Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now by Greg Boyd
This is a tough book to review. I generally am a fairly heady blogger. I tackle deep thoughts intellectually, argue for different theological interpretations and what that means for our lives. I call for justice grounded in the love of Christ. Rarely do I attempt to talk about spiritual disciplines, especially those that are to some extent about what we’re feeling rather than thinking. Both are equally important, but I just don’t know how to talk about the former. In fact, I just added that category for the sake of this post. But I recently finished a very good book on arguably the most important of the spiritual disciplines: awareness of the presence of God.
If your Christian communities are similar to mine, you’ve most likely heard of a classic on this topic called Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. In Boyd’s tackling of the subject he leans heavily on Brother Lawrence as well as two others that I was unfamiliar with before reading: Frank Laubach and J.P. de Caussade. Boyd says up front that he hasn’t really arrived with this discipline (and can anybody really fully arrive at this?) and that is why he draws on the classic teachings on it from others.
The book introduces by a chapter emphasizing the immanence of God. Depending on your church tradition, you may get a heavy dose of the transcendence of God (“out there above us”) or a heavy dose of the immanence of God (“with us, in the present”). Typically the former goes with more Calvinist/Reformed theologies and the latter with Arminian/Wesleyan/Open Theist, but they don’t necessarily have to. Boyd being well-known as an Open Theist, this makes complete sense that he would emphasize it here, and there are some traces of his Open Theism throughout the book. If you’re a Calvinist, though, I think this is still a valuable read because some of the underlying theologies hinted at aren’t necessary to see the value in the discipline.
The question, “Are You Awake?” was repeated throughout the book at random intervals. Of anything about this book, this simple technique was probably the most effective for me. It is asking whether you are awake to the presence of God in this moment. Not whether you were before or whether you will be later, but whether you are right now. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I drift (“sleeping”) through life a lot, especially right now as I’m struck with senioritis in my sixth and final year of university. Realizing this tendency is what prompted me to read this book. But now I (sometimes) catch myself doing it and ask myself if I am awake. It allows me to centre myself and remember that God is with me now and that this year is not just a placeholder to get to what matters.
The actual content of the book gives different facets of the same general idea of being present because God is present and that is where we find our completeness and where we best serve God. It is really good stuff and there may be some spiritual considerations you’ve never thought of, so I don’t want to completely ignore it. But unlike many of my reviews of books that are teaching-heavy, in this case the teaching was always to help you get a better grasp on the discipline and most importantly to actually do it. Because of its thoughtful, but in a meditative way, nature, there isn’t a whole lot I can analyze or break down. All I can say if you read this book is to take it slowly, allowing the implications to sink in, instead of skimming through and just saying it is interesting theology. Lastly, do the exercises at the end of each chapter! There are great tips for actually carrying this out in a way that can help you live with an awareness of God at all times.
It is a powerful book. Many of us stuck living a Christianity in the Information Age or are lamenting the past or are anxious of the future or are struck by any other number of ways that we refuse to live in the now. I think it is true that any time in history would have benefited from remembering the presence of God in the now. But I also think that contemporary Western culture is more opposed to it in general because we typically care more about information than relationship and about doing a lot of shallow things than about doing a few things with great meaning. So in short, this is a book that every single Christian should read – or if not, then do some of the classics on the topic, but don’t ignore the topic.