by Rev. Dr. Daniel E. Hatfield, PhD
Joey Odell has provided an academic compendium of the Christian perspective for the benefit of the laity. Although current issues are addressed, the overarching themes are timeless, untethered to contemporary concerns. How does the believer perceive the divine, and what are the implications for beliefs and practices? Even more so, what have been the historic consequences as well as the intellectual conceptions?
Odell organizes the chapters according major categories relevant to critical thinking—doctrine, Bible, history, science, education. Biographies of Christian heroes cap the survey. All issues are assessed from the perspective of a fact-based character on a quest for discernment while dwelling within the confines of a traditional North American experience of church life.
The lack of intellectual tools has doomed many nascent followers immersed in the spiritual isolation of privatism, the confusing prism of relativism, and the cultural pressures of cynicism. The academic challenge of every generation—to grasp the Biblical revelation and to assess according to the heritage of history—has yielded to lazy pietism, ripe with platitudes and bereft of understanding.
Odell’s work cannot substitute for genuine devotion within a fellowship of faith, but does challenge believers to embrace historic complexities and spiritual process. The intellectual battleground is just one venue of entrapment into social norms of alleged sophistication and hubristic enlightenment. Prideful souls always find justification outside the gospel.
Human nature craves control through definitive knowledge and comfort through peer approval, yet confrontive nature of the gospel disquiets the accept norms. The pilgrimage of the main character underscores the value of intellectual honesty about the faith and its practice. A more informed soul might have exercised better judgment about associations and assessments, but would not have escaped the forces of a fallen world.
Imperfect knowledge is not an impediment to a salvific relationship with Jesus Christ, as testified in the suggested biographies. The universal task is to gain understanding of oneself and the world in light of our submission to the creator, savior, and sustainer. Answers are both easy and hard, but within reach for those of humble faith, and this is the best lesson of the book.