The Christian Life: A Geography of God

By Michael L. Lindvall.
Geneva. 2001. 135 pp. Pb. $11.95. ISBN 0-664-50142-7

— reviewed by Bill Klein, Lexington, Va.

Anyone familiar with Michael Lindvall’s book, The Good News from North Haven (reprint expected Summer 2002), will welcome his most recent effort. The Christian Life is another in the expected 12-volume Foundations of Christian Faith series being commissioned by the Office of Theology and Worship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and published by Geneva Press.

If all the volumes in this series are as useful as the two I’ve read (the other being Christian Worship by Ronald P. Byars), I look forward to devouring the others.

Lindvall writes, “there are only two plots to all the stories ever told: a stranger came to town, and someone went on a journey. The Christian faith includes both” (p. 1). Taking up the theme of the Christian life as a journey, Lindvall invites us to understand that journey occurs within a context — and that context is the “geography” of God. Again and again, Lindvall provides helpful hints and road signs for the journey.

The book has three sections and 20 brief chapters, and is a quick and rewarding read. It is well suited for daily devotional reading — do so with pencil and pad handy because Lindvall has a way of setting the imagination into motion. The book is also well suited for a Sunday-morning or mid-week adult study. Lindvall draws from the insights of such saints as Will Campbell, Karl Barth, Annie Dillard, Will Willimon, Dostoyevsky and Kathleen Norris. Pastor and lay persons will cherish the abundance of ideas Lindvall provides that can help interpret the Christian life.

A Lindvall sampler may be useful:

“Commitment,” “promise,” “covenant” and “vow” are the words the wedding services uses to talk about growing love into something that outlasts the vagaries of emotion. Commitment throws a bridge over love’s dark valleys. Promise is what keeps you present when you feel emotionally numb. Covenant keeps you there until the passion reawakens and grows stronger than before. Commitment pulls love beyond sentiment (p. 96).

Two thoroughly modern idols sit enthroned at the center of our prosperous and hard-working society: consumerism and careerism. Consumerism is idolatry when it suggests the answer to the “who are you?” question is “I am what I have.” Careerism is idolatry when it answers the question with “I am what I do” (p. 112).

I kept waiting for a chapter that did not soar, but it did not happen. What Lindvall says may not be new. How he says it is, and that makes The Christian Life such a treasure.