God Enters Stage Left by Tim Day
Much like my last reviewed book, The Drama of Scripture, Tim Day’s God Enters Stage Left seeks to tell the overarching story of Scripture to help us solve the common problem of “missing the forest for the trees” in how we approach our sacred text. It is a very important goal and I am glad more are taking up this challenge. The big difference between The Drama of Scripture and God Enters Stage Left creates both a strength and a weakness for the latter. That difference: a preoccupation with showing the irreligious nature of Scripture.
Before getting any further, the important caveat whenever we talk about the irreligious nature of Scripture in general or Jesus in particular is how we define “religious.” Tim, like co-minister Bruxy Cavey, uses the term to mean the barriers put between us and God, typically in the forms of rules, rituals, and routines, to which I would add doctrines (sorry it doesn’t start with an r). He is not using it to mean anything overtly spiritual nor is he using it to mean being a part of a community doing those things. Rather, it is used simply to mean that those things are not necessary for us to be in relationship with God.
This book, then, is great for those who are tired of “religion” (above definition) but still want to know about the story of Scripture. Many are still drawn to Jesus despite bad experiences with the Christian religion. Others have no personal interest but study the Bible in an academic way looking for this theme. Still others may just be trying to understand why their friends or family care about Jesus or the Bible. It is also great for those who have invested in religion and have made an idol out of it since it can give them a push back toward a relational faith instead. Those two audiences are large so there is definitely a value to this book. In that sense it is pretty much an expansion of Bruxy’s The End of Religion which narrowed in on Jesus’ life. This is a very important message and one that a lot of people need to hear more often.
With that said, this book is not for everyone. Particularly, I would not recommend it as highly as The Drama of Scripture or pretty much anything by N.T. Wright for those who are seeking an overarching story of the Bible, despite that the book claims to offer this. My reason to say this is that Tim in this text often makes the irreligious message seem to be the one prime message of Scripture which I think pushes it a bit too far. In other words, while I think Tim gives a great look at an important message I don’t think it is the complete message.
I would recommend Wright and others ahead of God Enters Stage Left because they present a more holistic vision of the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom does of course include the irreligious message of Scripture which Tim helps us see, but I see danger in reducing the Kingdom to freedom from religion. For example, while Tim does explain that an ethic of love must replace the rules, I was left with the impression that the gist of the biblical story is about me as an individual in relationship with Jesus. I felt like the cost for fleshing out the irreligious theme was a minimizing of how this Kingdom message heals the sick, sets the captives free, cares for the poor, and creates a new global family of unconditional love, to name a few other implications. We should be cautious about falling into that trap.
So: very good for its purpose but be careful about reading it looking for something else.
Full disclosure: I attend Tim and Bruxy’s church The Meeting House. I think I have been fair here on the book, but it is quite possible that my praise and/or my criticism is biased by other experiences in TMH.