The Pilgrim in Pumps: a ★★★★★ book review

Angela Alaimo O’Donnell teaches English at Fordham University and is the associate director of Fordham’s Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. She has previously published seven poetry collections (in addition to publishing other books, articles, and essays). Her new collection of poems, Still Pilgrim showcases a steady faith and the journey of a woman through the seasons of life and liturgy.

still-pilgrimThe project was birthed after O’Donnell made a pilgrimage to Herman Melville’s grave, a few miles from her home in the New York. Melville had written of the passion of men going off to sea, but his grave plot in Woodlawn cemetery in the Brox was in only one of ‘New York’s five boroughs not surrounded by water” (69).  O’Donnell composed a poem, St. Melville, with these words, “Is this what you were called to still pilgrim,/to sleep beneath six small feet of earth?” (70). An old sailor interred in the earth, still but his work still lives on.

It is O’Donnell not Melville that dons the moniker Still Pilgrim in these poems (perhaps the poetic voice isn’t completely autobiographical, but I am willing to wager that she wears size nine shoes). All but one poem has “Still Pilgrim” in its title. Here is a random sampling: “The Still Pilgrim visits Ellis Island,” “The Still Pilgrim Tells a Fish Story,””The Still Pilgrim Honors Her Mother,” “The Still Pilgrim Sees a Healing, “The Still Pilgrim Hears a Diagnosis,” “The Still Pilgrim Describes How Heaven is.”

These poems are sonnets—metred with fourteen lines and a rhyme scheme—and are arranged fourteen poems in each of the four sections. The arrangement corresponds to the four seasons and is roughly shaped by the liturgical calendar. There are also prologue and epilogue poems, introducing and concluding this collection. The structure of tradition is juxtaposed against a contemporary life, the Still Pilgrim. More than once we hear the heal strike of her size nine pumps against the cobblestone of the pilgrim way. There are encounters between old and new and all the heartbreak and joy which comes through life’s journey. The tone is both serious and playful, at turns exuberant and sad.  O’Donnell writes in her afterward:

The poems in this book aim to tell a story, albeit by means of glimpses and gleanings rather than continous narrative. (This, after all, is more akin to hwo we experience and remember our lives. Continous narrative is a form of fiction.) The Still Pilgrim’s history consists of flashes of joy and visitations of sorrow, engagement with saints,and with artists (the Pilgrim’s personal patron saints), epiphanies sparked by words and songs and stories, revelations triggered by encounters with beauty and terror. The gentle reader who perseveres through these poems is no longer merely a reader—he or she is a partner in pilgrimage and a friend. (74).

I had not read O’Donnell’s work before and was caught off guard by these poems. The sustained character of the Still Pilgrim journeys through all life’s seasons, still a pilgrim from beginning to end.  This is the double entendre of “still.” It is more than stationary, but it also means continual persistence. Like Melville in his grave, lying still but whose work still lives on,  I hope to have much more encounters with the still pilgrim on the road ahead. I give this five stars. ★★★★★

Note: Many of these poems were previously published in various journals. Here is a link to five of these poems as they appeared in the Christian Century if you are curious what these poems are like:

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of Still Pilgrim from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review


Hope for a Post-Hope and Change America: a book review

Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear tells the story of faith in the Obama administration. Before he turned twenty-one in 2008, Wear was already a White House staffer, appointed by the president to the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships as one of the youngest WH staffers in the modern American political era. He had previously worked with Barak Obama’s election campaign and he would go on to direct faith outreach for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.

240_360_book-2109-coverGiven this bio, Wear is obviously sympathetic to Obama and his legacy; however what he offers here is both sympathetic and critical. He describes Obama (and his own efforts) to intersect with people of faith and address their concerns, and the places where he felt Obama had failed to build bridges to religious communities. His book is part memoir, part political analysis with some theological musings thrown in for good measure.

The first five chapters of Reclaiming Hope, are autobiography. Wear describes his improbable journey to the White House, meeting Obama and working on the campaigns and in the White House. Despite Obama’s Christianity and his respect for people of faith, faith was of secondary importance to the administration. Many of Wear’s colleagues were ignorant of faith concerns, and occasionally antagonistic to religious concerns. This biography section gives an insider look at a few places where Obama wrestled with religion in the public sphere (i.e. his distancing himself from his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, his meeting with evangelical leaders, his appointment of Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration, etc).

The next three chapters discuss in greater detail how the Obama administration addressed (or didn’t address) the concerns of people of faith. In chapter six, he discusses abortion. While Obama and the Democratic Party are officially pro-choice, the policies that Obama promoted during his administration were aimed at reducing the overall number of abortions. The number of abortions decreased, during his tenure they were at their lowest in years with a higher number of adoptions. Nevertheless, Obama’s abortion policies were not well received by those on the Religious Right, and weren’t adequately Pro-Choice for some on the left. Chapter seven examines the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act and the tone-deaf way the administration responded to Christian’s who felt their religious freedom was being infringed on.Chapter eight describes Obama’s evolution on same-sex marriage, which put him more and more at loggerheads with traditional, religious folk.

Chapter seven examines the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act and the tone-deaf way the administration responded to Christian’s who felt their religious freedom was being infringed on.Chapter eight describes Obama’s evolution on same-sex marriage, which put him more and more at loggerheads with traditional, religious folk.

In chapter ten, Wear describes the second inauguration. In contrast to the first inauguration, the evangelical pastor Obama had asked to pray (in this case Louie Giglio) was vehemently opposed because of a twenty-year-old sermon against homosexuality. In his first inauguration both Rick Warren, a conservative evangelical megachurch pastor, and the first openly gay Episcopal  bishop, Gene Robinson prayed—a testimony to Obama’s ‘big-tent,’ inclusive approach to religion. At his second inauguration, the lines between Right and Left had hardened.

Wear’s final two chapters wax theological on the meaning of hope, not in the political sloganeering sense, but in the Christian sense. Politicians offer a piecemeal  and little hope, but Christian hope is Jesus—our hope for today and evermore. Wear closes with thoughts on how Christian’s ought to engage the political landscape, bringing hope to realms of religious freedom and race relations.

I appreciate the insider perspective Wear brings to faith and politics in the Obama era. He reflects on the places where he feels like Obama was true to his vision, and the places where he dropped the ball.  Wear strikes a nice balance between narrative and analysis. I also appreciate the insight he brings as a person of faith from the left side aisle. If Christianity gets coopted by the Right, the Left is often ignorant of the Bible and Jesus. That brings a unique sense of challenges.

This is an interesting read for anyone interested in faith and politics (something we won’t get away from in the Trump era). The hope for America and the world is not this president or the last one. Or the next. It is Jesus, hope of the nations and change we can believe in. I give this book four stars.

Note: I received this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.

The Poetry of Communion: a ★★★★★ book review

I love a good poem. Poetry has the power to sacramentalize daily life. It lifts the mundane out of its ordinary frame and allows us to see reality with brand new eyes. Nature reveals the hand of God, human beings are transfigured before us. We are free to re-engage our reality with our sense of wonder restored.

communion-of-saintsThis is some of what I felt in reading Susan Miller’s collection of poems,  Communion of SaintsMiller teaches creative writing at Rutgers University, is a two-time winner of the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize for poetry, and her poetry has appeared in several journals (Image, Iowa review, Commonweal, Sewanee Theological review). The poems in this collection reflect on Saintsin the capital “S” Catholic sense, notable figures, friends, and her own daily life. These are brought into communion, Miller often depicting episodes of daily life (of herself or friends) and the deep resonance between them and the lives of the Saints. [I know that poetic voice and the poet are often different, but Miller’s own notes indicate that she and the poetic voice are one and the same].

Mark Doty’s forward describes this as a process of triangulation (xii). Behind Miller’s friend Angela, a consecrated virgin living in the world, we find the visage of St. Agnes—Patron Saint of Virgins (pp. 7, 113).  The Franciscan mystic, St. Bonaventure stands behind Gregory Orr (Miller’s teacher at the University of Virgina) in her poem A Portrait of Greg as St. Bonaventure (pp 64, 118). And there are many other examples of the communion of saints in these poems: Portrait of Chayo as St, Jude Thaddeus, Portrait of Charles as St. Francis, Portrait of Josh as St. Pascual Baylon, Portrait of Father Santo as St. Anthony of Padua, etc. 

Miller also has pilgrimage poems, poetry about her readings of  Gerard Manley Hopkins, Flannery O’Connor, Nina Simone, and Gwendolyn Brooks, and serious engagement with the Christian tradition. The title poem in this collection, the Communion of Saints, reflects while her purpose, “Communion of Saints refers to the concept of Communion of Saints— that all Catholics are called to be saints whether the church beatifies us or not. The communion of saints makes us all contemporaries, no matter what century was ours on earth” (120). The poem itself links the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents (from the Lukan nativity narrative) with NICU ward at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital.

I read these poems as a lowly protestant, but one who believes as strongly in the communion of Saints as Miller does. On a technical level, these poems are quite good. I found myself tracing meter and appreciating her evocative use of language. The poem that stands at the head of this collection is her Manual for the Would-Be Saint (previously published in Image Journal):

The first principle: Do no harm.
The second: The air calls us home.
Third, we must fill the bowls of others
before we drain our own wells dry.
The fourth is the dark night; the fifth
a subtle scent of smoke and pine.
The sixth is awareness of our duties,
the burnt offering of our own pride.
Seventh, we learn to pray without ceasing.
Eighth, we learn to sense while praying.
The ninth takes time: it is to discover
what inside the seed makes the seed increase.
The tenth brings sorrow, the eleventh light.
The twelfth we reflect on the Apostles,
their flame-lit faces turned toward us or away.
The thirteenth, we practice forgiving Judas.
The fourteenth, we love Judas as ourselves.
The fifteenth is a day of feasting; the sixteenth
is a day of ash. Seventeenth, we watch and wait.
Eighteenth, we enter the stranger’s city
at the mercy of the stranger’s hand.
Nineteenth, love flees the body,
and the spirit leaves its husk. And suddenly
the numbers do not matter: nothing that is matter
matters anymore: all is burned, all is born,
all is carried away in the wind. (xvii)

I give this collection five stars and commend it for the way that Miller brings the Saints to lives in her (and our) daily experience. ★★★★★

Note: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review

A Renegade Monk and Protestantism’s First Lady: a book review

The tales of Martin Luther defacing a door and denouncing the Catholic Church’s captivity to Babylon are well known. The whole Protestant movement owes its origin to the way this cantankerous monk was gripped by the idea of saving grace. The story that many Christians don’t know, or know in far less detail, is that of his marriage to Katharina von Bora.

9781493406098In Katharina & MartinMichelle DeRusha unfolds the love story between the renegade Monk and Protestantism’s first lady. DeRusha previously authored 50 Women Every Christian Should Know.  Here she hones in on the story of a marriage. Meticulously researched, she describes the story of Martin and Katharina’s love—the events leading up to their marriage, the reaction of friends and critics, their shared life and the circumstances of their deaths. DeRusha includes cultural background of the late Medieval ideas of marriage.

Katharina was an aristocratic nun who fled the cloistered life in the midst of the sixteenth century, Protestant awakening. Luther tried in vain to marry her off, but she was not happy with her would-be suitor. Eventually, he married her, himself, albeit partly for practical and political reasons (he had already written on the sacredness of married life and against celibacy). Luther’s primary reason for marrying was wanting to be obedient to what he felt was God’s call.

Luther was not attracted to Katharina at first and there was no spark of romance. Many of Luther’s friends (including his close friend Philip Melancthon) did not approve and actively opposed their union. Yet Luther grew to love his wife and value their partnership. Katharina discussed theology with Luther, managed the household and the family finances. Luther’s would come to speak of his wife with real affection and respect (even if still self-aggrandizing), “Kate, you have a god-fearing man who loves you. You are an empress; realize it and thank God for it” (207). The two of them weathered crises together, including the grief of losing children.

This is popular level history at its best—a compelling read with enough footnotes for the reader to verify the substance. DeRusha relies on good research, referencing documentary evidence and scholarly research rather than opining on Luther and Katharina’s inner thoughts. I enjoyed this book and am happy to have it on my church history shelf. As unique as their relationship was, DeRusha places Martin and Katharina within the late Medieval context.  Martin Luther was neither an arch-Complementarian or Katharina a proto-Egalitarian. Their marriage was countercultural in lots of ways (i.e. Katharina was intelligent, industrious and independent women, but in other ways traditional and deferring to her husband). I give this book four stars and recommend it to anyone interested in church history, the Reformation era, or the history of Christian women.

Note: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review

Toward Particularity and Beyond Whiteness: a ★★★★★ book review

Racism is real. We have a troubled racial history (slavery, Jim Crow, internment camps) and a troublesome current reality (i.e Police shootings, the disproportionate incarceration of minorities, arcane immigration policies, the political legitimizing of white nationalism, etc).  Nonwhites are routinely “objectified, marginalized and destroyed.” Against these historic and current trends, can we ignite our Christian theological imagination to re-image racial reconciliation and resist the hegemony of whiteness? in A Theology of Race and PlaceAndrew Draper, founding senior Pastor of Urban Light Community Church in Muncie, Indiana and Visiting Theology professor at Taylor University argues a counter-imagination to contemporary racism is possible. Surveying the works of J. Kameron Carter and Willie James Jennings, Draper shows how their reading of Christian tradition, liberation theology, cultural and religious studies, and their parallel critique of virtue ethics, reveal an ‘ecclesiology of joining’ resists the contemporary racialized imagination.

9781498280822You may be suspicious, as I am, of a white guy’s analysis of two preeminent African American theologians (I say this as a white guy also concerned about racism). But Draper did not embark on this project in a vacuum. He is mentored by a prominent African American  Bishop and pastors a church that strives to be diverse at every level of leadership (3). So while Draper’s perspective is no doubt colored by white male privilege (as mine is also), he intentionally has put himself in contexts where his assumptions and prejudices are challenged and he tries to put into practice the ecclesiology of joining he is advocating for. I think it is also significant that Jennings, one of the theologians that Draper profiles, gives a glowing endorsement of the book for the ways Draper takes seriously the problems inherent in our racial imagination (back cover).

Draper’s introduction begins with a reflection on Travon Martin’s shooting by George Zimmerman and what it reveals about the ways the sociopolitical nature of whiteness is maintained. Secondly, he surveys other popular Christian and theological approaches to race, before signaling the insights of Jennings and Carter’s Theological Race Theory and giving a brief overview of the book’s structure.  In the first two chapters, Draper examines Carter, the next two chapters focus on Jennings. Draper’s introduction and his conclusion are where his own theological voice is best discerned, as he devotes the body of the text to describing Carter, Jennings and the thinkers they each interact with and critique. His conclusion examines the implications of an ‘ecclesiology of joining’ and suggestions for practice.

Chapter one discusses Carter’s critique of race in the religious academy. After providing a brief summary of Carter’s Race: A Theological Account, Draper examines his interaction with various thinkers. Carter attacks the “false category of ‘the blackness and whiteness created,’ which he reads as being no more than a settlement with whiteness”(35). But Carter’s resistance to these labels is not a “neo-Gnosticizing claim of colorblindness.” He attempts to hold in tension people’s various cultural identities without succumbing to ‘an essentializing or reductive impulse” (35).From Albert Raboteau, Carter draws insights from the theological anthropology of the Christian East and the counter-narrative of the African American experience. From James Cone, Carter discovers language for liberation and an analysis of how whiteness abstracts and undervalues particularity (49). However, Carter critiques both of these thinkers for their failure to transcend the binary of race (Rabateau for his historiographic method and Cone’s failure to move beyond racial reasoning). Carter is more critical in his reading of Charles H. Long. Long sees the problematic nature of race but his analysis is stunted by the philosophical framework of Enlightenment thinking (71).

In chapter two, Draper contrasts Carter’s theology with his teacher, John Milbank’s virtue ethic. Carter critiques Milbank for the British Imperial and Kantian undertones to Radical Orthodoxy, though his own theological project bears some methodological similarity to Milbank:

Carter presents his divergence from Milbank by implicitly and proactively aligning Milbank’s incipient Christology with the rationalized Christ-figure of Kant’s modern religious project. At the same time, through his use of Raboteau, Carter has invoked a counter-narrative of antebellum black voices that he reads as most authentically embodying the narrative of Israel. The counter-methodology bears similarities to Milbank’s theological program(94).

Carter reads Kant’s Aufklarung as providing the philosophical frame for colonial and subsequent racial imagination. Jesus’ Jewish particularity was jettisoned by Kant in order to present Christ as the ‘ur-human’—a rational figure of moral religion—recapitulating Christian thought forms through Western rationalistic, cultural expression(99). Milbank, by contrast, envisions a ‘virtuous elite’—chivilerous heroes, pastors, and Platonic shepherd guardians. Draper observes, “Neither the Kantian or the Milbankian Christ is Jewish in a significant way. In other words, a particularity of Jesus is underemphasized in order to assert his universality” (107).  Carter sees this discomfort between white and non-white bodies to be at the root of both Kant and Milbank’s projects. Thus, much of Milbank’s attempt at theological recovery is seen as an attempt to reassert European, Western tradition, in the face of multiculturalism. So while Radical Orthodoxy attempts to dismantle the Enlightenment and Modern project, Milbank’s racial assumptions still rest on its colonial assumptions. Draper closes the chapter with an analysis of Carter’s reading of Maximus the Confessor, showing how the task of theology needs to move beyond elitist and supersessionist modes and move toward mutuality and inclusion of marginalized communities (143-44).

Chapter three and four examine Jenning’s theology. As with Carter, Draper begins with Jenning’s principal work, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. He then examines Jenning’s use of insights from cultural studies, particularly through the writings of Jose de Acosta, Gones Eanes de Zurara, Olaudah Equiano and Bishop William Colenso. These four thinkers are utilized by Jennings to expose ‘the imperialist grid’ of early modern Theology (27, 149). Jennings locates the trajectory of their thought within a narrative of ‘distortion, disconnection, and hope,’ through the particular story of YHWH’s redemption and the particular body of Jesus. Jennings posits a ‘Christology of Joining’ and contrasts it with the supersessionist, translation model, exemplified by Lamin Sanneh and Andrew Walls (which have the side-effect of introducing non-white persons to the ordo of whiteness) (27).

In chapter four, Draper examines how Jennings’s project critiques the virtue ethic of Alisdair MacIntyre, and Stanley Hauerwas’s appropriation of MacIntyre. Jennings’s critique of MacIntyre supplants theological history with classical Western history, “What is at stake is not simply a particularity and certainly not the dialectic between the particular and the universal, but the scandal of particularity” (231). Draper shows where Jennings traces through MacIntryre’s After Virtue colonialist assumptions to produce a eurocentric version of the Great Tradition (i.e. his characterization of Cook’s views of Polynesians, and subsequent appropriation of ethnocentric language). Hauewas, for his part, more satisfactorily incorporates biblical accounts of virtue and offers a critique of Constantiniansm; however, to the extent that Hauerwas reenacts “the ethical voluntarism” of MacIntyrian ethics, he is implicated in the same critique:

Hauerwas remains one of the contemporary thelogians who has most complelling [sic] reminded the church that faithfulness to her Lord means resisting violence and Empire. However, his MacIntyrian tradition of virture has limited his recognition that, since the colonial moment and its attendant supersessionist imagination, violence and Empire are fundamentally racialized realities. It has also limited his recognition that these racialized realities are strenthened by theological accounts of Western virtue. While Hauerwas’s account is to be be preferred to Milbank’s and MacIntyre’s, traditions of Western virtue extend the tragic legacy of reflection on the “other” characteristic of theological currents at the “dawn” of Western expansionism. (262-63).

Draper contrasts the Aristoliean-Thomist approach of MacIntyre with the theological anthropology of Barth and Bonhoeffer. He argues that Barth’s ontology resists essentialism and that God is not known in his eternal essence, but through ‘his acts in history.’ “That is why for Jennings (as with Barth), the church is not so much an invisible mystical union with God as it is visible, particular identification with others in the body of the Jewish Jesus” (249). It is in inhabiting the particular story of the Jewish Messiah presented in scripture that Barth and Bonhoeffer were provided the wherewithal to resist the racialized theology of the Third Reich.

Draper offers a meaty engagement with both Jennings and Carter and their interlocuters. In his conclusion, he examines how their work present an ‘ecclesiology of joining’ with implications for practice (eating together: an end to ‘hosting’ (as a “we feed the world” approach), a rethinking of place as particular and shared space,  a move toward mutual participation, and multidirectional proclamation. This doesn’t mean that the church does not have anything unique to say or offer but it does mean that the incarnational witness of the Word  , as presented in the thought of Jennings and Carter, point us to a more thoughtful and humble mode of Christian mission. Ethnocentricity and paternalism have too often characterized missiology. We are ripe to relearn a few things. Particularly challenging is how a missiology of translation (a la Andrew Walls or Sanneh) poisons the well by transmitting colonial concepts of whiteness instead of incarnational faith.

Jennings and Carter see the underpinnings of whiteness in the colonial era and the philosophy of Kant and the danger of a supersessionist reading of the gospel, where Israel’s particularity is replaced with a vague occidentalism. Draper demonstrates well how much the wider culture and the church imbibed the racial assumptions we’ve been bequeathed. This is evident in Jennings and Carter’s interaction with Virtue Ethics. Milbank critiques the Enlightenment and modern Liberalism while internalizing its non-particular (and vague) theological assumptions. MacIntyre and Hauerwas offer a critique of modern morality and civil religion but their project rests on Lockean and Eurocentric assumptions. Personally, I have a greater appreciation for virtue ethics than Draper has (96).  I especially love Hauerwas. Yet, I think Jennings’s critique of Hauerwas sticks (as opposed to shallow critiques which just saying Hauerwas is unrealistic and disengaged).

Thinking theologically about Race is important. Race may be a sociopolitical construction with Colonial and Kantian roots, but minorities continue to be hurt by our shared, and inherited racial imagination in the West. I found Draper’s discussion of Carter and Jennings both challenging and suggestive. I recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in mission, ethics and race (which should be everyone). I give it five stars ★★★★★

Note: I received this book from Wipf & Stock in exchange for my honest review.

The Wright Way for Spiritual Fruit: a book review

Chris Wright is one of my favorite authors. He is a missiologist, biblical ethicist, international ministries director for Langham Partnership, co-worker and friend to the late John Stott, and an Old Testament scholar (I sometimes refer to him as O.T. Wright). In Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, Wright examines each of the nine fruits of the Spirit referenced by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 and encourages us to pursue the Spirit’s transformation in each of these areas.

4498This book began as a nine day Bible study series, and companion series of videos produced for Langham Partnership for Lent, 2013: 9-A-Day: Becoming Like Jesus. Wright, along with Jonathan Lamb and Langham leadership, was inspired to create this series from John Stott’s example. Every morning Stott prayed this prayer:

Heavenly Father, I pray that this day I may  live in your presence and please you more and more

Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I take up my cross and follow you.

Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (quoted in Wright’s introduction, 13).

The chapters of this book examine each of the nine fruits, in turn. Wright explores each theme of each fruit is (1) evidence of God’s character, (2) exemplified in Christ, and (3) and how the presence of each demonstrates the work of the Spirit in our lives. The chapters end with questions for reflection or discussion. There is also a web link to Wright’s talk on the fruit. [ The link provided at the end of the chapter was broken but the original videos that inspired this book can be found at (referenced in the book’s preface) or linked from the book page on the publisher website]. Wright’s introduction and conclusion place the fruit within the frame of Paul’s message to Galatia.

The fruit of the Spirit ought to characterize the lives of followers of Jesus. Reading through this study in Lent, if you pardon the pun, has been fruitful for me. There isn’t always actionable applications in the text, but Wright encourages us to look at the example of Jesus and to pay attention to where we have seen these fruit in the lives of others.  Wright spends most of each chapters describing what each of these fruit/virtues is. The assumption is that while there are things we ought to do, ultimately the growth of the fruit is the Spirit’s work.

This can be read individually or as a group. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for my honest review.


God’s Supernatural Agents: a book review

I was interested in Angels: God’s Supernatural Agents for two reasons. First I do not have enough authors on my reading list, or enough Christian authors from the charismatic/pentecostal stream. With this book,  I got both. Ed Rocha hails from Brazil and is immersed in the Charismatic movement (á la Randy Clark, and Bill Johnson).  Rocha has a degree from International Bible Institute, London, is the founder of Pier49 and a speaker for Global Awakening Ministries and is planting a church with the Global Awakening Network. In this book Rocha describes angels as ‘ministering agents sent to serve those who inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). He aims to demonstrate the ways angels protect us, come to lead us into worship, or in answer to prayer, and the gifts they have to offer us.

ANgelsThe scholarship in this is really thin. The foot notes mostly point to the Strong’s Bible lexicon (accessed via Blue-Letter Bible). Rocha does point to scriptures about Angels and discusses angels in the Bible, but for the most part account of angels is colored by his experience of signs and wonders (i.e. where he or others have witnessed ministering angels). He tells stories of angelic visitations and times when angels helped him through difficult circumstances (like getting him through customs).

I like hearing angel stories, and I am interested in seeing how a supernatural God may use such beings to intervene in people’s life. I felt challenged by Rocha to be open to the way God uses angels in our lives. Unfortunately this book strained credulity. In chapter twelve Rocha describes unusual signs which sometimes accompany angelic visitations, such as gold dust, golden teeth or hair, and gems from heaven. Golden teeth and gems sounds more pirate-like than angelic. He also describes a picture of an angel he has on his iphone. I am all for recapturing the supernatural nature of the Christian faith but this all seemed like it fell into ‘experience hunting’ rather than abundant life in Christ.

I give this book two stars (because I enjoyed some of the stories) but I can’t recommend this.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.