Brand new book! published a month ago. let's see if there's any substance to the hype. First, the cover sucks, but don't judge a book by it's cover...
Starting with the Intro, Krish Kandiah sets the tone and describes clearly what this book is all about. I really appreciate that. Most people are familiar with the popular stories and verses in the Bible. These are the ones that get highlighted or preached in multiple sermons. Kandiah sets about to explore the unhighlighted ones – the ones that are not very appealing.
Not only does he collect these unhighlighted verses, he says there’s a bigger story behind it. It shows the God who is real, who is there in the discomforts, even causing them. It shows the God we can’t put into a box, a God who is stranger than we think.
Having been so well read, I’m embarrassed that I’ve never read Kandiah before, because he is quite the prolific writer! He draws you in so well in the first chapter, you’ll be hooked to the rest of what he wants to show.
Through Abraham, he shows that trusting is God is very complicated – that’s not what you heard from a 3-point sermon. Believing in God actually creates more questions than answers. But is that ok? Through Jacob, he shows that God actually hurts us, that he’s the author of the pain in our lives. Why? Isn’t that strange? He proposes some Biblical reasons by showing us the full narrative of Jacob, juxtaposed in our very real modern situations.
A good teacher doesn’t merely make good observations; he asks the hard questions, even questions we are afraid to ask. “Where was God when the bombs were falling on Aleppo?” (97) Why did God turn up so late? too late. Or like in the book of Ruth, God doesn’t even show up (Ch. 5). Or, why does God kill a servant named Uzzah who was just trying to help, yet not intervene when a terrorist truck driver mows down a crowd of people in France? (158)
In a way, each chapter is like a really long 1-point sermon, with plenty of related tangents, which could become another sermon in itself. Each chapter is also very detailed, and it deals with our real world circumstances. It’s like the plight of Gideon is more relevant today than it was 20 years ago, or 2000 years ago. For example, he likens Gideon’s act of destroying a Baal altar to the religiously insensitive act of burning a Quran (107), a culturally sensitive issue more in our social consciousness today than even 10 years ago. And then he flips the script and says it’s really more like removing anti-Christian graffiti from the walls of a church, not just aggravating an opposing religion.
These strange and unhighlighted sections of the Bible show that these are not cookie-cutter bedtime stories filled with heroic characters. These were real situations. These were real people, and if we know people, we know that even the greatest among us are far from perfect. So in the Bible, heroes like Moses and David are also seen as real people, with real sins, and real pathetic weaknesses. We’ve judged them harder (or skip those uncomfortable stories) because we’ve put them in a pedestal, but you won’t blame a friend who has similar displays of bipolar emotions. This honesty of the Bible “shows us authentic humanity across the spectrum of human experience” (162).
Chapter 7 wasn’t as interesting because of its changed perspective. There’s only a little bit of the notion of Isaiah encountering a stranger God. The bulk of the chapter is more like a long sermon that’s a little disconnected from the theme of the book. However, Isaiah also includes some teachings on how this strange God deals with people, and how we should deal with strangers. He ends the chapter by saying that when we open up our hearts to strangers, we open up our hearts to God (203). I thought that would be just a minor side note in the book, but apparently it takes up the whole chapter and is actually the overarching theme of the entire book, being “the litmus test of the Christian confession” (254), or “the litmus test of authentic discipleship” (256), the thing that shows whether our faith is genuine, our “response to the needy” (260). I would disagree with that, but he builds up an excellent case as the book continues. And he adds that this is the way Christianity will “win a hearing for the gospel” in today’s global community (310).
I think I saw this book listed in the theology section. Although the author is a very able theologian, a theology book this is not. His theological training is evident in his use of good hermeneutics to manuever the hard-to-accept passages in the Bible that portray God as abusive to women (223). The genre is more Christian Inspiration or Christian Living. It’s also social commentary, as he consistently intertwines the lessons over the backdrop of the current refugee crisis.
This book is awesome. The best book I’ve read in 3 years. If there is one criticism, he overuses the term “turn up.” The first 10 times seemed current and refreshing, and then it got old real fast.
I would love to read a hypothetical God is Stranger Part II, with more insight and observations into more “unhighlighted” passages of this stranger God. But alas, that is not his point. He selects these specific examples to highlight his own agenda – to teach that a true Christianity that follows the real God loves and actively helps the refugees and strangers of the world.
In the end, he shows that this stranger God gives us a better understanding of God and his relation to the world. And it is not that he is so different from what we expect or want him to be. It is actually that we have been the stranger all along.
Other Honest Book Reviews:
Dwell by Barry Jones
Fool's Talk by Os Guinness