Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. A copy of If Eve Only Knew was provided for review by the publisher.Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura
Published by IVP Books on May 1, 2016
Pages: 263 (Hardcover)
Goodreads | Amazon
Shusaku Endo's novel Silence, first published in 1966, endures as one of the greatest works of twentieth-century Japanese literature. Its narrative of the persecution of Christians in seventeenth-century Japan raises uncomfortable questions about God and the ambiguity of faith in the midst of suffering and hostility. Endo's Silence took internationally renowned visual artist Makoto Fujimura on a pilgrimage of grappling with the nature of art, the significance of pain and his own cultural heritage. His artistic faith journey overlaps with Endo's as he uncovers deep layers of meaning in Japanese history and literature, expressed in art both past and present. He finds connections to how faith is lived in contemporary contexts of trauma and glimpses of how the gospel is conveyed in Christ-hidden cultures. In this world of pain and suffering, God often seems silent. Fujimura's reflections show that light is yet present in darkness, and that silence speaks with hidden beauty and truth.
Silence and Beauty is visual artist Makoto Fujimura’s reflection on Shūsaku Endō’s 20th century classic, Silence, which I recently reviewed here. I’m so glad I had a chance to read this book. It profoundly enhanced my understanding of Silence and my thoughts on faith, doubt, and suffering in general. Rather than write a comprehensive review of Silence and Beauty, which covers a lot of ground, I want to leave you with a sampling of my favorite quotes and strongly encourage you to read it if you’re familiar with Endo’s work.
Overdependence on rationality can lead to reductionism, simple decision-based faith, rather than embracing mystery and grace with the expectation of exploring and experiencing them throughout one’s life.
Faith and levity are both rational and intuitive, and therefore require deeper reflection.
The interpretation of knowledge may have many paths. This type of flexibility is different from anything-goes ecumenism; it is a way of sharing a journey that faces human suffering head-on with multiple interpretive lenses.
Doubt is not the opposite of faith but only an honest admission of our true condition, wrestling against the fallen world in which God seems to be silent. Doubt and secrets, to Endo, reveal a God who works within the dark crevices of our experiences, who is constantly hataraku Kami (active and moving God).
To try to diagnose an individual’s deep suffering and give advice, even if such advice may be theologically or sociologically sound, is in itself an attempt to explain away the suffering as unnecessary.
Japanese beauty is the ideal spouse to Western rationalism.
If Eve Only Knew by Kendra Weddle Irons, Melanie Springer Mock
Published by Chalice Press on July 28, 2015
Pages: 224 (Paperback)
Goodreads | Amazon
"She is a godly woman." "True love waits." Are these phrases and many others about gender truly based in scripture, or based on dusty, outdated stereotypes? And how do these perceptions repress people, especially women, from fully expressing their faith?
If Eve Only Knew offers a fresh perspective on gender and the Bible, destroying trumped-up, captive-creating messages with the freeing proclamation grounded in Jesus' ministry and found everywhere in scripture: that we are all created in God's image, and by relying on our gifts and skills–rather than on gender-designed roles–we become all God means for us to be.
I requested a copy of If Eve Only Knew after reading an excellent Christianity Today article by co-author Melanie Springer Mock about North Carolina’s new “Bathroom Law.” She wrote about how, as a heterosexual cis-gendered young woman, she was frequently kicked out of women’s bathrooms because of her masculine appearance. I was deeply moved by her experiences.
The book points out the sexism built into Evangelical culture today and outlines the authors’ vision of feminist theology. There are some great things about this book and some major problems.
Starting with the good, Irons and Mock do an exceptional job of communicating the damaging effect certain elements of Evangelical culture have on women and especially pubescent girls. The authors put purity culture, the Christian masculinity movement, the common [mis]interpretation of Proverbs 31, and other constructs under the microscope to great effect. They don’t spare the rest of contemporary culture either, for example, pointing out how both the church and broader culture have contributed to the idea that women’s periods are “a dirty subject in need of cleaning up.”
[bctt tweet=”3 #Christian #Book Reviews: Suffering, Feminism, + the Science/Faith Debate | @parchmentgirl37″ via=”no”]
Unfortunately, this exceptionally calibrated deconstruction is intermingled with a highly problematic construct of feminist theology–a theology that completely mangles the gospel message. I think this excerpt on the Genesis creation story pretty much sums it up:
Eating the fruit of the forbidden tree represents moving beyond an idyllic existence into the true reality of life, one that comes with an awareness of good and bad. This shift occurs for all of us. We migrate from a state of innocence into a state of maturity marked by realizations that nothing is truly good or evil, but that all of us, indeed all of life, are a comingling of both.
Eve should never be used as a scapegoat for humankind’s woes, as is popular in certain fundamentalist circles, but neither does she belong on the pedestal where Irons and Mock position her as the harbinger of human enlightenment. It’s a gross distortion of the text. Also, Placing women on a pedestal is just as dehumanizing as blaming them for the world’s problems. And this position completely dismisses out of hand the notion of human depravity and the need for salvation. It basically renders Jesus, the very center of Christianity, unnecessary.
If you can ignore the atrocious theology interspersed throughout this book, there is much to be gained from the chapters that explore how sexism is woven into the fabric of American Evangelicalism.
Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller
Narrator: Lloyd James
Published by Penguin Random House Audio on October 1, 2013
Length: 13 hr. 10 min. (Audiobook)
Goodreads | Amazon
The question of why God would allow pain and suffering in the world has vexed believers and nonbelievers for millennia. Timothy Keller, whose books have sold millions of copies to both religious and secular readers, takes on this enduring issue and shows that there is meaning and reason behind our pain and suffering, making a forceful and ground-breaking case that this essential part of the human experience can be overcome only by understanding our relationship with God. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering uses biblical wisdom and personal stories of overcoming adversity to bring a much-needed, fresh viewpoint to this important issue.
As Keller points out, books on suffering tend to approach the topic from one angle: a disinterested philosophical or anthropological angle, a personal angle, or a practical angle that seeks to help people actively cope with suffering. Rarely does a book explore all three of these themes. Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering does just that. As such, it is the most comprehensive book on suffering I have ever read.
This is the second Keller book I’ve read (after The Prodigal God) and I continue to be impressed by his depth of thought, and remarkable gifts for word craft and clear communication. I listened to the audiobook version. Lloyd James is a perfect fit for narrator. I highly recommend it.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think?