Reviewed by Chris Smith.
I have long been a fan of Marva Dawn’s writings (It’s hard for me not to like someone who not only was a PhD student under John Howard Yoder, but whose doctoral research was on the work of Jacques Ellul!) However, I must admit that her most recent book In the Beginning, God was not as captivating as most of her previous books have been. The idea behind the book was a good one, exploring Genesis 1-3 with the purpose of reflecting on what those chapters tell us about God “so that we will respond with adoration” (13). The chapters are short and tightly-focused and Dawn’s writing is crisp and engaging. Dawn cover a diverse number of facets related to this biblical passage; some of the better chapters include the ones on formation for ecological care and for justice and the last few chapters on the cultural meaning of sin and redemption. In the Beginning, God is a great book, better than most books available in the Christian market and especially better than most books on the first chapters of Genesis. However, in contrast to Dawn’s other works it was a bit of a letdown. Although the subject matter would have warranted it, the topics were too many and treated too cursorily to be a rigorous work of theology (like 2001’s Powers, Weakness and the Tabernacling of God), and although the book had an eye toward liturgy, it did not offer either its own liturgy or commentary on another liturgy. Furthermore, although this volume always has the ethics of the church in mind, it is not primarily on ethics/praxis either (like e.g., KEEPING THE SABBATH WHOLLY or IS IT A LOST CAUSE? HAVING THE HEART OF GOD FOR THE CHURCH’S CHILDREN). Personally, I’d like to have seen the chapters fleshed out into a more robust theological work, but as it is, In the Beginning, God offers an excellent format for conversations in a Sunday School class or Bible Study group and the holistic way in which it treats worship, ethics and culture, if taken with serious reflection, will undoubtedly open the doors for the Spirit’s transformation of our churches.
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
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
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