, which is typically credited to Abelard, a near contemporary and critic of Anselm. In Aulén’s view the subjective theory of the atonement is basically a reaction to the objective theory.


Aulén’s book is tranquil where others are incendiary, brief where others are verbose, historical where others are critical. It has become key to the entire atonement controversy and should be discussed by modern theology students.

Key to Aulén’s book are the many quotes from Irenaeus, Anselm, Abelard, Luther, and others. He shows quite effectively that “conflict and triumph” is at the very least an underappreciated facet of Christ’s atonement. This was part of a movement of “re-Reformation,” in which Luther’s theology was re-appraised and some key concepts were given new treatments in Lutheranism. Aulén states in the fourth chapter that legal explanations of the atonement had become the only “orthodox” explanations:

The theologians of Protestant Orthodoxy took it completely for granted that the theory of the satisfaction of God’s justice was to be found everywhere in the New Testament, or, rather, that it was presupposed both in the New Testament and in the Old; in fact, it was primarily from the Old Testament that the “scriptural proofs” of the Atonement were primarily drawn, and this is a highly significant point. (ch. 4)

The goal in view in Christus Victor, however, is not to criticize satisfaction theory, but to revise “the traditional account of the history of the idea of the Atonement” (ch. 1).

There are some unique elements of the classical/dramatic atonement that come out in his study:

1) The classical view of the Atonement is a view, not a theory. Aulén contends:

[The classical view] is not a logically articulated theory of redemption but rather an idea, a motif, a theme, which is essentially one and the same in Paul and in the early church, but finds ever-varying forms of expression. (ch. 4)

2) The classical view brings the Incarnation to the forefront. Aulén points out that early explanations of the Atonement were indelibly bound together with Christ’s Incarnation. The legal view, however, is somewhat at odds with the Incarnation, and critics point out that penal substitution pits the Trinity against itself.

3) The classical view makes God the main actor in the Atonement. The legal view of the Atonement often makes God the object of the Atonement, whereas he is the Initiator of the Atonement in the classical view (2 Cor. 5:19). Aulén aptly summarizes this tension:

It may be summed up thus: The classic idea shows a continuity in the Divine action and a discontinuity in the order of justice; the Latin type, a legal consistency and a discontinuity in Divine operation. (ch. 5)

4) Finally, the classical view emphasizes a new order based on grace. The legal view makes the act of grace also an act of payment; in the classical view, God not only makes amends (in Christ) or accepts the means of making amends (in the Father), but he initiates a change in the universal order which we may freely appropriate by faith in Christ. He enables believers to live in freedom from the devil and death. Law does not triumph over law; rather, grace triumphs over law, and the tension in the divine order is palpable in the classical view:

The nerve of the whole is the idea of the Divine Love breaking in pieces the order of merit and justice, and creating a new order to govern the relation of man with God, that of Grace. (ch. 6)

This acceptance of paradox, which is the final note of triumph in Aulén’s conclusion, resonates both with Christian mysticism and with modern writers on paradox such as Gerald Kennedy (in The Lion and the Lamb: Paradoxes of the Christian Faith) and G. K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy).


Aulén’s book is a potent challenge to proponents of substitutionary atonement. If the substitutionary atonement is so important, why is it only discussed during the second millennium of church history? Aulén probably doesn’t give proper weight to the Calvinist explanation, however. The options are these:

1) Aulén’s view: Substitutionary atonement is not mentioned during the 1st millennium A.D. because the dramatic view of the atonement was the dominant explanation.

2) The Calvinist view: Substitutionary atonement is not mentioned during the 1st millennium A.D. because there was no rigorous atonement theory.

As I see it, it would be shortsighted to say that there was “no theory” for 1000 years. This may be just another way of saying that explanations of the Atonement didn’t have all their kinks ironed out, which Aulén freely admits. But the fact of the Atonement was passed on from generation to generation, even in Britain’s medieval mystery plays, with a clear conflict and triumph motif. It cannot be passed on in a vacuum, just as anyone who says they have “no theology” just means that they do not know what theology they have.

Aulén manages to play to the strength of this problem by claiming that the classical/dramatic view is not logically rigorous; but I only mention it to point out that his explanation of this problem could be teased out in a longer work.


“The New Testament teaching corresponds with that of the early church; it being understood that there is not to be found in either case a developed theological doctrine of the Atonement, but rather an idea or motif expressed with many variations of outward form.” (ch. 4)

“It is possible to fix with precision the time of the first appearance of the Latin theory. Tertullian prepares the building materials; Cyprian begins to construct out of them a doctrine of the Atonement.” (ch. 5)

“The Latin doctrine of the Atonement is closely related to the legalism characteristic of the medieval outlook.” (ch. 5)

“Satan’s triumph would be his undoing. This strange paradox, that He who was the stronger than Satan should succumb to the power of evil and thereby break it—this paradox was involved in His situation as the Son of Man in lowliness, but having His high vocation, and all the while an instrument of God’s will.” (quoting Anton Fridrechsen)

Review: Man’s Search for Meaning

Author: The Bible speaks of men and women being made into “signs” by their unique circumstances, which demonstrate a truth about human life in the unarguable sphere of biography. Viktor Frankl’s life (1905-1997) is one such “sign.” Having not only lived through the gruesome Nazi concentration camps, but being a psychiatrist by profession, Frankl gleaned some comforting and noteworthy insights into human nature from what he learned there.

While many personal narratives have been written about the Holocaust, Frankl is probably the only professional psychiatrist to write unite his firsthand experience with his trained opinions about the inner workings of Nazi concentration camps.

Overview: His primary thesis is that even in the worst possible circumstances, man never loses the power of will. Frankl saw that even concentration camp victims could maintain hopeful attitudes, encourage others, and show kindness to their persecutors. The first section, comprising the bulk of the book, is mostly anecdotes about people Frankl interacted with in the concentration camps.

A primary insight of the book relates to suicide:

“I remember two cases of would-be suicide, which bore a striking similarity to each other. Both men had talked of their intentions to commit suicide. Both used the typical argument—they had nothing more to expect from life. In both cases it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them. We found, in fact, that for the one it was his child whom he adored and who was waiting for him in a foreign country. For the other it was a thing, not a person. This man was a scientist and had written a series of books which still needed to be finished. His work could not be done by anyone else, any more than another person could ever take the place of the father in his child’s affections.” (p. 87)

As a psychiatrist, Frankl had already worked with the suicidal in Austria before entering the concentration camps, and was developing his theory in this direction even before the war began. This work became the psychiatric theory of logotherapy, which focuses on finding meaning through responsibility. Each of us has an irreplaceable vocation and mission, so that life is always worth living. In his thinking, meaning must be found personally and vocationally by each individual, and is found in three ways: 1) achievement—helping others and succeeding; 2) experience—experiencing goodness, truth, and beauty, and loving others; and 3) enduring suffering—in this case, suffering can be viewed as a kind of achievement if we suffer well. The second section of the book is a popular introduction to his practices, but is well worth reading because it synthesizes truths from the many anecdotes in the first section.

Meat: As in any book about the Holocaust, depravity and virtue are placed in sharp contrast, and numerous insights are given on both ends. Aside from these fascinating tangents, Frankl’s thesis as a psychiatrist is summarized in his own words:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Frankl believed that  this freedom was unquestionable demonstrated to him by watching the effects of attitude on prisoners’ survivals. When they lost the will to go on, Frankl observed how quickly their health deteriorated and led to death. Others, though physically weak, could endure taxing labor if their life had meaning and purpose.

As a Jew, Frankl quotes Scripture here and there, and his book is not devoid of religious sentiment. That being said, for Christians, the takeaways are highly significant:

  1. Suffering becomes hopeless when we have nothing to look forward to—then no suffering is hopeless since even death is not the end for believers.
  2. No suffering is meaningless since we imbue life with meaning by working “as though for the Lord” (Col. 3:23).
  3. No oppression can take away our essential humanity and personality. When every earthly comfort is taken away, we can still express who we are.
  4. The two greatest commandments are always actionable. There is no time or place where it is impossible to love God and our neighbor.

Bones: Frankl’s ideas themselves are powerful and aptly stated, but today we often find ourselves contending with their abuses, which are many. The self-help literature has moved on from Frankl’s main thesis—that we maintain free will even in the most oppressive of circumstances—into completely man-centered philosophies: man’s will is not only powerful, but supreme; man’s will can not only supercede his circumstances, but change them.

Because of these abuses, we should state Frankl’s ideas carefully. Our free will, while powerful, has many limitations. As he points out himself:

“To be sure, a human being is a finite being, and his freedom is restricted. It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.” (p. 132)

And again, a few pages later:

“Freedom, however, is not the last word … Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” (p. 134)


“When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.” (p. 116)

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” (first stated by Nietzsche but re-popularized by Frankl)

“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”

“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” (p. 117)

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

“In the concentration camps, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.” (p. 135)

Review: Orthodoxy

Rating: ★★★★★

Who: G. K. Chesterton was a devoutly Catholic journalist, poet and novelist of the early 20th century. His most apt nickname is “The Prince of Paradox.”

Overview: Orthodoxy is Chesterton’s vision of the world, and it is a vision that does not shy away from paradox. Chesterton unapologetically challenges the zeitgeist as he sees it—he sees an age being overrun by philosophical materialism and biblical criticism. Almost every chapter turns a stereotype on its head: “The Maniac” (ch. 2) challenges the idolatry of logic; “The Flag of the World” (ch. 5) fuses optimism and pessimism and finds the Christian doctrine of the Fall to be the perfect synthesis; “The Romance of Orthodoxy” (ch. 8) challenges the cliche that holiness is necessarily boring.

As an economic liberal and a theological conservative, Chesterton constantly spins around the idea that conservative theology is somehow connected to niggardliness, lifeless moralism, or unsociableness.

Meat: Perhaps the best thing about this book is that few theologically interesting books are such a pleasure to read. Chesterton is always entertaining, but this book is remarkably readable. I went through it in only a few days, and immediately decided that I must re-read it as soon as I can.

I could not possibly summarize here what was profound in this book, but I could note two things:

First, his statement, that “you must love someone for them to be lovable,” has had a tremendous impact on the way we do evangelism in my organization. It frees us from looking for a certain type of people to minister to; it pairs with Schaeffer’s universal statement, “There are no little people. There are no little places.”

Second, the chapter on “The Paradoxes of Christianity” has only grown in relevance as we now live in an information economy, where every passing generation is technology-native. Academics positively fidget at the concept of paradox; it is like trying to swallow a bundle of firewood sideways. Because so many worship information on weekdays but Jesus on Sundays, we struggle intensely at the Bible’s statements about lions and lambs. If Chesterton is right, finding not a balance, but violent synthesis between such paradoxes, may be an important key for building our faith in an age that is, if anything, even more subservient at the altar of reason.

Orthodoxy is, in a way, a culmination of Chesterton’s non-literary essays (The Defendant, All Things Considered, Triumphant Trifles, Alarms and Discursions, etc.), which likewise often involve humor, modern metaphors, parables, paradoxes, and the artful breaking of dichotomies and stereotypes. All of these books are good, but Orthodoxy is by far the best.

Bones: The one struggle of this book is the references. Chesterton played the part of journalist and critic as well as lay theologian, so he often references current trends which are dated, or peculiarly British. I would like to see an edition of this book that uses endnotes to make the reading a little smoother.

Quotes: “I did try to found a little heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.”

“Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.”

“The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”

“Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.”

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Read: You can read this book for free over at Amazon, Online-Literature, Internet Archive, or Project Gutenberg—better yet, listen to it for free at LibriVox.

Related: The Lion and the Lamb by Gerald Kennedy.

Review: Recapture the Wonder

Rating: ★★★

Who: Ravi Zacharias, modern apologist and speaker. Ravi is the author of Can Man Live Without God? and many other books.

Overview: The subtitle, “Experiencing God’s Amazing Promise of Childlike Joy,” shows that the publishers intended this book for a popular Christian audience. Less than half of Ravi’s books have made the long passage from the Christian philosophy to the Christian living shelf: Cries of the Heart (1998), I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah (2004) and Has Christianity Failed You? (2010) being some of them.

Ravi deals with the concept of wonder here for a primarily Christian audience, then. There is no attempt to shoehorn “wonder” into the language of his philosophy books, which I can appreciate. And although he doesn’t say so, I expect that “wonder” is awfully close to what he calls “meaning” in some of his other books. (Meaning, purpose, origin and destiny are four keys to life provided by a Christian worldview.)

If we take the title as it is, the book takes a while to reach its object; the first chapter is about what wonder is, and the second and third are mostly cautionary, against seeking wonder in impersonal pursuits like wealth or sex. It is not until the fourth chapter that Ravi begins to spell out positive steps towards “recapturing the wonder.” Still, there is plenty to gain along the way.

Meat: The second half of the book is where he begins to spell out how to maintain wonder. Wonder, he says, is not something that comes or goes in our lives unbidden. It is something that must be “maintained” with thought and discipline. In the fourth and fifth chapters, Ravi calls for some self-examination: Are we living in gratitude? Are we grounded in the truth? Do we daily meditate on God’s love?

In the last chapter, maintaining wonder climaxes in a call for the Christian disciplines. Here, Ravi makes a case for thoughtful reading and patient reflection, giving examples from the lives of Henri Nouwen and his own life. This section is unique in that churchgoers are often called on to simply “read” and “pray” without much thought given as to why and how. The final section calls for a life of prayer, noting that worship is the highest function of wonder.

This is by no means Ravi’s best book, since he is stretching himself in terms of his audience. In the second half of the book, though, he has a wealth of straightforward advice towards living life in wonder.