Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Review: What is God Really Like?

"What is God Really Like?" is a collection of sermons preached by a long list of pastors for "One Prayer," which was, according to the book jacket, "a monthlong, multichurch campaign unifying churches around the world." Each sermon focuses in on a different aspect of God's character. They include:
- God is Here
- God is Certain
- God is Encouraging
- God is in Control
- God is Big
- God is Not Like Me
- God is Father
and a host of others (17 chapters in all).

On the whole, it is a powerful collection, and a good reminder to the reader to keep focusing back on God's character in the craziness of life. It is the immutable aspects of God that give us hope, courage, strength, and the ability to keep moving forward. And with 17 different sermons expounding on 17 different characteristics of God (well, there is some overlap), this book goes a long way to painting a fuller picture of the God we serve.

Equally helpful is the way each pastor explains the impact of God's character on our lives. It's not just a still portrait of a God from across the universe, it's a dynamic, interactive picture that invites the reader to form his or her own according life to God's purpose, to understand how God touches us, works in and through us, carries us through hard times and places us in amazing, wondrous places and situations. Pieces of this book sing in adoration of a God 'who so wondrously reigneth;' others dig into the tough places and explore God's presence in the midst of pain.

As a collection of sermons, it reads much like a devotional; each chapter stands on its own, so it makes for a good book to have lying around for spare moments. And as a collection, it has some variety; each preacher has his own style, his own method, his own way of painting this picture. Which means not every sermon will speak to the reader in the same way; truthfully, some I didn't really care for. But overall, there's something in here for just about everybody.

However, the book does have a few weaknesses. Not every sermon in here would fit in the 'outstanding' category. If this were preaching class, some of these sermons would be fortunate to get a 'C.' And, even with a large variety of pastors, they all still come from the same general sermon mode. No exposition here, no strong textual work; these sermons are more in the 'Encouraging Talk' mode. Not that those sermons are inappropriate; just that the reader needs to recognize going in that this book represents one particular method of sermonizing, eschewing the rest.

In addition, the book has a strong regional flair. Two of the preachers are from Los Angeles, one is from Hawaii, and all the rest are based in the southeast United States. Lots of Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida. . .in other words, lots of Bible Belt. And while some may say 'preaching is preaching,' the truth is the Church is a different animal up here in the Pacific Northwest than it is in the Bible Belt. The Church in the northeast is different from the Church in Texas. It would have been nice to see broader representation from across the U.S.; in fact, since the book touts itself as part of a "worldwide" campaign, I would have liked to read preachers from Mexico or Canada or Thailand or Germany or India.

Perhaps as part of the regional flair, the book comes from a fairly narrow slice of Evangelicalism. Lots of Baptist and non-denominational, but lacking in a broader picture of the church. It would have been nice to see a Presbyterian or Episcopalian or Mennonite - something to prove that the Church is larger than conservative Evangelicalism.

And one more. Every preacher in this book is male. If you really want to claim to represent the Church as a whole, you ought to include some voices from our sisters, as well. Craig Groeschel, the book's general editor, serves in a denomination that ordains women and is home to many excellent female preachers. He wouldn't have had to look very far to find even one or two.

You might think I'm nitpicking, but some of that comes from the claim made on the book's back cover, that these are "Reflections from the Best and the Brightest." (I know, that's probably put there by some P.R. rep trying to sell more books, but still, there it is). Even while ignoring the hubris of that statement, one would still have to believe that all the best and brightest preachers are a)male, and b)living in the Bible Belt. And I just can't accept that as true.

In the end, however, the positives of this book outweigh any negatives. I'd gladly recommend this to anyone in my church, or anyone else who is trying to understand our God better. It's a nice choir of voices saying "Here is Your God."

Note: Thanks to Zondervan for providing me a free copy for the purpose of this review.

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