Book Review: Healing the Divide
Author: Amos Smith
Publisher: Wipf & Stock ISBN: 9781620323656
I was interested in this book the moment I heard its title. I have been attracted to ancient Christianity since I was introduced to the writings of the ancient fathers nearly a decade ago. I am particularly drawn to the writings of the desert fathers and the Christian mystics, so I was excited to get my hands on Healing the Divide. I think most people when beginning a book of this nature might have certain expectations, and I did too… this is why I think the disclaimers presented by Amos are a necessary precursor to my own review.
From the author:
“This book is intended for the Christian reader in general, the Mystic Christian in particular, and for seekers interested in Mystic Christianity and its role in the twenty-first Century.
Most of what I’ve written isn’t original research. It’s an original distillation and contemporary synthesis. This book is sometimes edgy. The edge is intended to clarify the truth of the mystics, not to clobber people. This book isn’t a specific history. For readers interested in a more specific history, refer to the bibliography and appendices. This book is a treatise that looks deeply into the life-giving roots of Christian tradition… We can’t plunge into this stuff without dropping into the depths of our own souls. The book will become more understandable and satisfying as you go along. And when you’re done you’ll see each section has its place and that together they form an organic whole.” (From the preface; p. xviii)
I like this disclaimer; it sets the table for conversation with ground rules. This book is not an apologetic or a history textbook… it’s a conversation, an opinion, and invitation for inner examination—it’s a request to set aside biases, hobby horses, and sacred cows. It’s an opportunity look behind the curtain and behold the mystery of the Divine.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I must admit that I found it a “stormy” read. There were lightening strikes of brilliance and there were terrifying rumbles of thunder; there were times when the ideas “rained” so heavily I could not see in front of me and there were times when the torrents slowed, clouds cleared, and the way was as clear as could be. It was not always easy to navigate through this read, but I am glad I persevered. There were several areas my own beliefs were tested and other areas I found disagreed completely with my understanding of Scripture, but there were also a number of ideas presented to me that have opened my thinking to new possibilities. Who knows what God will teach through Healing the Divide?
One of the things I liked the most was the openness of Amos Smith’s writing; he was not the least bit timid about putting his passion front and center in this story. This is a very vulnerable writing style and almost demands a defensive posture, but Amos writes with a gentle confidence as he allows his reader as much space as they need to agree, disagree, or reflect indefinitely on the ideas he presents. This is a refreshing attitude. Another feature I appreciated was the extensive helps that he includes in the appendices of the book. Amos has included a detailed glossary, a lengthy bibliography, and several sections to help the reader with the term “miaphysite” (the Jesus Paradox), which is the primary plot line for this book.
One of the areas that I found most challenging was the use of terms. For instance, the term “miaphysite” is a curious oddity in the realms of normal theological discussions. While Amos attempts to make the conversation friendlier by using the term “Jesus Paradox” interchangeably with miaphysite, it still seemed cumbersome and confusing to me. I don’t know if I have an answer or even a suggestion to make the conversation more amenable, but these terms seemed awkward to me.
I think this is an important book. Don’t let my statement confuse you, it is not an easy book, but it is very important…especially for Protestant Evangelicals of which I am one. There are many theological terms the average Christian will not be familiar with and there is a substantial amount of early church history many people probably never knew existed, but these details should not be a deterrent. Healing the Divide is full of exquisite conversation starters and I believe it can certainly be the beginning for many people-Believers to recovering Christianity’s ancient and mystic roots. I will heartily recommend it to my friends, but I think it might best be read in groups or at least with a partner.