Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings

From Goodreads:
At the age of 39, Christian theologian Todd Billings was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable cancer. In the wake of that diagnosis, he began grappling with the hard theological questions we face in the midst of crisis: Why me? Why now? Where is God in all of this? This eloquently written book shares Billings's journey, struggle, and reflections on providence, lament, and life in Christ in light of his illness, moving beyond pat answers toward hope in God's promises. Theologically robust yet eminently practical, it engages the open questions, areas of mystery, and times of disorientation in the Christian life. Billings offers concrete examples through autobiography, cultural commentary, and stories from others, showing how our human stories of joy and grief can be incorporated into the larger biblical story of God's saving work in Christ.
Writing
Billings is such a talented writer - I'm not sure why this is the first I'm hearing of him, since I pay fairly close attention to what's being published in Christian non-fiction.  He does seem to write more academically-geared titles, which may be the reason.  This book is, in my opinion, the perfect blend of academic theology and personal insight.  Billings uses his personal struggles to illustrate his theological understanding of the Psalms and Lament.  This isn't just a surface look at lamentation though, this is deeply considered and obviously written by someone who is skilled both as a writer and as a theologian.

Entertainment Value
While it wasn't always an easy read, I feel like this answered some of my major questions about how Christians should face times of lamentation.  He talks about why praying for immediate healing is fine, but not always helpful to the person who is in the midst of suffering and what is more helpful in terms of prayer.  He also does a great job of explaining how "instant" healing is an illusion - even if Billings were miraculously healed, he would still be facing a lifetime of invasive tests for a reappearance of his cancer and he would have also still have missed valuable time and experiences with his family as well as physical suffering.  His take on life in a fallen world and the legitimacy of grieving and anger in the face of the suffering that brings made a huge impact on me.

Overall
Obviously, this is a book for the Christian reader.  It's beautifully written and well-researched and studied, but it's appeal will necessarily be limited to those who want to read about Christianity and the Bible.  It's also a lot more academic and deep than the majority of popular Christian non-fiction. It's exactly what I look for in Christian non-fiction, but it takes more concentration to read and grasp it.  I think the reward is totally worth the effort here.  I've already recommended it to several friends and my church group is considering using it for a future study.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

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