A Brief Review of
God Does Not…: Entertain, Play Matchmaker,
Hurry, Demand Blood, Cure Every Illness.
Brent Laytham, editor.
Paperback: Brazos Press, 2009.
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Reviewed by Kevin Book-Satterlee.
The opening line of an apophatic statement is, “God is not…”. Apophatism suggests that God cannot be known, by anything other than what God is not. The verb “is” in an apophatic statement is essential for the concept. One cannot know who God is, just what God isn’t. D. Brent Laytham, however, edits the book titled, God Does Not…Entertain, Play “Matchmaker”, Hurry, Demand Blood, Cure Every Illness, and in his concluding essay remarks that the apophatic statement “God is not…” can also be stated, “God does not…” To Laytham God is as God does.
This collection of essays was written to dispel popular Christian beliefs of what God does, and thus who God is. Contrary to true apophatism, the authors of each essay do in fact describe what God does after debunking a skewed myth about God. The authors don’t just combat a few specific myths of what God does, but in fact, together they combat a false image of God found in popular Christian subculture. Nearly every one of the myths espoused suggests that God is the servant of an individual, doing the bidding of the individual as though God was an enslaved genie granting everyone their three (or more) greatest wishes.
But God does not follow these rules. God is not an indentured servant having been paid by a believer’s faith thus acting as the believer sees fit. God just is, as noted fervently to Moses in the Exodus story, with the statement “I Am”.
The seven authors who contributed essays to this book do a great job in combating these near pagan myths of God enslaved, making theological concepts available to those who have “sloppy thinking” (150). Each essay is a quick read and their solutions to combat each myth are accessible, intelligent and powerfully translatable to the everyday Christian.
The reader will be exposed to some critical theological positions, often not taught from the pulpits or represented in the milieu of pop-Christian literature. A quick exposition on atonement shows that God is more interested in love than blood. A diatribe on how God’s excitement comes through living and being a part of the Kingdom makes God more than a director of the next Hollywood blockbuster. An explanation of community shows that God’s purpose in restoration is larger than healing individuals.
Despite the theologically challenging concepts put into simple terms, each essay is couched by a sense of negativity and criticism. The biting tone of each essay puts the reader immediately on the defensive, making it difficult to embrace the theologically rich solutions that each other has. Because of this critical tone, God Does Not… would not be the first book that I would give to somebody that I think views God as a personal genie. However, this book is worth the read solely for the chapter, “God Does Not Hurry,” in which Kelly Johnson generously describes a God confident of the mission and purpose that God laid out. It is a useful chapter for anyone desiring theological background to a simpler and more contemplative life. The anxiety of mistrust becomes foolish when Johnson explains God’s intentional, but not anxiety-filled purpose.
Halfway through the essay, “God Does Not Demand Blood,” by Daniel M. Bell Jr., I begin to see the imaginative response of Christ’s atoning death – that Jesus died not to spill blood and satisfy a God, blood-thirsty for violent justice. Getting past the first half, with its strongly critical tone, Bell provides a simple and clear explanation of the cross for any pacifists struggling with the significance of a crucified God. These few simple pages will have shaped forever the concreteness of the way I view the bloody violent cross and its purpose.
Protestants are not used to describing God in the negative, yet we are very quick to utilize the phrase, “God is not…” to overpower others. As the book states that who God is, is what God does, I fear that this book can be used as fuel for the age-old apologetic of overpowering others. Taking the second half of each chapter would provide a book generous to the reader with a sense of who God is and what God does without this dominant position. Apophatism is to explain God in humility, in that God is not limited by our own conceptions we us to describe God. While the book does well debunking myths, it needs some work in humility to be as helpful as it has the potential to be.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com