Let me argue why my review is not biased. First of all I despise non-fiction and my father specifically works in Christian non-fiction. Do not construe this to mean that I have any hard feelings against my father...I love him very much. But I am somewhat detracted from the illusion non-fiction supports. This comes from my deep-seated belief (and so by no means correct) that fiction is a much better conveyor of truth than non-fiction. That is, non-fiction claims to be truth (that is what non-fiction means right?) but really is mere opinion whereas fiction does not make any truth claims, but at its root tries to convey truth by allegory and example. To illustrate, the non-fiction reader takes in content with a willingness to consume the viewpoint of the author, most of the time without actual digestion instead mostly just by absorption. Whereas the fiction reader assumes that the content is non-edible and only upon finding similarities in the content to real food does he venture to further digest it. The point here being that consumption of fiction elicits the active interpretation of the content where non-fiction allows the reader to passively take in the content.
Second, this is the first book my father has written that I have actually read the whole way through. No offense Dad but I don't usually enjoy your writing style (most likely for reason one above). That not being a major fault only a slight deterrent that invokes my procrastination and general laziness, allowing me to forever put off reading whatever it is he wrote. So already this book must have some merit for me to have read it all the way through. Truth be told, I think the problem is that my Dad sends me the initial revisions of his manuscripts where his thoughts aren't as coherent and haven't been conceptually edited yet. I am proud to say that the final version of this book was significantly better than my initial perception of it. This only goes to prove that you shouldn't judge a book by the premature fraction of it that you may happen upon and instead by the final version...starting in the beginning and working toward the end. Good job Dad and make sure to thank your editor for me.
Am I harsh on my father? I hope not. Then again if I am attempting not to be biased I must not withhold my criticism. My Dad asked me once to edit a portion of something for him...upon receiving it back it bled red. He actually appreciated my thorough dismembering of his work, which shows his maturity as a writer; something that is apparent in his newest book...the one I am attempting to begin reviewing but have thus far only wasted time qualifying my utterly pointless opinion. I give you permission to ignore me.
The book was good.
Now that I have expressed my amateur opinion in such a grossly simplified form I will now explain why it was good. To begin, I actually enjoyed the writing style of If God Disappears and found myself wrapped up in my father's story telling even though I am already intimately knowledgeable with some, if not many, of his stories. And to qualify my previous statement about allowing myself to exaggerate; my father is great at exaggerating when he tells stories. This should not deter you from listening to his stories or even discredit the stories he tells. He is not embellishing the facts, he is merely adding undue emphasis to accomplishments of the 'hero' or 'heroine' of his story. For example, there is a story in the book about me constructing a satellite dish at a young age from a both hefty and dense instruction manual. While the story is essentially true, he almost always neglects to mention that we never got the constructed satellite dish to work...it looked nice but eventually ended up in the dump. So if he brags about me, it is most likely rooted in reality but exaggerated to a degree.
The other reason I like the writing style of If God Disappears is that it is well structured. I could not make clear sense of the initial draft (one must read multiple chapters to fully appreciate the consistency in chapter structure which allows the reader to anticipate the flow of his arguments) and found his story telling excessive and useless. But the book I have sitting next to me works. That is, his stories have purpose and are worked into the text in all the appropriate places. Indeed I found myself reading through in anxious anticipation of the stories yet to come. He created a beautiful template which he then successfully applied to each chapter. This makes reading so much more enjoyable.
The content of the stories in If God Disappears is another reason I enjoyed the book. The stories are applicable to the point he is trying to make and walk that fine line between real, believable stories and epic, memorable stories. So many times non-fiction writers seek out those "truth is stranger than fiction" stories that, though they may be true, actually cast doubt into the readers mind as to the integrity of the writer. On the other hand some non-fiction writers can not tell a good story to save their lives, even though it is entirely made up and ingeniously imaginative. David (hm, I guess I can refer to him by name...) does well to draw his readers in while keeping his stories down to earth. His transparency in the book comes out as genuine and reflects the truth of his life, which adds to the integrity of his message.
Finally his advice, that is-the moral of his stories, is sound (according to my limited ability to discern soundness) and resounds with what I believe as Christian and with my knowledge of the Word of God. I do not always agree with my father and he has brought me up in a willingness to test my assumptions and beliefs without fear of the answers I will find. So when we disagree theologically or otherwise, it's okay. We don't have to all conform to the same mindset (though I am a big proponent of the idea that the Church should be unified, both in spirit and truth, and am saddened by the reality that confronts me here). Though he uses some explicit scripture quotations, a careful analysis of his writing in this book will reveal many implicit scripture quotations (that is, he uses a phrase that is almost word for word from the Bible). I am also a big proponent of the idea that our ideas, our opinions, our theology should be grounded in the truth of the Bible (the only truly non-fiction book) and so am greatly encouraged by the scriptural support of his teaching.
Mr. Sanford (mwa, I definitely don't usually refer to him as that) outlines nine faith wreckers in his book, but I would assert that there is only one faith wrecker (from a purely human perspective); an unwillingness to reevaluate our assumptions. Any of the faith wreckers can be viewed as a variation on this theme. We had a bad church experience so we assume that our view of 'those christians' reflects the Christ they claim to worship. We have experienced horrible, traumatic events in our lives so we assume that God isn't there or doesn't love us. We get lost in ritualistic religion, bewildered at God's apparent departure and assume that it must be something wrong with Christianity itself not with our misconstrued perception of what God desires. These are just examples; in any crisis of faith it is essential to reevaluate our assumptions and reorient ourselves around what we know is true. When I have found myself wandering away from my Savior and Lord I remind myself of all the times God has worked in my life for good. I remind myself of what He declares in His Word. Aren't we all so forgetful, like the Israelites under Moses, and in constant need of a reminder of the presence of the great I AM. We get so caught up in our petty assumptions that we forget what we know is true.
I praise God that He has already used my Dad's words in so many peoples' lives. I pray that God would continue to use my Dad's ministry to further His kingdom and strengthen His children. I am proud of my father and I am so blessed that my Father is his Father, that we share a common devotion to the Most High God. Done.
Are you now so completely enthralled with my description of the book that you want to buy it? I thought so. You can purchase it from Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/If-God-Disappears-Faith-Wreckers/dp/1414316178. Questions or comments? You can email me at mersayochan at gmail dot com.
[EDIT:] You can read David's blog at ifgoddissappears.blogspot.com.