Thursday, November 01, 2012
Book Review of Flunking Sainthood by Jana Riess
Reviewed by Clint Walker
The Christian book market has been flooded by spiritual autobiographies and books that attempt to both entertain and model authentic Christian faith for the masses. It is for good reason these books are being published in great quantity. If the books of Donald Miller, Anne Lammott, and Kathleen Norris are any indication, people inside and outside of church circles enjoy these books and buy them up as fast as they are published.
Into the world of spiritual autobiography comes a wonderfully written book by Jana Riess. Flunking Sainthood describes a year-long journey into the life of Ms. Riess where she takes on a different spiritual discipline each month in an attempt to understand the Christian journey and grow in different ways.
Ms. Riess is married with children. This gives her a helpful perspective with many of her readers. She has a sense of humor (I laughed out loud when she told her husband she was taking on celibacy for a month as a joke). In some months, the disciplines she uses help her to grow. In other months, she comes to some rather insightful and life-changing insights from her failures. I particularly thought her thoughts on the relationship between humility and fasting were important, insightful, and thought provoking. I loved how Riess' family became a part of the story at points with each of these disciplines. It made the whole book more authentic to me.
What becomes disappointing to me with these types of books is how many of them are written by academics that float around the literary world. These books to have a certain background and tone that is thoughtful and insightful, but that also lacks the breadth of human experience in this regard.
Having said that, Riess' voice is a needed voice in the landscape of spiritual formation, if for no other reason than her ability to express herself with a sense of humor, while still being very honest and serious about the change she is seeking. There needs to be more honest humor in the literature of spiritual formation. Just because we take our faith seriously does not mean we always need to take ourselves so seriously. I certainly look forward to more writing of this style from Riess. I hope others will as well.