Full disclosure: I have met Matthew several times, I respect him as a pastor, and he gave me a free early copy of his newest book, Let God be God, which comes out this week. I am glad he did. Glad because I like him and I like free stuff. Also, glad because while this book is certainly worth reading (as I will discuss below) I think I have some helpful advice about how it ought to be read.
Brough’s main contention appears to be that many of us, Christians included, have forgotten how to trust God. “Instead, we keep ourselves safely in control even of our faith-life, careful to never let God in. We turn a relationship into a religion [wow there’s a lot to unpack there!], and our practices become nothing more than systems, processes, and rules: the very things that Jesus, and then later the Apostle Paul, railed against as they spoke of God’s amazing grace.” It’s a diagnosis I largely tend to agree with. I blame this exact issue of a relation becoming a religion for the failure of so many of us to read scripture daily.
It’s not all our fault though. Brough points out, “We have been taught to be self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-sustaining.” Which is true. It means that we are inclined to trust ourselves and our “know-how” more than God. I have seen this countless times in churches and I think Matthew, who offers this gem, “trust is the bedrock of bold prayer,” would be on board with a general call for a renewal of prayer at every level of our churches.
Brough wastes few words, the chapters, if they can even be called that, are really really short. They lack illustrations which I find refreshing as what I remember from the book are his ideas rather than stories whose contexts (the point they were supposed to help me understand) I have forgotten. The short chapters make it a fast read, Matthew, I guess, knows that his readers are busy and he is loath to waste our time.
Matthew strikes me as asking many of the questions I hear people pondering, like the relationship of science and religion (to which he offers a fresh and helpful approach). He also lets us in on his own personal journey of faith. “I really wish this verse said “let your sarcasm be known to everyone [rather than gentleness]. I would be doing well.” It’s this sort of personal touch that helps make the book so readable. One feels one gets to know Matthew better over the course of the book. It makes one feel in the hands of a capable writer, a writer whose future work we can look forward to as a continuation of an interesting conversation. That might be about the highest praise I could give.
In some ways his desire to look into the question of false gods, idols, and anything we place where God ought to be, has already been written. Brough refers to Tim Keller’s masterful book on the subject Counterfeit gods. Keller’s, though, is a highly academic and theological consideration of the question, and full of interesting illustrative stories.
Here is what make Brough’s book so interesting, and why it may be good for you that I read it first: rather than clear theology and illustrations Brough offers us what appear to be polished daily journals. Journals in which he asks the actual questions he ponders during his daily devotions and the answers he sorts out through prayer and contemplation (he doesn’t say this is how the book came to be, at least not in the book). Keller’s book is best read straight through or nearly so. Brough’s is probably best read in small daily doses, almost as a devotional. I think most people would get a great deal out of reading it that way. Many may even learn how to fire up their daily devotions, returning them to a sort of relational daily dialogue rather than a box on a checklist of daily activities.
Try it and let me know how it goes.