Thursday, March 27, 2014

Futureville by Skye Jethani

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. My integrity is not for sale. Those who know me well are aware I would relish the chance to give a bad review in exchange for a free book. If I've failed to do so, it has nothing to do with the source of the material and only with the material itself.

Skye Jethani has a unique way of approaching faith and life. I appreciated greatly his perspective in The Divine Commodity and eagerly anticipate his important contributions to public faith. Futureville is an exploration of human purpose in the context of God's overall purpose for creation. Jethani examines the whole scriptural narrative and helps reclaim the biblical concept of vocation - finding responsibility and purpose in everyday life. Futureville is a stand in for the cosmic conclusion, heaven, paradise, whatever comes next. Futureville argues that by properly understanding God's purpose and desired end for creation we can more appropriately live within it. Jethani guides the reader away from the false hopes of humanism and escapism that so captivate Christians and resets the frame on redemption and resurrection; a move I wholeheartedly support and am excited to see more often in print.

Some chapters and some sections of chapters in the book are well written, poignant, and powerfully effective. The book as a whole, however, seemed disjointed and unconnected. It likely needed to be longer or separated into two volumes - one discussing the theology and interpretation of Futureville and the other elucidating what those conclusions mean for Christian life. The two are not well combined in Futureville and the reading experience suffers.

There are some key, if common, mistakes that fall below expectations for a thinker and writer of Jethani's abilities. In explaining the shortcomings of humanism and escapism (dubbed evolution and evacuation for prime alliterative effect) there is too much of a straw man built up. The targets are too easy precisely because all of the positive elements of each belief system are saved for incorporation into "Resurrection," Jethani's third way. I like the third way and I am happy it's included, but there has to be a better way of investigating alternatives than the clumsy manner pursued here.

I really did find the book helpful and positive. While not the best example of what it's trying to do, it is a prominent example and the good parts are surely good enough to make up for the shortcomings.

At the same time, one section in particular really upset me. In the section on humanism he plays up the notion of evolution - primarily social evolution - and the idea that humanity will continue to improve and get better, more moral, more peaceful, more successful as time goes along. He calls the evolution of men to supermen a natural outflow of Darwin's chain of evolution from bacteria to jellyfish to minnows, mice, monkeys, and men. He then proceeds to announce his book won't discuss those kinds of scientific controversies.

There are just better ways of making this point. Again it seems like lazy construction. Even if you're among the disbelievers of biological evolution, a responsible party would take pains to represent the idea in a responsible manner, not playing into the "we came from monkeys" stereotype that's already ingrained in the minds of your largely evangelical audience.

That may be an odd soap box on which to stand and shout, but I'd hope leaders, like Jethani, would take seriously the responsibility to bridge such divides rather than perpetuate them.

Normally, I'd give Futureville 4 out of 5. It's got some very good parts, with a solid focus, with some awkward writings and poor construction. However, there are just too many shortcuts and examples of literary laziness to move it above mediocre.

There are definitely better books with a similar message out there. They may be a little more technical and not quite as accessible, but they're far more straightforward and connected. If you're really just interested in the author, he's got better books available as well.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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