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Jen Pollock Michel – A Habit Called Faith [Feature Review]

A Habit Called FaithTake and Eat: Feasting on the Living Word

A Review of

A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus
Jen Pollock Michel

Paperback: Baker Books, 2021
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Reviewed by Tammy Perlmutter

While Eugene Peterson argues that “The Holy Scriptures give witness to a living voice sounding variously as Father, Son, and Spirit” [1], our pursuit of that voice and the faith it feeds can falter. In these dry spells of spiritual lethargy, daily reading often becomes a Herculean display of the self-discipline we sadly lack. Discouragement demotes our Bibles to coffee table dust collectors, or worse yet—iPhone props. Still others among us, though curious, keep Scripture confined to the cobwebbed corner of their bookshelves and hearts. For them, a rendezvous with this “living voice” promises an unprecedented and perhaps dangerous collision with a living and breathing faith. And yet, they’re straining to hear.

Jen Pollock Michel’s new book, A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus extends an unprecedented invitation to both of these voice-seekers in a high-stakes, low-risk experience that bridges the Hebrew Scriptures of Deuteronomy with the Gospel of John. To accept the invitation is to also accept Pollock Michel’s challenge to conjoin the spiritual practice of Bible reading with that of faith. Indeed, Pollock Michel asserts, “faith may have as much to do with habits as epiphanies.” 

Pollock Michel credits a quote from Blaise Pascal, who “commended habit as a means of faith formation,” sparking her idea to write the book. He believed that people wrestling with doubt should form new habits as a way of engaging with God from a more emotional, receptive place. She, like Eugene Peterson, affirms that the act of reading Scripture can be “involving us personally as participants.”

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis states, “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” Lewis suggests that “practicing” we love someone can be a means of learning to love someone. This could smack of “fake it till you make it,” if it wasn’t an actual command. Like Pascal and Lewis, Pollock Michel is calling us to adopt new habits of behavior that help us live into obedience and faith.

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Obedience can be a trigger word that conjures up historic patriarchy and the subjugation of women. But at its root, to obey means to listen. We are called to be listeners of the Word, and, in this case, listening equals loving. Pollock Michel writes, “The Bible isn’t primarily about rules; it’s about redemption. . . . God’s rescue is not primarily about forbiddance but abundance, not primarily about prohibition but invitation.”

Pollock Michel defies a view of the Bible distilled into a book of heroes we must emulate,

“When we turn the pages of the Bible, we don’t glimpse saintly and self-sacrificing people, punctilious in their rule following . . . They are full of foibles, beset by fear, victim to the inescapable, unrelenting frailty that is humanness. They can’t keep sight of God. Israel is no exemplar in the life of faith, she is as ruined as we feel ourselves to be.”

Pollock Michel challenges readers of A Habit Called Faith to 40 days of reading, parceled into eight sections. Spearheading each are the narratives of nine individuals’ journeys to faith in Jesus, a reminder of how essential the Word is not only to our salvation but also to our sustenance. She begins each chapter with a personal anecdote from her days as a student, a young mother, a grieving daughter, as well as her present-day life as a writer.

Each daily reading is based on a chapter or verse in Scripture. They begin in Deuteronomy (“These are the words”) then switch to the Gospel of John (He is the Word). Insightful reflection questions are provided at the end of the chapter and there are group discussion questions at the back of the book. Pollock Michel encourages the reader to go through the book with a friend or group to have some accountability in reading. It could work for individual devotions, a Bible study, or a small group/one-on-one with believers or seekers.

Pollock Michel’s love for the Word and tenacious belief in its transformative power is evident in her writing. She deftly draws on the beating heart of the passages, bringing deep insight and reverence to concepts largely overlooked by most, “When a book like Deuteronomy leaves us suspended, fumbling in the fog of our own dim understanding, wondering how God will bless his accursed people, John’s proclamation of Jesus Christ arrives like a radiant dawn.”

I would never have thought to explore the similarities between Deuteronomy and John. The stories in the former help establish an understanding of covenant, obedience, and Moses’ legacy. They recount Israel’s many mistakes and “dramatic failures of faith” as they learned how to be a set-apart people. Reading through Deuteronomy isn’t the most exciting experience, but Pollock Michel introduces us to unexpected discoveries of Christ in the Old Testament through these painful, regrettable stories of Israel’s coming of age.

“The God of Deuteronomy is the God of the wilderness—and the God of the lush valleys; the God of manna—and the God of meat; the God of thirst—and the God who brings water from the rock.”

“As John explains, when Moses spoke, out of his mouth tumbled the very words of Jesus. Deuteronomy, then, is not just a collection of Moses’s sermons—but also of Jesus’. . . The blessings of obedience in Deuteronomy are the blessings of the Obedient One in John.”

Her writing is profound, engaging, and artful while still being vulnerable and relatable.  Pollock Michel is that faithful friend who encourages us to be more and seek more but also gives us tools and a map to show us where to go. She is a trustworthy guide in unfamiliar terrain.

Peterson goes on to write, “This text is not words to be studied in the quiet preserves of a library, but a voice to be believed and loved and adored in the workplace and playground, on the streets and in the kitchen. Receptivity is required.”

A Habit Called Faith is an invitation to receive, a call to abide: to lay aside some of our daily franticness and let the words of Jesus take root in us. It’s not meant to be an assignment for cataloging more ideas about God, but an experience with the living Word.

—–
[1] Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading

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Tammy Perlmutter

Tammy Perlmutter is founder and curator of The Mudroom (mudroomblog.com), a collaborative blog encouraging women to speak truth, love hard, and enter in with each other, and co-founder of Deeply Rooted, an annual worship and creativity gathering for women. Tammy is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and lives in Chicago.


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