Book Review: With

With: Reimagining The Way You Relate To God is by Skye Jethani, an ordained pastor, author, editor, and speaker, and is published by Thomas Nelson.[1] I must begin by saying that I really enjoyed reading this book. I read the majority of it in one sitting. The prose is readable and easy. The text flows and so the pages turn quickly. The book does have one annoying feature: endnotes. I hate endnotes. So be warned, if you hate endnotes, you will be slightly annoyed as you read this book. However, the content is more than worth bearing the endnotes. I give the book 4 stars and will heartily recommend it with a few reservations.

Review

Jethani begins the book by looking at the world as we now see it. We live in the time after Eden, after man walked with God. Rather than wholeness, what we find is brokenness on every level. And because this world is broken, we all have fear and we all seek some way to gain control of our world to mitigate the fear that burns in our hearts. All human religions are born from this reality. And this is a key component necessary for understanding the rest of the book. Jethani categorizes all religious expression into five camps, or five ways we can relate to God. All five ways of relating to God promise to deal with our fears, yet four of the five do nothing of the sort. The four ways of relating to God that do not remove our fears are Life Under God, Life Over God, Life From God and Life For God. Jethani shows us that not only do they not remove our fear, they only serve to make us more fearful, more desirous of control. The only way of relating to God where our fears melt away and our need for control vanishes is a Life With God. But what does Jethani mean by the other postures mentioned? Let’s take a look.

Life Under God

Life Under God is the primary way that most people in the world understand their relation to God. There are divine rules and if one wishes to avoid calamity and suffering, one must strictly adhere to those divine rules. If you break the rules, disaster will follow. However, Jethani points out that a Life Under God is actually quite ironic. While adherents to this posture are under these divine rules, they assume to exert control over God through their obedience. Since control is still an issue, that means fear has not been removed. Life Under God fails to do what it promises.

Life Over God

If Life Under God is the primary understanding of most people in the world, Life Over God is probably the primary understanding of most people in the West. While the obvious target here is atheist, Jethani takes a different approach. Before exploring this new direction, Jethani does briefly deal with the atheist position. Secular humanism is responsible for increasing fear and strife just as much as Life Under God. But the surprising route Jethani explores is that there are many who claim to be Christians who subscribe to a Life Over God posture. What would cause Christians to accept such a tenable posture? The Enlightenment. According to studies cited, most people who claim to believe in God hold to Deism, rather than Biblical Christianity. This posture promises that if you understand and obey the principles that govern this world, you can mitigate your fear. Control comes via the mastery of the principles that the Great Watchmaker set in place. You can see this in play in how churches operate like corporations and how many treat the Bible like a set of divine principles. Too often God’s revelation of Himself becomes God’s revelation of divine principles for living. When reduced in this manner, the Christian Deist can put the principles into practice without the need for God at all. Again, this posture fails to deliver what it promises. Fear remains. Control remains an unattainable struggle.

Life From God

This posture assumes that God is a lot like me. So that probably means that He wants me to happy. This posture seeks to get from God all the things that we naturally desire. This is appealing to us because it does not require us to change. Now, Jethani is careful to say that God indeed does give us all things. However, the problem with a Life From God posture is that it gives one dynamic of the divine-human relationship a primacy it was not meant to handle. Further, it turns God into a divine butler. This posture does not seek to remove fear, but rather numb us to it. Life From God fails to deliver what it promises, because we may gain the whole world, but our fears remain.

Life For God

Life For God relates to God by how much we do for Him. What matters most is the mission. Did you share the gospel with people on the mission trip? Did you work for justice in the urban core? If so, then you matter. That is when your life has significance. The problem with this posture is that, like the others, it does not remove our fears. If we relate to God in this way, our greatest fear will be not doing enough. And the terrible truth is, you will never know if you have done enough. So fear remains. Another broken promise. Another failed attempt at removing our fear.

Life With God

Life Under, Over, From and For God fail to do what they promise. But Life With God does not fail. For it is fundamentally different that the others. Jethani shows us how Jesus related to God and how that was completely different from the other postures. While other postures seek to use God or control God, Life With God is about communing with God. It is all about relationships. For, at the core of universe, we find the Trinity. The mysterious truth of one God in community with Himself. “God the Father with God the Son with God the Holy Spirit.” The goal of Life With God is not to use God, but treasure God. God is the end that we seek. Jethani goes on in subsequent chapters to examine a Life With God by exploring three vital aspects; Faith, Hope and Love.

Concerns

While I enjoyed this book immensely and would recommend it, I have a few concern that I could not let slide. For a book that I found profoundly simple[2], there were a few moments of simplistic thinking that bothered me. First, when discussing a Life From God posture, Jethani seems to equate consumerism with capitalism. I always get nervous when the theologically trained began talking economics. They do exactly what Jethani has done, which is make surface observations and come to simplistic conclusions that are just wrong. Jethani states that our current economic system needs a complete lack of self-control. On the surface, this sounds right on. Steve Jobs Tim Cook wants me to buy Apple products. Therefore, I must lack self-control so that I go buy all the new Apple products and make Tim Cook a lot of money. Now, the problem with this understanding is that it’s just patently wrong. Self-control is the foundation for our economic model, rather than an inhibitor. Just look at our current economic problems. What’s the issue? Our government lacks self-control. It has spent us into a debt my grandchildren will be paying for. On an individual level, the person who lacks self-control, racks up mountains of debt and can no longer pay their obligations becomes a drain on the economy. In the short-term, yes, the LED 3D television he bought on the credit card helped, but in the long-term, he is an unstable drain on economic resources due to his mountainous debt. You can’t cook dinner over firecrackers, which is exactly what Jethani is trying to do when he says our economic system requires those who lack self-control. A properly cooked dinner requires a stable, controlled fuel source. Same is true for our economy.

Second, and more importantly, when discussing the Life With God posture, Jethani again slips into a simplistic mindset. Jethani keeps talking about helping people see a greater vision of Jesus. The problem that most people have with living a Life With God, is that they have never captured a vision for it. True. Amen. “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”[3] However, Jethani leaves out a key ingredient. The Holy Spirit. Unless the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the people to see the vision of Jesus that I am desperately trying to get them to see, they will not see it. The reason that some people fall into these competing postures is not that they have never been presented with the whole gospel. They fall into these postures because their eyes have never been opened. Jethani makes a big deal out of prayer (as he should) when talking about communion with God. So I found it so curious that this one aspect went undiscussed. Without a prayer-soaked presentation of the gospel, eyes will never be opened and hearts will never be changed.

Overall, this is a great book. It deserves a wide reading. If you are struggling with a dry spiritual existence, perhaps you might find that you are trying to live a Life Under, Over, From or For God. With may very well be the catalyst that God uses to draw you into a life of communion with Him.

~sdg

Footnotes

Back to Post[1] – Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for a review.
Back to Post[2] – Simplicity in and of itself is not always a bad thing. In fact, the ability to make complex subjects appear simple is a great gift that requires skill. In the words attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
Back to Post[3] – Proverbs 29:18

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.