A Muscular Faith?: a book review

Bren Hughes was a minister and an evangelist wiho had a firm religious program. He had a clear format for instructing and introducing others to the faith. The only problem was that when he graduated from seminary, he graduated from religious belief. The idol he made of religious forms and the Bible could no longer comfort  or sustain him. After facing the challenges of academia, he sought solace in Atheism. Later, he is brought back to the faith by an act of Grace: his college crush shows interest in him and this drove him back to the reality that is God. Yet his return to faith wasn’t a return to his former, naive faith with its-worksheet-style-gospel-presentations. His mature faith is marked by an intimate relationship with God, the Spirit’s presence with power and freedom.

Heaven’s Muscle is  not your typical guy-loses-faith-finds-girl-and-therefore-God sort of book. I expected this book to be more of a memoir than it actually is. It does tell Hughes story, but this book is much more about his message: what freedom in Christ means.  Hughes bases his conclusions on his journey but what he wants his readers to move towards is a whole dependence on God:

Heaven’s muscle is what I challenge you to become. A muscle doesn’t act to satisfy its own needs; it only serves the brain. It moves when it’s told to, it rests when rest is appropriate. But muscles create action, and action generates change. My prayer for you is that you will align your will with the signals from God and allow him to be the intellect that controls your every action. (132).

Heaven’s muscle, is the image that provides the title for Bren’s book and it is an apt image. In these pages you will find a critique on a ‘religion as usual’ which relies on priests, and institutions, and sacrifices. You will also hear a winsome description of the power and freedom that God brings to those who are in Him. Hughes wants us to find our part in that. His description of the ‘muscle’ acknowledges both the need for our effort and our total dependence.

I appreciate Hughes journey and loved that his book affirms the Spirit’s reality (he shares experiences of prophetic prayers and God’s miraculous work). He is also demonstrates a thoughtful approach to faith. The back cover says, ” My Journey from EVANGELIST to ATHEIST . . .and Back,” but I don’t think this particular book has much apologetic value. Hughes describes his doubt, without much detail, and his journey back to faith came without much intellectual wrestling. Hughes’s early faith, atheism and later faith can be mapped onto the Contemplative journey of the Christian Mystics: Illumination, purgation, and union. While Hughes has a part of the truth in his younger faith (illumination), the relational reality is deepened after a period of purgation–a journey through atheism where he lets go of his own illusions before reconnecting with the Divine (union). So I think his journey is instructive, but more so for those on the way, then those outside of the faith.

This is a self-published book (let the reader beware!). My typical prejudice against the self-published is that for want of an editor books can be sloppy, ill-formatted, repetitive and bloated. I was pleasantly surprised by how well written this book was. I did find it a little too preachy for my tastes, but I think Hughes has good stuff to say. I give this book 3.5 stars.

Notice of material connection, I received this book free from the author via SpeakEasy for the purposes of this review. I was asked to write an honest review.

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I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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