Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Yawning at Tigers by Drew Dyck

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.

There is a powerful metaphor near the beginning of Yawning at Tigers. Author, Drew Dyck recounts an experience swimming in a man-made lagoon at a Hawaiian resort. Despite the vast pool of salt water, tropical fish, and picturesque surroundings, something was missing - namely waves, predators, and mystery. He stood on the edge of the lagoon, looking off, towards the "real" ocean and asked, why am I swimming here, when I could be swimming there?

It's a great illustration of his main point in the book - that many Western Christians have so reduced God to a familiar, knowable, tame God that they miss out on the profound, mysterious, miraculous, radical power of the faith they profess.

It's a great idea, but one he could have approached more thoughtfully. In his attempt to express God's might and power as mysterious and beyond our understanding, he re-interprets this big God in a very defined, specific sense - particularly one of wrath and fear. He ridicules Anne Lamott's attempt to imagine an all-powerful, transcendent God beyond religious convention, as well as The Shack's attempt to portray the undefinably power of God in terms of love and relationship.

These seems inadequate and overly domesticated to Dyck specifically because they fail to match his expected understanding of God's power in traditional human terms - the one with the most strength, intimidation, control, etc. It's almost as if he's using traditional Old Testament understandings of God as a lens through which to view Jesus, rather than treating Jesus Christ as the revelation of God.

His expansive vision of God is really far too small to properly illustrate the majesty and mystery he's attempting to present. He fails to differentiate between God's anger towards sin and God's anger towards sinners. There is some implication that the second doesn't exist (that God is, indeed, love), but it's not easy to find. This tactic of introducing a "dangerous" God is just theologically problematic and pedagogically unproductive.

Despite this obvious fault in the opening chapters, the overall critique of contemporary western evangelicalism is spot on. We're often far too content with a generic spirituality of religious habit and miss out on the profoundly world-changing reality of almighty God.

The second half of the book is about the love and immanence of God, but, with a basis in the first half of the book, this argument is weakened. I recognize that much of my critique has to do with his use of a theological perspective with which I disagree. I see no need to give any credence to penal substitution theory or to keep God's transcendence and immanence separate.

In the end, though, it is just theological disagreement, but it does underscore the implications of such disagreement, the logical conclusions of which can be quite divergent. Dyck, in my opinion, missed the chance to disconnect a fear of God from being afraid of God. He seems determined to dance around the CS Lewis-Narnia analogy when claiming it outright might do better for his argument. Aslan is not a tame Lion. The children recognize his potential for danger and destruction, but also his absolute love and justice.

In the same way we can recognize and respect the power of God, without being terrified. That's sort of what makes God God. While Dyck's main point is how expansive and uncontained God really is, his adherence to a logical system of conventional rational theology leads to a more contained God than needs exist. Perhaps, instead of beginning with God for theology, as he claims, Dyck might be better of beginning with Christ, the tangible revelation of God and then moving to illustrate transcendence and immanence; I think he'd end up in a slightly different, more necessary and refreshing place.

In fact, he does get close. With ten pages to go, Yawning at Tigers veers into what can only be described as a truncated "application" section which he calls "peculiar children" and in which he introduces, oh so briefly, the concept of an upside-down kingdom. Pursuing those ends and describing he God who brings such a thing about would be a far better tactic than trying to end there.

Still, this small section alone, helps increase the value of the book. It's worth reading if you're willing to explore, on your own, some of the questions Dyck's particular theological path precludes one from asking. It's certainly valuable to get people thinking about a God bigger than their conceptual boxes, I just hope people will get to thinking beyond even the conceptual framework on this book.

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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