The Divine Summit: A Love Story, by Dr. Steven Panzer
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/WestBow Press. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
As is sometimes the case, this book was greatly harmed by inappropriate genre expectations . Labeled as a Spiritual Growth & Christian Thought book, this is in fact a lengthy romance novel with dodgy spiritual content that appears to be at least semi-autobiographical. So, how is one to judge a book that goes on for hundreds of pages and seeks to present the author’s stand-in as being uniquely favored by God with a great purpose in his professional life as a writer and in his romantic life despite being an adulterous novice whose life is falling apart at the beginning of the novel? If one judges it on its spiritual content and lack of biblical worldview, the review is likely to be pretty savage. If one views it as a romance novel, it has a certain appeal despite its messiness. If one views it as a semi-autobiographical memoir, one has a great deal of sympathy for or even empathy for the author’s plight, but it is still difficult reading, all the more difficult for being between 500 and 1000 pages long.
As might be expected for a novel that goes on and on and on, there are some tedious stretches and the story itself is not quite epic enough to support its length. This is certainly no tale as compelling as Middlemarch or War & Peace, that’s for sure. To summarize the plot without giving away too many spoilers, the novel examines a man who is given divine insight into his soulmate but who manages to screw up a large portion of his life due to his ineptitude at living: losing a professorship and giving up a private practice in counseling because of his concerns about the lack of efficacy in psychiatry, watching his marriage crumble while he engages in an affair with his “soulmate,” who begins the novel engaged to marry, and who eventually marries, has a miscarriage, and then leaves her husband. There is a lot of betrayal of various vows and confidences, and the protagonist ends up becoming a self-published author and the leader of a leadership circle long before he is really qualified to do so. The woman as well has an interesting story, unfortunately, important characters drop out for long periods of time because there is so much tedious exposition and back story in the story that has the author telling rather than showing. This is the sort of novel that needs more showing and less telling.
The biggest issue with this novel as a representation of Christian Thought is the way that the author deals with the issue of vows and covenants. Clearly this author, for all of his desires to represent himself as Christian, is not aware of the way that God views divorce. Here, both before and after his “conversion,” he views divorce with someone who is imperfect and flawed as being brave rather than something that God hates. Besides that, which rings through in nearly every relationship in the novel, there is a strong emphasis on mystical experiences not being checked according to scripture. Given the author’s fondness for casual mysticism as well as his apparent lack of knowledge of the Bible, this book works best if viewed as a love novel that just happens to be about people who consider themselves to be Christians, rather than a book that seeks to teach Christian ways. Again, this is why genre is important, in that it sets up expectations of what kind of book one is getting. Considering this is an overly lengthy novel that is counter to the contemporary trend in Christian romances , it is easy to see why this book is self-published, and why it would struggle to find adaptation as a Christian novel, but the writer wrote what he wrote, likely because it reflects the messiness of his life, of which it can be said that at least it is an honest portrayal.
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