Skye Jethani is the editor of Leadership Journal, a publication of Christianity Today. In this book, With, he examines religious life through five different prepositions: Life Under God, Life Over God, Life From God, Life For God and Life With God. For at least half the book he makes the case for why the first four prepositions fall short of God's intention for His people. The second half he sets out to describe what life WITH God looks like.
Now, I cut my teeth on Christian non-fiction. Been reading this genre since I was a preteen! I've read more than my fair share of teachy-preachy-self-help-spirituality-type books. However, in recent years the majority of my Christian reading has been theologically academic. While my husband was in Fuller Seminary I voluntarily read most of the books he was assigned and (not quite so) voluntarily proofread and edited all his papers.
When I read all the endorsements and praise for this book on the back cover and first few pages I noted that most of the reviews were by those in theologically academic fields--universities, seminaries and such. So, I was bracing myself for a theological read. However, I soon felt like I was reading someone's sermon notes. The tone of the first half of the book can seem not just preachy, but a bit high-handed even. (Which I don't necessarily mind, but wasn't expecting from this author.) I disliked the way he easily pigeon-holed various prominent Christian and religious leaders into the four prepositions--using excerpts from interviews or perceptions of people and basically saying, "This person is wrong in the way they relate to God because they are using the under posture." I, however, feel that most people represent a mix of several or even all five prepositions and no one movement or denominations has a corner on THE WAY to relate to and with God. I, also, felt there was a lot of name dropping throughout. He rarely clarified for those not theological educated who he was quoting by saying "Historian so-and-so" or "Christian mystic so-and-so." Instead he just says, "N.T. Wright says...." And for someone unfamiliar, I would think that would be annoying. "Oh yeah, well, who is that anyway?!"
So, half-way through the book I was ready to give it a negative review. However, the second half of the book, when the author turns his attention AWAY from telling the readers why other ways are wrong and starts to instead share inspirational stories and Scriptures on what communion with God looks like, I found myself profoundly touched. There were sections I wanted to read aloud to my husband and children. And parts I'd like to go back and re-read. If the whole book took the gracious tone of the second half I would not hesitate for a moment to put it on the family's must read list!
There are discussion questions at the end that would make this a great book for use with your small group at church or on campus.
Perhaps my favorite part of the book is not actually a main part of the book at all, but the Appendix A. The author gives some very valuable tools to aid those seeking greater communion with God. He pulls on church tradition and contemplative practices to offer some recommendations for encountering God in an active prayer life. I'm looking forward to using some of these recommendations in my own prayer life and with my children.
From a technical aspect, a few typos and grammatical errors were disappointing to see in a book such as this. And I felt the little drawings and doodles the author makes to illustrate his points were sometimes a little confusing and distracting. That could just be that I'm not "that type" of learner. So, we'll let that slide.
If you are looking for a academically theological read or if you are looking for an inspirational read to fuel the flames of your communion with God, you may be equally delighted or disappointed with this book.
(I received the book With free from Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze program for my review. I was not paid to write this review.)