This is such a hard book to rate.
The first half was an incredible overview of history. It took me emotionally through the 50s as a setup for the 60s and 70s, so that I could experience what it was like as if I had been there, reading almost like a narrative version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” I’d never really been intrigued by my parents’ era before in the same way I was as I listened, and later I went and asked my mom what it was like when this or that happened, where she was, and what she remembered.
All of this was a cultural setup for the experience Greg had as a young man in the early days of the Jesus Revolution, when hippies seeking something different than what their parents had experienced and pursuing it in sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll found that all those things were hollow. Because these were real seekers, I had the impression that was the actual setup for the hunger for God. As he described what these communal churches were like, it took me back to my college days when I was in Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru)–the good parts of it, anyway–even down to the place where we once had Bible studies in what we called “The Underground,” complete with bad 70s couches and green shag carpeting. He really captured the feel of getting swept up in the emotion of the era, even though he was rather explicitly against emotionality for its own sake. And I agree… those who seek God only for the emotional high are likely to be like the shallow or rocky soil of Jesus’ parable (and he quotes that parable in the book).
What I disliked about the book isn’t really something I can fault him for, it just didn’t hit me right. The author never came out against Pentacostalism, but everything he said about it was implicitly negative. I can see why, at least as seen through his experiences: Lonnie Frisbee was the main example he had before him, and he was clearly out of balance, which led him to very unwise choices. It just seems to me that in general, humans have a tendency to swing to one extreme or the other. If signs and wonders can be abused (and of course they can — look at the Corinthians), then the reaction is to completely shun them. If believing God for prosperity and health can be taken to an unhealthy extreme, better to embrace tragedy and pain, believing those are His only true and reliable means of refining His people.
In nearly every subject, I think, it’s human nature to seek extremes (ironically for emotional reasons, as a backlash against a distasteful opposite), but wisdom and truth is usually found in the nuance of balance between the two. And I could tell the author was attempting to strike this balance at the end, when he made a statement about how no one denomination or ‘stream’ in the body of Christ has it all right. I give him credit for this… but the substance of what he said didn’t convince me that he really believes it.
My rating: ***
Sexual content: none
Political content: historical only