Thursday, March 5, 2015

Divine Applause by Jeff Anderson

I have a very personal, interactive relationship with God.  One of the questions I get from other Christians is, "How do I get a relationship with God like the one you have?"  I could boast about all the awesome things I've done that made God notice me, but honestly, I have no freaking clue why my relationship with God is what it is.  I'm just as screwed up and clueless as any other person.  I don't have any idea what I've done or if I've done anything at all.

Because of that, I was eager to read Divine Applause:  Secrets and Rewards of Walking with an Invisible God by Jeff Anderson.  On one hand, my relationship with God is my most important relationship, so any relationship advice with the almighty gets me excited.  I also was hoping that this would be a book I could pass on to those who want advice on strengthening their own relationship and communication with God.

Unfortunately, this isn't going to be that book on either account.  First off, I felt like the book was very chaotic in the way it was organized.  It seemed to flit back and forth between being a memoir and being a how-to book.  While the author, and perhaps some readers, may find that the copious number of real life stories gives a human touch to the information, it made the text less fluid and very disjointed for me.  It would have been a far better book if he would have picked one or the other.  Also, along the same lines, the information was not organized in a logical way.  The titles of the three parts the book is broken into are vague and don't have a lot of meaning on their own:  seeing differently, bold steps and walking upward.  I think the vagueness of these organizers caused the text to seem rambling and repetitive.  I think this book would have been much stronger had the information been organized in a much clearer fashion.

Lastly, the theology of the whole thing is iffy.  I'm not sure that the author's theology is iffy, but the way it is presented made me nervous.  In one instance, the author says that if we get God's attention, He will show His hand.  This is true...if we draw close to God, He will draw close to us.  The way it is presented, though, it could very easily be interpreted as, "Follow this formula of doing good deeds, and God will reward you with stuff."  While I would never turn down blessings from God, that isn't my reason for seeking a relationship with Him.  I just want to know Him.  I want to see His face.  I want to know He's there.  I want to love the Creator who created me and everything else.  Blessings are great, but if God never blessed me ever again, I would still crave a close relationship with Him.  I think this book pushes the idea that a relationship with God is you doing good things and He blessing you back.

If you look into the author's background, his expertise is in giving.  I'm sure the scripture about God saying to test Him on tithing to see the reward heavily influences the author's perspective, but when applied to our whole relationship with God, it comes off too, well, "slimy" for me, like we are being a used car salesman to God.  Not only that, but if unchecked, can quickly dissolve into a system of earning God's favor and trying to do more and do better so that we get good stuff from God.  Never once (if I missed it, I apologize) did I see the author say that maybe by doing good works, WE are changed and because of that change, we now see God more clearly.  The line between how much our relationship with God is because of our effort and how much is because of God's effort is a much debated topic, but I think this book could quickly take someone to a very unhealthy place.

I also question his theology on the idea of keeping secrets with God.  It is something that is talked about heavily in the beginning and is repeated throughout the book.  I'm not quite sure what the author is trying to get at with constantly mentioning it.  Considering his background in biblical giving, I'm sure he is referring to the idea that if you do your good deeds in secret, your reward will come in Heaven, while if you do good deeds just for worldly attention, your reward is bound by what you reap here.  But again, I felt like he took the idea that comes from giving and applied it to one's whole life in an inappropriate way.  Absolutely, don't spout off about the holy things you do so you look like the perfect Christian to people.  But at the same time we are called to share our testimony.  I know one reason I share many of my God moments on social media, such as Facebook, is because I have atheist friends, or friends who were close to God but now far from Him, who don't believe that God works in those supernatural ways.  My hope is that by sharing them often that they begin to question their perception of what is going on and maybe even ask me why I think all this stuff in my life is from this invisible being.  I can't imagine trying to evangelize without sharing about your God stuff openly and frequently.  And...isn't a book that relies so heavily on telling stories about the author's interactions with God being the least bit illogical when it tells it's readers that secrets with God are so important?  Yes, there are things God shows me that I keep from broadcasting to the world.  But I would never go so far as to say keeping secrets with God is a good idea in my relationship.

Overall, I can't recommend this book to anyone unless they have a strong enough grounding in theology to keep them from all the potential theological pitfalls throughout the book.  I think with some reorganization, clarity and some tighting up of the text, this book could be much, much better.

I was provided this book free of charge from WaterbrookMultnomah in exchange for my honest review.

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