21/03/2015

Astonished (by Mike Erre)

I hadn’t heard of Mike Erre when I saw this book available as a special offer on Amazon, free for my Kindle, shortly after its release. Apparently he’s a conservative evangelical pastor in the US, but is open to thinking and questioning in a way that’s sometimes frowned upon in these circles.

I started reading this book about six weeks ago ago, and have read a few pages most mornings since then. It’s not particularly long, but there’s a lot to think about. I was pleased to find that it’s very well-written, one of the (sadly few) gems amongst free Kindle offers. It also raises some interesting ideas, expressed in ways I had not necessarily come across before.

The book is divided into three sections: the nature of God, the nature of faith, and the faith-filled life. I’m not sure I really distinguished between them all, but they work as a structure for the book, gradually developing the author’s theme. That theme is explained at length in the introduction, entitled ‘The God who gets bigger’. Not that the author suggests that God actually gets bigger, but that we see more of Him, feel as if He is bigger, the more we get to know about Him and, more significantly, the more we get to know Him.

Mike Erre is not afraid of difficult questions: why do people talk about God ‘hiding’ from us? Can we really figure out what faith means, or does it remain a mystery? What do we mean by trust and faith? Have we really missed the point of Jesus’ teaching, and made our preferred form of Christianity into our God?

It's written in an accessible style, assuming a basic Christian belief but not deep theological understanding. Scripture verses are referred to regularly (and sometimes quoted), and there are also some anecdotes and personal experiences interspersed, that make the rest seem more meaningful, giving more of a connection to the writer. I was particularly moved by the brief mentions of his son, born with Down Syndrome, and evidently one of the lights of his life.

It’s one of those books that made me stop and think, which gave me some encouragement that the post-modern openness and questioning was acceptable; that there’s so much more to faith and God than many would have us believe.

The subtitle of ‘Astonished’ is: ‘Recapturing the wonder, awe and mystery of life with God’. While that’s a tall order, I would say that this book could certainly help people on their way to doing exactly that, so long as they’re prepared to be open to the possibility that they might be wrong in some of their understanding about the nature of God and what it means to follow Jesus.

It’s not a book for those without Christian faith; it might also be hard-going for those new to belief, or who have not been in more structured Christian circles. A lot of the underlying criticism (and it’s mostly gentle) is against the materialist and rigidly modernist views held in many American mega-churches. I’m from a culture which has more grey areas, where views like Mike Erre’s are discussed, and accepted, and where we know that God loves us and can be found at all times, in all places, even if we sometimes conveniently forget it.

Definitely recommended to anyone open to thinking about questions of this kind. It’s no longer free for the Kindle; indeed, it's quite highly priced for an e-book now, so the links given are to paperback editions.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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