Overdue Book Reviews: “Unparalleled” by Jared C. Wilson

[A few years ago, I started doing book reviews for different publishers who would send me free copies of books to review. Well, my eyes got a little too big for my reading list, so to speak, and I ended up with more books than time. I kept getting distracted by shiny paper objects until I found myself well outside of the requested 1-2 month range for these reviews to be completed. Some of these reviews are *gulp* over a year past due. However, I want to rectify this, so here is the first of a series of past-due reviews. Hope you enjoy.]

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“Aren’t all religions basically the same?”

This statement is practically part of the secular catechism. It’s taken as a matter of fact when there are broad ecumenical discussions of faith in the public square. It’s assumed that the best of all the world’s religions agree on key tenets of kindness, peace, and human flourishing.

But is it really true? If you’re a Christian, the answer should be a gentle but firm “no.”

In Jared Wilson’s 2016 book, Unparalleled, he takes on the task of explaining clearly and simply why Christianity stands out from all other world religions in some very important and fundamental ways. He works his way through the basics of systematic theology, answering the big questions (such as the nature of God, the state of humanity, the person and work of Jesus, the doctrine of salvation, and the end of the world).

What Works
Wilson’s style is winsome, approachable, and clear. He generally stays away from theological jargon, although when it is necessary, he usually defines terms well. He compares the key points of Christian doctrine to other belief systems, but his goal is more to reveal how Christianity is distinct and true, rather than to poke holes in other faiths. This isn’t to say that Wilson soft-pedals other religions, but rather, his goal is clearly to focus on what is true rather than what is untrue. I really appreciate his ability in this book to lay out plainly what the Bible teaches about the Christian faith, in a way that both the unschooled and the highly-educated can grasp.

Minor Issues
I am an unapologetic fan of Jared Wilson’s writing, and this recent addition to his bibliography didn’t disappoint. I have only a few minor critiques. I can recall a few places where his explanations got a bit murky and potentially theologically confused. While in no way approaching heresy, it would have been good to clear up a few of these points. (It should say something that, at the moment, I’m failing to recall specifics.) None of these issues are cause for concern, in my mind. Wilson’s writings speak to his orthodoxy, so the most likely point of error may have been in the mind of a distracted reader.

The other critique I have is the bigger issue: the question of audience. Wilson seems to write this book both for non-believers who are interested in learning about Christianity, as well as for believers who want to learn how to explain Christianity. To that end, I think the book is valuable for both audiences; however, it causes the book to feel a bit inconsistent in voice. In some sections, Wilson is clearly addressing believers, while in others he is making an appeal to outsiders. Both aims are profitable and worthwhile; I’m just not sure it’s wise to do both at the same time.

(It’s funny: so often in my book reviews, I seem to spend the bulk of the post on what doesn’t quite work, even when reviewing books I greatly enjoy. It appears this holds true now. The reason for this, as best as I can tell, is that I don’t want to belabor praise, but I feel the need to justify critique.)

The Bottom Line:
Despite some minor editorial issues, Unparalleled is an approachable, clear, useful book that can be shared and discussed with people who are unfamiliar with Christianity, as well as used to train believers how to discuss the big ideas of the faith.

I gladly recommend this book, and I’m thankful for another great volume by Jared Wilson. His writing continues to be a blessing to the Church.

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Please note: I received a physical copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for a unbiased review. The views and opinions expressed above are my own.

Hey friend…ya got $2?

For the last six months or so, I’ve been working with a great team of creative folks to put together a new web series called “Presto Fairy Tales: The Web Series! (The Musical!)”

Think Shelley Duvall’s Fairy Tale Theater…but weirder, and a little more punk rock, and a little more DIY. The writing is hilarious, the actors are great, and the show has so much heart.  The first season of the series will include 5 great stories that you probably have never heard before!

PLUS! There will be original music, including several songs with lyrics written by yours truly.

ALSO! I’m the villain on one of the stories! So you get to see me playing a BAD GUY. Cool, yes?

Here’s the deal, gang: We need funding. We have a shoestring budget, but shooting locations, props, sets, costumes, music recording, and all that costs more than a shoestring.

We need your help. Even if it’s just a few bucks, we can definitely use it.

Here’s the link to our GoFundMe page. Check it out, get the details, watch the video, and then go…fund us… Please? Pretty please?

Thanks!

 

 

Like. Follow. Subscribe. …Or create.

It’s a curious thing how I self-sabotage my attempts to detach from media (social or otherwise).

I started using Medium and Feedly as news aggregators with the intention of divesting my energies from Facebook and reducing the temptation to scroll or blog-hop for hours. In the end, I find myself now hoarding (ahem, collecting) bookmarked articles on both platforms, which I am hopelessly behind on reading, and I’m still using Facebook (though decidedly less-so).

I’ve culled my FB friend list to people I have had meaningful (or at least intentional, word-based) interactions with in the last 2 years. I have “unfollowed” and “unliked” a host of websites and entertainment pages on FB, though Zuckerberg still thinks I’m not getting enough advertising in my diet. (“Your friend Joe likes the ‘Peruvian Llama Juggling’ page!” Well… good for Joe?)

I infrequently trim down my Twitter follow list, but then I’ll take on new Twitter activities like anonymous accounts (let’s call that “fun-work”). I’ll turn off Twitter notifications on my phone, but keep the app and check it frequently.

I’ll delete podcasts from my devices, and then subscribe to new ones. Same with my streaming movie service. I have several authors to whom I owe book reviews, and yet I’m still adding books to my hold-list at the library. Why? Because I’m a jerk blogger/reviewer. (I owe apologies along with those reviews.)

[I pause to add the following clarifying statement: I’m not complaining. I’m not asking for assistance. I’m just talkin’ here, folks.]

The truth is, I still like using social media. I know the dangers. I’ve read the news articles about its negative effects. I’ve seen scores of blog posts about how people quit FB and Twitter, and their lives are JUST. SO. AMAZING. NOW. (See: previously-mentioned bookmarked Medium articles.) And I know that’s all true.

But I also know that I enjoy interacting with my “Twitter friends.” I still use FB groups and messaging to stay in touch with people, groups, and projects.  I’m aware of the sneaky dangers of FOMO and my tendency toward oversharing, and I’m working on both. I think I can stop worrying and learn to love the blog.

However, there is one side effect of continued social media interaction that I need to start taking more seriously: Social media engagement proves that “I don’t have time to write” is a lie.

I’ve got the basic outline, a few solid chapters, and a handful of scattered scenes written for the first book in a trilogy of crime stories that I’d really like to finish. I care about the main character, I’m intrigued by the themes that these books involve, and the questions that the overarching story raises set it apart from other books in the genre. I think it would be a really cool thing to bring these stories into the world and share them with you.

For the years–YEARS–that I have weakly gestured at writing, I have convinced myself that I don’t have the time to commit to it. My time spent on social media proves otherwise.

I want to write more. I have the ability and time to write more. And I don’t have any good excuses for not pursuing it.

So, well, uh, there it is.

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What, you were expecting more of a rousing call to action?

Do we really need one?

Would it really work?

“Some hoard to remember, some hoard to forget…”

We’re in “de-cluttering” mode in the 4thDaveHousehold. The upcoming new addition, plus an impending move, is motivating us to reduce our Stuff footprint. This usually happens right before a big move. Staying in one place creates a strange magnetism that draws Stuff from the surrounding environment and sticks it to us, in attics and closets and garages.

I struggle with clutter. That doesn’t mean I’m a hoarder–I know how to throw away garbage (or recycle plastics and paper–something new I’ve learned in almost 3 years of marriage). I’m not saving old paper cups or coffee filters. But I do collect mementos and I struggle to let them go.

I’ve grown stronger in resisting Stuff over time–I threw out a LOT of Stuff when I got married, boxes and boxes of hand-me-downs and souvenirs, all at once (the Band-aid Rip Method).  But it’s still challenging.

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Last month, I read a book by Eve Schaub called “Year of No Clutter.” It’s not a guide for how to de-clutter as much as it is a memoir and confessional of a Stuff-addict. In one chapter, she confesses that the motivation for much of her keeping falls into two categories: nostalgia and potential.

She talks about how objects connect to memories for her, and because she finds herself forgetting stories from the past, she tends to hang on to random items that mean something to her. That’s the nostalgia piece. Even if it is just a scrap of paper with writing on it, she keeps it, because it reminds her of an event or place or person.

She also talked about how potential usefulness kept her from throwing away items, “just in case…” Even items that she could easily re-acquire would be kept for possible future use.

I relate so much to these two ideas.

Like Schaub, my memory is awful, and for years, I saved the fragments of experiences in physical form so I could go back to them later. That’s not true: it was more that I was afraid that the memories of those events or people or places would be lost forever. Losing memories felt like losing pieces of myself.

And like Schaub, I sometimes have a hard time letting go of things that might be useful to me later: for example, I held on to the tape-adapter I used to connect my iPod to my old truck, even when I got a newer truck and didn’t need it anymore. Later, when that truck was replaced by an old van and I actually “needed” the tape adapter again, I realized it was tossed during the great pre-wedding purge. What a terrible loss! (Turns out, I just asked around, and someone had another that they gave me. Crazy, huh?)

What motivates this?

Part of my tendency to hang on to Stuff may simply be habit. During the decade-plus between college and marriage, I have to admit that I spent a LOT of time looking backward, thinking how much better the old days were. In the first decade post-college, the memory of my college experience was utterly drenched in nostalgia. And all those single years, when I battled feeling frustrated and lonely, I looked backward at a time of my life that I really began to miss.

These days, I realize that I’m looking forward a lot more. My life right now is exciting and challenging and full of love. There’s more anticipation. More potential. I really have no idea what life will look like in 5 years, and that’s exciting (and really scary, but still exciting!).

What about the “potential usefulness” question? Schaub fights against this fear of losing something useful by trying to have more confidence in herself. As a Christian, I can do something better than that: I can have confidence that God is sovereign, that God is good, that God will provide everything I need, that He is trustworthy, that He declares the end from the beginning. Rather than try to hold on to Stuff as a hedge against the future, I can learn to let go of some things and trust that I have what I need, because my Father is good to me.

And to be clear, I’m not saying I don’t plan or save for the future; on the contrary, I am trying to be wise and prepared for whatever comes. But those of us who follow Jesus are warned not to put our faith in the “uncertainty of riches,” because even our best savings plan is not enough to protect us from every calamity.

I’ve still got room to grow, when it comes to my relationship with Stuff. Lately, God has been working on me through I Timothy 6–“Godliness with contentment is great gain… If we have food and clothing, we will be content.” Honestly, I couldn’t say that was the case, even now. My prayer is that this will grow truer and truer in my life.

If nothing else, that would make moving a lot simpler.