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Gum, Geckos, and God: A Family's Adventure in Space, Time, and Faith Paperback – March 31, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Spiegel, philosophy professor at Indiana's Taylor University, takes deep issues of the Christian faith and dumps them smack into real life with a little help from his children. Their questions—Dad, where does God live? Dad, does God speak English? and What does God know?—open the door to discussions about God that solicit satisfying answers from Dad. Spiegel's responses and ensuing comments will satisfy adults as well, especially those looking for beginning and intermediate study on topics such as God's omniscience, the Golden Rule, God's presence and human origin and destiny. Spiegel ponders the great issues of the faith with a light touch, thanks to the innate comedy of kids, but also to his own brand of humor. No doubt some readers will wish for more depth when it comes to doctrinal fundamentals, but rather than exhaustive study, the point is that God touches human hearts through geckos, hide-and-seek tag and the occasional possum. Spiegel shares his own wonder as he fields FAQs from the fertile, imaginative, earthy minds of his children. (May)
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Spiegel, philosophy professor at Indiana's Taylor University, takes deep issues of the Christian faith and dumps them smack into real life with a little help from his children. Their questions-"Dad, where does God live?" "Dad, does God speak English?" and "What does God know?"-open the door to discussions about God that solicit satisfying answers from Dad. Spiegel's responses and ensuing comments will satisfy adults as well, especially those looking for beginning and intermediate study on topics such as God's omniscience, the Golden Rule, God's presence and human origin and destiny. Spiegel ponders the great issues of the faith with a light touch, thanks to the innate comedy of kids, but also to his own brand of humor. No doubt some readers will wish for more depth when it comes to doctrinal fundamentals, but rather than exhaustive study, the point is that God touches human hearts through geckos, hide-and-seek tag and the occasional possum. Spiegel shares his own wonder as he fields FAQs from the fertile, imaginative, earthy minds of his children. (May) -- Publishers Weekly, March 24, 2008
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Author James Spiegel, professor of philosophy at Taylor University, did not realize the challenges he would face in talking about God to his children. Perhaps as a philosopher he felt he would be equipped to answer. But he quickly learned that even seemingly simple questions are often difficult to answer adequately. What is God like? Why does God love us? Why is it hard to be good? If heaven is so great, why am I afraid to die? These questions offer ideal opportunities to teach children while challenging our own assumptions about the Christian faith. These questions, and the answers to them, are the subject of Spiegel's new book, Gum, Geckos and God: A Family's Adventure in Space, Time and Faith. As Spiegel says, "If you can probe the sticky topics of faith and life's meaning with a kid while he probes the sticky recesses of his nasal cavity, then you can discuss theology with anyone."
Parents will enjoy this book as they will no doubt realize that they have faced many of the same questions and have struggled to provide adequate answers to them. These words may well sound familiar from your experience: "Whenever Amy and I see an opening for some theological discussion, we dive right in. Sometimes we land in the deep well of our kids' hearts, gaining insights into their perspectives on life and God. Other times we hit dry land." This is not a book that seeks primarily to teach parents how to communicate to their children about Christian topics, though certainly through example it models ways of doing so (try "Everyday Talk: Talking Freely and Naturally about God with Your Children" by John Younts for that purpose). Instead it is, as the subtitle indicates, a sort of adventure with the family. The back cover says rightly, "As you read, you'll step into a new depth of Christian doctrine as you come to know and enjoy the Spiegel family and follow their journey of spiritual growth."
The book teaches rich theology and in a way that is engaging and deeply applicable. It wonderfully mixes narrative with teaching, humor with depth. Spiegel's background in philosophy allows him a unique perspective on the issues. Though his answers are generally simple, he avoids being simplistic. The reader will not only absorb some ideas for talking about faith with his children, but he'll grow in his understanding of doctrine as well. Both reflective and profound, Gum, Geckos and God is the kind of book any reader can enjoy.
It may sound like an unusual concept, but at the beginning Spiegel describes his roots in academia, from a PhD in Philosophy, to his current position as a Philosophy professor at a Christian, liberal-arts college. Spiegel describes how his wife and four young children changed his perspective: "While it used to be that my family played a role in my academic life..."now, Spiegel states, "...my work in philosophy and theology has informed my role as a father." Later, Spiegel shares that "the greatest practical value of my vocation as a Christian philosopher is how it equips me for this daunting task" of training his children to be wise.
The strength of Gum, Geckos and God lies in it's holistic focus. By using the everyday questions of his children as his launching point, set in the mundane surroundings of small-town life, Spiegel roots his discussions in practicality and avoids the temptation of getting lost in theory, even though the questions are heavy and complex. The chapters move from "What is God like?" and cover such territory as "How Can God Fix Us?" and "Who Gets to Go to Heaven?" Spiegel encourages his children to explore their own questions at greater depth and offers his own distinctive, philosophically-rooted thoughts on each matter. The answers Spiegel offers are thought-provoking, and don't necessarily give a cookie-cutter, Sunday-school response.
This book is easy to read, and both refreshing and thought-provoking. At times, the transition from childhood anecdotes to explanations of orthodoxy and theory can feel a little rough, perhaps because spoken conversation is generally not geared towards teaching in the same way as a literary work or classroom. Even so, both the stories of the family and the theoretical passages are written in a manner that is easy to navigate, and the originality of the book lies in its attempt to tear down the barriers between a study of theology and the real lives of families.
The descriptions of conversations Spiegel has with his kids hearken back the earnest questing of childhood to know more about the world. In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." I recommend this book to parents, to burnt out students of theology and seminary, to people who get frustrated with the "in-house" jargon of the church, and to adults who used to be kids. There is much to be learned from the questions of children. As Spiegel points out, "I never knew that topics as wide ranging as bicycles, gum, and baseball all lead to God. But as my children have shown me, nothing is too mundane to inspire an inquisitive mind."
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