Transcending Mysteries: Who Is God, And What Does He Want From Us, by Andrew Greer & Ginny Owens
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
In order to properly understand this book, one must understand its context. It is the fourth book in a new series from this publisher that seeks to discuss taboo or ignored areas of Christian thought and practice. So far, the books I have read in this series have included a discussion on how to show love to sinners and outcasts , how to deal with the natural reluctance to go where God leads , and the divided nature of our head and heart . This book looks at the relevance of Old Testament stories to Protestants under New Testament grace. In reading this book, it was shocking to me that the authors felt it necessary at seemingly every turn to disclaim any interest in legalism to make use of some basic stories of the Hebrew scriptures in order to demonstrate God’s grace to ancient Israel as a sign of God’s grace in general throughout the entire Bible. This is no slam to the authors, but rather, it suggests the immense intellectual and spiritual poverty of mainstream Christianity if two thirds of the scripture are considered off limits for fear of being tainted with legalism, at extreme hazard.
Those who are concerned about legalism have little to fear from this book. The coauthors write with a passionate and vulnerable honesty, admit their own struggles with faith, their difficulties with loneliness , and their struggle to see the relevance of the Old Testament. This is a deeply touching book, and it captures the immense feeling of several excellent biblical stories, including that of Hezekiah during the siege by Assyria and his death scare, as well as that of Hannah and Josiah, among others. What this book discusses, namely the struggle to see the consistency of God’s gracious love for others, and His desire that mankind love Him and each other, in light of popular Marcionite libels of the nature of God’s character in the Hebrew scriptures, is of considerable interest to believers, who should be encouraged by this book to take the entire Bible more seriously, even if it requires a great deal of struggle to understand the complexity of God’s mercy and judgment with regards to Israel and to other peoples (like the Canaanites).
That said, this book is really only a surface introduction to some of the more obviously accessible aspects of the Old Testament for those who come from a Protestant perspective that is heavy on grace and not so heavy on obedience to what God actually commands. There are whole huge areas of the relevance of the OT scriptures for Christians that are ignored, like most of the actual content of the law, aside from some cherry picked comments about love and grace taken out of their whole context, or the importance of messianic prophecy, or the understanding of God revealed in such places as Psalm 110 or Proverbs 30. Again, this is not to say that this is a bad book–it is a quite excellent one, even if I would wish for fewer importance placed on not-always-inspired Christian Contemporary song lyrics and more in-depth biblical discussion or stories, both of which this book does well. Yet the fact that a book that deals in such a narrow aspect of the Old Testament, something that ought to be basic and fundamental from childhood, suggests some intense biblical illiteracy among those who profess to be Christians, especially since the Gospels and Epistles and Revelation cannot be understood on even a basic level without a firm understanding of the Hebrew context upon which they stand. If this book encourages any desire on the part of its readers to look at the Hebrew scriptures with anything approaching curiosity and respect, it will have done a fine job, even if it does not look at all of the important aspects of the Old Testament that are of vital importance for genuine followers of Christ.
 Most movingly expressed, perhaps, by Ginny Owens here on page 22, as follows: “My longing is more of a subtle nudge that shows up during daily activities. I wish that I weren’t the only single girl at the dinner table. I wish for a co-conspirator when planning, hosting, and cleaning up after my dinner parties. I long for someone to take care of, to take long autumn walks with, to laugh with, to solve the problems of the world wit, and to grow old with. Because I’ve experienced a broken home, I dream of being part of a healthy, whole relationship, and I hope against hope I have the chance.”