A Review of Larry Shallenberger’s Divine Intention

I ought to start by saying that I’m not inclined to read spirituality books any newer than Saint John of the Cross, but Larry, whom I like a great deal, asked me to give Divine Intention a read, so I did.

At first I thought the mixed genres were tedious. Each section begins with a quotation from Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation of the book of Acts. No problems so far. Then each section will include an episode from the adventures of Jonah, Alice, and Ron, Bible College Alumni, and then a few pages of Larry’s devotional prose. At the end of each chapter Larry has included a handful of questions to discuss. In twenty pages, that’s a lot of jumping about, but by the end of the book, the rhythm has sunk in, and the scheme makes sense.

With regards to the content of the chapters, Larry takes on the sorts of questions that come up not in the dormitories of Christian colleges but in the conversations of veteran preachers and educated professionals who remain Christian beyond the years when the structure of life lends itself to devotion. He writes of culture wars and church splits, self-evaluation and self-fulfillment. He speaks of theological questions, but he stays away from Eleatic conundra in favor of ethical reflection.

Larry’s book does much to recommend itself. It stays away from bullet-point moralizing, cliches that pretend piety but do no work for the pious, and drudgery over Christian ministerial jargon. Ron and Alice and Jonah, though representing very particular kinds of people, still manage to ask questions that people want to ask. And the questions at the end of each chapter make handy points for reflection. The section that stuck to my ribs was the one in which the Alumni Power Trio (you’ll have names for them too, by the end of the book) discuss the reality of evil and the doctrine of divine omnipotence. That Larry gave three different views of those difficult questions honest and compelling voices speaks volumes for his sensitivity as a pastor and his discipline as a writer.

My only significant complaint is that Larry, the consummate diplomat, tends to phrase his actual devotional passages in terms that try to be everything to everybody and thus beg questions about those bits of life that not everybody agrees on. Some might not mind at all that Larry calls Christians to present Jesus, not a culture war, to the folks around us. I wonder whether his interpretations of what Jesus means aren’t themselves advances and withdrawals in that war. If you, O Reader, want a book that keeps out of squabbles, this book will be great for that. If you, like me, think that the chips are always on the table, Larry’s style of presenting the big questions might be a bit off-putting.

On the other hand, were I reading this book with other people, I’d be able to put those questions to the group, and for that reason alone, Larry’s book deserves good groups to read it. If your Christian book circle has not yet selected its next book, I choose for you: Divine Intention will give occasion for all kinds of good talking.

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