I’m not a big book reviewer. I may tell you what I’m reading and write a sentence or so about it. But this one is worth the effort.
A few weeks ago, a pastor named Bryan Rocine sent me his book to read and review. Bryan pastors Living Word Church in Syracuse, NY. Not Even God: The Curious Partnership of God and Man is a really interesting book simply for its ability to express complex theological issues in a pragmatic form. And that makes sense – Bryan is a pastor and thinks about things from a practical perspective that meets people where they are. Not Even God is a set of fifteen chapters that treats deep theological issues in a competent and unassuming way, similar to The Shack.
And this makes it a great book for average church members. Each chapter is laid out in the following way. Bryan tackles a serious theological topic usually associated with theodicy, God’s interaction with humanity, or the attributes of God. He then launches into a story/testimony of someone who is a part of his congregation at Living Word. The reason for this is to show that average people and everyday problems can provide good answers to tough questions. There’s no need to look for some outlandish story when the stories of those around you make the same point. After telling the story of salvations, tragedies, struggling marriages, and drug addictions, he often ties his original thoughts to the story, providing answers for serious life questions without requiring the reader to consult an entire Bible dictionary. For that reason, the book is pastoral and intelligent. Not Even God actually (unlike most books) asks the right questions – the relevant ones average Christians are asking.
For example, if you are interested in God’s response to prayer and the contingencies associated with a partially open future, you can go read John Sanders’ The God Who Risks…or you can read chapters one, four, and seven. Rather than take your congregation through Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets or tackle Old Testament views of God’s omniscience with Walter Brueggemann, just read chapter five. To understand the book of Job, you can drudge through Fretheim’s God and World in the Old Testament, Boyd’s God at War or Clines’ contribution to the World Biblical Commentary…or you can simply read chapter eight. Bryan sums up modern scholarship in five pages with great accuracy. Hellenistic intrusions on the attributes of God? Chapter thirteen. In chapter twelve, the book of Jonah is accurately interpreted in just a few pages. Is the book perfect? No, but Bryan has the gift of making complex theological topics understandable. Down-to-earth writing with not an ivory tower in sight. Not Even God manages to make theology accessible without being simple.
Now, that won’t impress those who consider themselves scholars. But that’s what’s so great about this book. It wasn’t written for scholars. It was written for everyday Christians who don’t have the time or energy to sift through a thousand footnotes, but still have questions. And that makes it an invaluable tool in the hands of ministers. Those of the Reformed persuasion won’t agree with much in this book. Bryan takes a very strong stance in maintaining free-will as a pivotal trait of God’s interaction with humanity – I suppose the term “relational theology” is most accurate. But that’s the way most people live out their Christianity anyway, even if they’ve been taught something different. The Westminster Catechism can’t help you with a rocky marriage – this book can.
For the average church-goer, this book is gold. For pastors, this book can shed light on some questions that we may skirt around in sermons and never really confront with our congregations. It’s a great introductory tool into understanding some of the complexities that surround our Creator. And for this reason, Not Even God is a step in the right direction.