Monday, October 31, 2011


Book Review of " CLOSE ENOUGH TO HEAR GOD BREATHE: The Great Story of Divine Intimacy"
By: Greg Paul
Thomas Nelson
Published  2011
Price: $15.99 US

In "Close Enough to Hear God Breathe", we are told that we will "encounter a rich message that recounts the story of a God who has been inviting all of humanity, and each individual, into his tender embrace since time began". "The message that I want people to hear is this," the author states, "I think it's very clear that the whole message of scripture, and the whole message of the human life, is that God is saying to you, 'You are my child. I love you and I'm pleased with you'." It is a book that he sees dealing with "love, faith and belonging"

The author, Greg Paul describes the book as "general theology couched in stories". It is a collection of family stories including ones about Paul's four grown children, his family and ministry at the Sanctuary street mission and stories from scripture. Paul, certainly brings his captivating experience into the writing of this book. He describes Sanctuary as "a ministry where the wealthy and poor share their experiences and resources daily and care for the most excluded people in the city, including addicts, prostitutes, the homeless, and gay, lesbian, and transgendered people".

His experience with difficult circumstances has certainly affected his writing style. Paul says that the world we live in conditions us against believing that we are unequivocally loved by God—or in fact that we could be unconditionally loved by anyone. "They are very strident voices and we hear them all around us: in our work places, in our families, on television. Voices who seek to define us for their own benefit. Equivocal voices who tell us 'You're good if you do this. You're bad if you do something else.' Driven by someone else's profit motive, a thirst for power, neediness. We get conditioned to think God will only love us if we do what he requires.". Unfortunately this "unconditional love" does not bode well with the necessity of repentance. His statement that "my Father does see me as very good" (p. 39) here and elsewhere do not really wrestle with our bondage to sin and need of redemption. We are "very good" in terms of being in Christ, but this must be explicitly stated, else we are left with a very erroneous misunderstanding.

Further on this: "The voices that my people have heard—the people who are part of my core community—are voices who say 'You were beaten or raped because you're bad, and that's all you deserve.' The last thing they need to hear is that they are a dirty, rotten sinner on their way to hell. Because whether or not they understand that theologically, they already feel it in their bones. "What they need to hear is the same thing you or I need to hear. That God says, 'You are my child, and I love you, and I delight in you.' "If people begin to hear that, it's an incredibly healing word to them. It's the only healing word.". Yet, the message of the cross is that we all deserve God's wrath. But the grace of God is extended for those who believe. I would disagree that people already "feel it in their bones" that they are sinners. Although some of the most difficult situations that Paul deals with most likely have a very desperate outlook, if you were to ask most people, they would respond that they believe they are basically good.

He has an interesting approach to scripture: "The idea that reading scripture can be an intimate experience is something that's been nagging away at me for a long time," he says. "I've become more and more convinced that the whole gig—whether you're leading a church, or raising a family, or dealing with street level people—the whole thing is about intimacy with Jesus". Unfortunately this "intimacy" does not seem to extend to too much biblical interaction.

The promise is that "the reader learns to hear the voice of God speaking in the ordinary events and relationships of life, as well as in the broad, deep current of Scripture". If this were the case it would have been a captivating read, but Scripture is not presented forthrightly. The author claims that "reading the Bible ought to be like putting ones head on Gods chest. Close Enough to Hear God Breathe will help readers do just that. And when they do, they'll hear him whisper, You're my child, my love, my pleasure". Yet, the reader is left to read scripture on their own time for "Close Enough to Hear God Breathe" only indirectly refers to Scripture. The best you might get is which chapter of a book a reference is from. When Biblical characters are referred to, how they exactly "heard from God" is not really explored.

For the format of the book, don't expect much explanation from the chapter titles in the Table of Contents, for they are vague and do a poor job of linking with the overall theme. Chapter six, is as good as any for showing the overall format. Entitled “Hammer and Nails”, Paul describes a time where he was renovating his house and his son, who was five-years-old, wanted to help.  Paul gave his son a hammer suitable for a child and let him pound nails into boards, while Paul himself worked on the renovation.  Paul’s son was so interested and so intent on his “work”, and while they weren’t exactly productive, it was such a pleasure for Paul to share these things with his son.  Paul goes on in the chapter to parallel this story to God letting us help Him with his work, and how we are like children compared to how God would do things.  

As toughing as this story is, his "theological" discussion around this story was so misrepresentative, I am quite surprised that the publisher let it go. Paul completely misstates what Reformed theology is. He states that Calvin started "his famous TULIP theological system with the letter T- T for total depravity...I just think his theological system starts too late, essentially ignoring the foundational value of the creation story" (p.55). A first year theology or history student would tell you that the TULIP was an abbreviation in response to Arminian challenges. Reformed theology starts the story with the Glory of God and His purposes in election, which is well before creation. Paul  seems completely ignorant of Reformed theology and this misrepresentation should not have been allowed to pass by the publisher.

Yet, there are occasional insightful treatments, like his treatment of redemption. He distinguishes how someone "deems" something to have a judgment on his and to then "redeem" to render a new judgement (p.104). He ties entomological treatment to popular media, and situations in Job, and Galatians. What I found fascinating, was his previous critique of Calvin in having a flawed system yet Paul completely misses the great Romans 8 chain of salvation.

The book includes a readers guide but it doesn’t make much reference to Scripture so don’t expect to find a full blown Bible study guide.  I wish this book had been more practical and hands on in it’s approach for hearing from God. This is not a book I would recommend if you’re looking for Biblical instruction on intimacy with God. The readers guide would have had a better use as application points set in or at the end of each chapter. The many theological flaws and lack of any real Biblical treatment will misdirect someone to actually be "Close Enough to Hear God Breathe". Avoid this book at all costs.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group

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