Last fall I received a number of email requests to review books by Christian speakers/authors. Those requests were parallel to me starting my full time graduate coursework. I was still working 3/4 time at Holyrood. So there just wasn't time to fulfill the promise I'd made to review the books. It's nearly a year later for some of the requests, but I'm finally getting around to it.
Tim King and Frank Martin’s Furious Pursuit: Why God Will Never Let You Go was not the first book I received, but it turned out to be the one I took with me on Christmas vacation. I read it in nightly chapter installments, abandoning it again when school started and then finishing it this last week over a cigar and coffee.
If you’ve read anything by John Eldredge, especially Epic: The Story God is Telling and the Role That is Yours To Play or The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God (why can’t these books just have one title?), you have no need of reading Furious Pursuit. If you haven’t read either of those books and are a victim of excessive worm theology (I suck, God hates me, I’m a sinner, God will incinerate my sorry ass at His earliest convenience), then Furious Pursuit might not be a bad read for you.
That’s the best thing I can say about this book. You might call it my pastoral evaluation. If I’d heard the text of Furious Pursuit preached as a sermon, I’d applaud it for speaking to people who need to hear that God really loves them, and wants to know them. But it’s not a book that changed my world, or strengthened my relationship with God. That could just be where I’m at, but it could also be that it’s poorly written.
It is plagued by vague language; “You don’t have to pursue God, you just have to awaken to his voice” (7), which begs the question, “How do I do that?” The book never really addresses that; it explains what God might be saying through Biblical passages and personal anecdotes, but a practical approach to awakening to God’s voice was sadly lacking. The statement is the thesis of the book though, and the second chapter has the bold statement that God can’t resist you. Maybe I’m too much a student of C.S. Lewis, but in the Four Loves, Lewis suggests that we’re the ones who operate out of a need-oriented love, not God. This is ironic, because King and Martin claim that “no relationship built on need can survive” (21), but if God can’t resist me, there’s an implication that he needs me. I don’t think God needs me. He might want to know me, but to say that he needs me, that he’s irresistibly drawn to me? I beg to differ. This model of love is one I’m contrary to anyhow. It’s the “love is a spell” which entrances us and draws us inexorably toward the object of our enchantment. God chooses to love us, and vice versa. At the very least I’d say we might be drawn irresistibly toward God. And despite the claim that need-based relationships are doomed, the book later states that in the moment we find God, we “have all [we] need” (112). These sorts of inner contradictions plague the book, and I think on of the reasons for this is in the authors’ choice to focus exclusively on one aspect of God and then postulate this is who God really is.
Furious Pursuit claims that God is a lover. He is a furious and aggressive lover, which has warrior implications, but he’s mostly a lover. Not primarily judge, king, or creator, but lover. Statements like “All you have to do is read the Old Testament in context to see that the God of the Bible is a God not of wrath but of mercy and forgiveness and restoration. God’s Story is a Love Story. Nothing else” (93). I’m not a fundamentalist hoping God is going to fry all the heathen into a crisp, but to say that the story of God is just a love story is to strip the canon of both Old and New Testaments of many other elements. God’s story could be said to be a story of Creation. Of violent redemption (though I know it’s not in vogue to say that—my reply to the detractors of the myth of redemptive violence is that, just because we can’t do something perfectly doesn’t mean God can’t—we love imperfectly, but do not cease trying to do so). Of mystic encounter. Perspective determines how we read the story, or as a good friend likes to say, how the story reads us.
King and Martin are obviously family men. They’re attracted to God as a lover, I suspect, because that’s where they’re at in life. Eldredge sees God as a lover and a warrior. Julia Cameron is big on God as creator. It was interesting to me that Mark Buchanan, author of the Holy Wild wrote one of the jacket quotes, since as I understand, his book does what I have accused Furious Pursuit of failing in—it works with both the warrior and the lover aspects of God.
The book further suffers in its anecdotes (and their delivery; each time an anecdote begins, it will say something like “there was this time I (Frank)…etc., etc.” For the sake of flow, each anecdote could have had it’s header prefaced by the author who was relating it.), which vacillate between stories worthy of Chicken Soup for the Soul and one involving a man on his deathbed told with the phrase “I realized God had given me a ringside seat to one of the great eternal battles between fear and love, and that day fear was kicking love’s butt” (31, italics mine). Kicking love’s butt? Phrases like that belong in 80’s Christian pop music written by virile looking Latino men. In a book like this, they stick out worse than a sore thumb.
That’s really the problem with this book. The writing is uneven. One moment profound, the next problematic. Even though I disliked most of the book, the chapters “Living in the Eternal Moment” and “The Token: A Ring of Thorns” were very strong. And I did make points in the margin where I said “good point”, but I make those marks on my students’ papers as well. And when they’re poorly written, they still don’t get an A. And in the final evaluation, Furious Pursuit is a poorly written series of good sermons. I’d like to see Tim King speak. Maybe he makes up for what Frank Martin’s co-writing skills couldn’t even cover. Then again, considering that Martin wrote a 365-day devotional book based on the best-selling Left Behind series of novels, maybe that isn’t saying much.