Every once in a while, I encounter a book that breathes life into me by the way it communicates profound truth. The interesting thing is that books like this almost always take me by surprise. Zondervan sent me David Dark's new book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, with the request that I review it if I liked it. I had heard of Dark, but had never read anything by him. The title intrigued me, so I opened to the table of contents...which intrigued me all the more:
Table of Contents
1. Never What You Have In Mind--Questioning God
2. The Unbearable Lightness of Being Brainwashed--Questioning Religion
3. Everybody to the Limit--Questioning Our Offendedness
4. Spot the Pervert--Questioning our Passions
5. The Power of the Put-On--Questioning Media
6. The Word, The Line, The Way--Questioning Our Language
7. Survival of the Freshest--Questioning Interpretations
8. The Past Didn't Go Anywhere--Questioning History
9. We Do What We're Told--Questioning Governments
10. Sincerity As Far As The Eye Can See--Questioning the Future
End Note: That Means To Signal a World Without End
That was enough to get me to start reading immediately. Halfway through the first chapter I was hooked. Dark artfully articulates faith in the context of what Lesslie Newbigin calls "A Proper Confidence"...faith that is not (cannot be) the equivalent of certainty...faith that recognizes our finite nature, our tendency to re-craft God in our own images and religion into self-justifying dogma. At times, he seems to be virtually channeling Kierkegaard in the context of 21st century Western culture. Dark offers us a thing of beauty, a life-giving breath of fresh air. His book invites us to take God a lot more seriously by taking ourselves a lot less seriously. Drawing from diverse voices (from Augustine and Aquinas to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to U2 and Arcade Fire) and various disciplines (Theology, Philosophy, Literature, Film, Music, etc.), he revives the Biblical tradition of questioning...as an act of humility in the pursuit of truth. He calls for us to cut through the propaganda, and resist any "powers that be" that would seek to subvert or co-opt the Way of Jesus. He beckons us to journey down a path that is characterized by faith, hope, and love (rather than certainty).
Pick up this book. You won't be disappointed.
on August 23, 2009
This book has been getting a lot of rave reviews lately, so I decided to download it to the Kindle and give it a quick read. It reads very fast as the author is an excellent writer. He weaves cultural images, amusing stories and biblical insight into a fun tale. As much as this may turn off some readers, it comes across as more sermons should. It's honest, prophetic and entertaining. The audience intended are clearly lay people trying to figure out the intersections of faith and life.
One story I enjoyed from the book was a discussion about eternity that started with someone saying that when they die their argument with another individual will finally be over. Dark told this person that when they wake up (i.e. resurrection), they are going to find more people to deal with. He insightfully plays this very true theological insight off Sarte's comment of hell being people and C.S. Lewis' vision of heaven being people. The best in New Testament scholars today, whether NT Wright, Michael Bird or Larry Hurtado are making this same insight from the texts...the revelation of the New Testament is that our eternal future will be one in community with other people and God.
I also enjoyed the call of this book to action. I do not expect readers to remain apathetic about their faith after reading. That's a good thing. I firmly believe that we can love God by/in loving others. The church should become more active and be what Hauerwas has called an alternative to empire's secular ideals. No disagreements here.
So why did I only give the book three stars?
To put things in context, I finished reading Alister McGrath's "The Science of God" last night and as soon as I posted my review, I started this book. It read quickly (one sitting), but offered minimal prospects for theological reflection. McGrath offered fresh insights built upon the intellectual traditions of the church, offering new avenues for both the intellect and action. I didn't get the same fresh insights from Dark.
Dark clearly writes from the Christian tradition, but seems to attack those seeking to live within, while constantly reforming its historical confessions. "Uncle Ben" concepts of God should be rejected (and have been rejected throughout the history of the church), but I fear Dark may be playing on the intended audience, implying that we must reinvent the wheel, seeking insights from all faith traditions. I agree wholeheartedly that we constantly need to deconstruct (or if you prefer, reform), while being engrossed in our great tradition to find the Spirit's future for us. The Spirit has led the church throughout its history and plunging the depths of previous theological insights will better help us to situate ourselves today, and see a clear God-led vision for our future. I'm not sure that Dark would disagree, but I think he underemphasized the history of Church in thought and action.
As such, I would suggest two books for further (or alternative) reading:
1. Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World
2. Reading Scripture With the Church Fathers
We have a great Christian tradition, offering plenty of insights for those of us following Christ on this journey in community.
on April 19, 2009
One of the many memorable phrases found a couple of times in David Dark's new book; "The Sacredness of Questioning Everything" is related to the difficulty "to try to want to know what I don't want to know." It is the antithesis of having things figured out and being very comfortable with that that you very much. It's about digging deeper and exploring possibilities that might be foreign, inconvenient or even contrary to that place from which I operate. It is a rigorous exercise in humility and searching.
As the title states this is all about questioning; everything. The book has 10 chapters each a main focus of questioning; God, religion, media, our "offendedness", history and others. Throughout the book questions related to these "topics" are explored. But through each chapter more questions come up and the end of each chapter has even more questions to provoke discussions. This is a healthy and invigorating practice that Dark is encouraging.
I'm not as familiar with some of the literary figures or works he cites. However, in this I was simply introduced to interesting people, music, history or books I have begun to check out for myself. It is easy not to question. It may be a natural tendency to gravitate toward community where similarities are more prevalent than dissent or diversity but it can be unhealthy, self-perpetuating and dangerous. If I cannot question, as Dark gives me opportunity to in his book, what I currently believe about God, religion, history, governments or ideas is it possible I have tipped my hand? Am I really as certain about things as I would like to be? If I take myself so seriously as to think I cannot say "I don't know" without sliding into thinking I cannot know anything, I suffer from some god-complex. Just because I question something does not mean I will not continue to believe what I have come to believe. Either I will believe more firmly, find corrective adjustments to my thinking and living or reject a bad idea altogether. I may simply need to rethink the presentation of my ideas and the way I communicate.
The tone of the book is stimulating, entertaining, and enlightening and Dark's humor, expansive understanding of his subject matter and related facets and his apparent affection for the reader keep this from getting bogged down into a finger-shaking, question-for-the-sake-of-questioning exercise. I found myself challenged by this engaging author and take him at his word when I question even the ideas he presents in his book.
on May 16, 2011
I won't attempt to write any sort of official sounding review, but instead write here what this book made me think about. Mr. Dark is obviously a brilliant man, who is extremely well-read and thoughtfully creative. Whether or not his ideas are "correct", it is worth reading because of how he deconstructs how so many people view the world. To question everything means to question the very way you question, to question the reason you question, to be honest about your willingness to accept the outcome of your questioning, and to be ok with always questioning.
This book further freed me from obsessing over black and white definitions, blindly accepting unchallenged conventional wisdoms, and from absurd feelings of offendedness. Maybe he could have covered more church history or something along those lines, but I think that's another book entirely.
The main thing I would have changed (which may not have been possible considering Zondervan is the publisher) would be the perspective from which he writes. This book has the potential to challenge and change so many people, but since it's written from a "Christian" perspective, the audience becomes much, much smaller. There are wonderful ideas in this book, but I am nearly positive that if I suggested it to certain friends and family, they'd read the back or see the publisher and dismiss it immediately. Although the perspective he writes from does make perfect sense, there is enough in the book that has to do with the core of every person on the planet, no matter his/her religion, faith, belief, etc. for it to have a wider-ranging influence.
If you have an open mind and are willing to be challenged, check it out!
on June 19, 2014
I have referred back to this book numerous times, given a copy to the pastor of my church - and simply delight in David Dark's writing style and worldview.
Now, what is it helpful for? Expanding one's possibilities of experience within the Christian Faith Community framework. Creating one's own parables, and a model of the Divine that is actually possible while separating or at least becoming conscious of the underlying mythology that shapes our often times limited spiritual worldview.
on March 31, 2011
This book was exactly the kind of thing I needed to read at the time I was reading it. What Dark argues is that the God of the Bible doesn't look for us to be docile sheep who simply go along with the crowd, acting and thinking just like everyone else. Instead, the God of the Bible encourages questioning, demands that we look at the world with a critical eye, analyze what's happening around us and really question those aspects of life and of faith that just don't add up. I loved this book so much because often in my faith journey, I get the feeling that I am doing it wrong. That when I read a passage of scripture or hear a teaching by my pastor and think to myself, "Hmm, not sure I agree with this" that I am somehow offending God, that I am not being an obedient child of His. I needed to be reminded that it was God Himself who gave me my brain, who gave me the freedom to think for myself and the courage to question that which just does not agree with my sensibilities. This may not be the book for everyone, but it tremendously encouraged me and I would highly recommend it.
Early in the book David Dark quotes Flannery O'Conner as saying, "The cultivation of skepticism is a sacred obligation because skepticism keeps us asking questions...Skepticism will keep you free. Not free to do as you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects around you." Essentially this is the point of the book. Dark wants the reader to learn to question, not for our own self agrandizement or as an intellectual exercise, but as a religious obligation to help us follow God better.
Skepticism and questioning is a common theme of books in the last couple years. Rachel Held Evans, Jason Boyett, Anne Lamont and other authors (usually relatively young authors) have been writing about the problems of presenting a too self assured view of Christianity. At first I thought some of these books were overstating the problem. But the longer I have been paying attention, the more I think that the modernist conception of faith (as taught and understood by many Evangelicals) does not have an appropriate category for questions and skepticism. I was reading comments on a post a couple weeks ago about faith and questions and many of the commenters were saying it was not possible to have faith and have questions at the same time. These everyday commenters were ignoring the book of Job, the book of Psalms and much of the rest of scripture that frequently question God. The whole concept of the problem of evil, really comes down to questioning God.
As I moved through the book I kept alternating between thinking this was a good book and a great book. Either way I think it is worth reading. But there are times when greatness shows. When he is telling stories of his students and his attempts to teach students more than what they may have really wanted, his love of the subject really shines through. But paradoxically, what I really appreciate is that this book is more than a memoir. Several of the previous questioning books were primarily memoir. While that is useful, bringing more philosophical and theological background into the conversation really helps move it beyond, the "I got hurt by the church and this is how I got over it" books.
A section about 1/3 of the way in on comedy and why in order to really understand our faith we need to be able to laugh at it should be required reading for everyone that gets easily offended by people making light of Christianity. Other chapters include questioning passion, language, history, government (and economics), the future, religion and more.
In the end, my take away is that we need to be willing to question everything because of relationship. When we are surrounded by people that believe the same as we do, then there is little motivation to question anything. But when we interact in the world, the diverse and messy world, we need to be able to question our prior assumptions so that we can learn more of God. Those that are complacent about their knowledge of God will always have less of God than what he would like to share with them. Second, we need to be open to questions because those that are far from God are rarely those that believe exactly as we do. Evangelism does not work well in drive by. I know that is how much of Evangelicalism conceives of evangelism, but effective evangelism is primarily done through long term relationships. If you are unwilling to question your beliefs and open up yourself to others, then you will never be able to build a relationship with someone that does not believe as you believe and think as you think. Which pretty much by definition means you will not share the gospel with someone that needs to hear. You will only share the gospel with people that already know God.
I am a bit concerned that maybe my love of this book is based in my agreement with the author. One of the problems with questioning everything is that you never really question enough. We all make assumption and take short cuts. We can never question it all. So do I love this book because it agrees with what I already believe and reinforces my 'rightness' or do resonate with the message because it is so full of truth. I am not sure it is possible to really know.
This audiobook was provided by christianaudio.com for purposes of review.
on June 17, 2009
David Dark is such a careful and generous writer, and his latest is no exception. He manages to weave in so many disparate sources and ideas into one cohesive whole. It really comes and gets you where you live. It's unsettling in it's questions but it's also a post-culture war balm--it's valuable for evaluating culture in general, perfectly timed to feed us questions about our role and relationship with capitalism. I read the first chapter and then started over, I was so awed. In many ways, it's the most radical thing I have read in ages, a paradigm shifting inspiration, a gutting justice-loving Apologetic. Secondly, it opens with a paraphrased Prince quote and praises Patti Smith and Richard Pryor as prophetic voices--it's very of the world, Dark is a voracious listener and observer.
If you grew up being saddled with a mean god, burdened by a religion that was not your own, there is a lot here for you. If you have felt exhausted and bullied by right-wing Christian propaganda anytime since Reagan took office, there is a lot here for you, too.
on July 25, 2014
If one were to meet this book on its own term one could not critique it based off of whether the logical argument is sound or true, though I think David Dark argues very well and convincingly. Neither can a critique rest upon the beauty of the prose, though again I give David Dark high reviews on that front. But using the sort of post modern terminology that David Dark uses, the critic must examine the basic claims about spirituality. Put another way, when one questions everything like Dark suggests, is it indeed a sacred experience? In such a case I can claim that the type of open ended questioning Dark spends 10 chapters describing does lead me into a deeper and more authentic spirituality and that wrestling with our prejudices, biases, cultural assumptions etc is a way to grow into a more holy and whole human being.
You can read my longer and more humorous review at my blog: http://gobeforegrace.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/whats-pastor-kevin-reading-the-sacredness-of-questioning-everything/
on February 3, 2015
There is a beauty in growing in faith by means of continually asking good questions. So many people look for easy solutions, but this book offers a picture of faith which is more fluid and less rigid than the "belief = confidence" commentary often parroted in churches in the United States.