Sunday, July 15, 2007

Holy Discontent review

Last weekend I finished reading Bill Hybels' Holy Discontent: Fueling the Fire That Ignites Personal Vision, published this year by Zondervan. Hybels is a fairly well known Christian author, but he is better known as the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. The back cover asks, "What is the one aspect of this broken world that, when you see it, touch it, or get near it, you just can't stand? What reality is so troubling that it thrusts you off the couch and into action? This is what Bill Hybels refers to as a holy discontent..."

The book is relatively short, coming in at 149 pages. It is broken into three distinct sections focused respectively on finding one's holy discontent, developing it, and keeping it alive. Hybels begins by introducing the notion of a holy discontent, framing it in the context of his own life and the lives of various others through history, and even bringing in a repeating reference to Popeye the Sailor Man. Each section is broken down further into 3 chapters (the last chapter in the last section being a postscript). Each chapter draws on multiple examples, and most chapters open with tangible examples designed to draw the reader into the rest of the example - be they personal stories, others' testimonies, or simply compelling statistics.

What is it, he asks, that makes you say "Enough"? That, he says, is a holy discontent: a frustration with this world and its brokenness that moves us to action, to engagement. It is holy because it is a discontent spurred on by our vision of God's character and by His heart for this broken world. From there, he elaborates on the history of his notion of holy discontent, and demonstrates how it worked out in various people's lives. After that introduction, he asks the reader to consider what his or her own personal holy discontents are - and if he or she does not know, he gives some concrete ways to look for it. In the second section, he discusses how one can both actively take that discontent and fan it into flame, and how to practically go about doing something with that discontent. In the final section, he deals with the reality of our fallen natures: that we can grow discouraged in the ongoing battle, and presents suggestions of how to deal with that and press on - to keep fighting the good fight.

His style is fairly conversational, and it is clear that he is used to teaching both from the pulpit and in personal conversations. The book is simply written and easy to read, but not in any sense "dumbed down." It is clearly meant to be a quick read for most people, which is good, given his stated purpose of awakening people to action. His manner is engaging, and his examples, while occasionally somewhat silly (his frequent Popeye references, for example) are typically engaging and compelling. Most of his material is drawn from a combination of Scripture, his own experiences, and the experiences of everyday people who have changed the world in sometimes small but always significant ways because of passions that God laid on their hearts and their willingness to follow those passions and obey God's call to do something with them instead of just sitting. His voice is simple but well-organized; he never drifted off topic or got sidetracked by secondary discussions (again, his experience as a teaching pastor reaching out to the unchurched shows through).

The merits of the book are in its cogency, its sense of urgency, and its ease of read and simplicity. The narratives are all coherent, and the book flows neatly from one section into another. The answers Hybels gives are never pat, but drawn from reality and compelling because he acknowledges the difficulty of what he calls people to do. The encouragement of real examples is tangible and effective. Hybels' voice of urgency is a great strength to the book, as well: he clearly and effectively communicates that there are a great many needs, and you are responsible to reach out and make a difference, to exercise your God-given gifts to change this world. At the same time, he avoids sounding shrill or hyperbolic, either of which would have made the book farcical or ridiculous to most readers. The straightforward manner in which he wrote - and the accompanying ease of reading - are a great asset to a book like this, as is the book's brevity. Had he missed either point, he likely would have missed his target audience: those very people in the church who are most in need of a book like this, but unlikely to pick up a lengthy tome speaking in high, theological terms of the need to change the world. At some level, while I occasionally found them annoying, the Popeye moments scattered throughout the text are probably among its greatest strengths, simply because they keep the reading at an accessible level. There were no significant typos or textual errors, something I found extremely refreshing.

I'm going to have a hard time discussing demerits; the book had none that I can think of. It set out to accomplish a particular goal - communicating the need for all Christians to exercise their gifts, talents, and abilities for the good of those around them, and to not be content in their own spheres.

While I did not find the book particularly challenging, that was more a response to the fact that Hybels was hitting on an area in which I've already developed significant convictions: this text was confirmation rather than conviction in my case. For many, that will not be so, and this book will be well worth their time to read. (My other difficulty with the book was my initial impression of it, formed before I had looked at the summary, was that it was about a discontent that pushed us toward holiness, rather than about holy discontent with the state of the world. I had to push through that misconception to fully appreciate the book, but as I did so I found Hybels' work excellent on all levels. Someone else still needs to write the book I thought this was!) I highly recommend this book to anyone who doesn't already have strong convictions about the ways they can change the world; and I recommend it as a good reminder to those who do.

God bless you all, and may your heart abound with grace, peace, and joy from our Father who gives every good and perfect gift, who fills us with everything necessary for life and for godliness.

- Chris

1 comment:

  1. interesting. something i think of often yet haven't phrased in this way. i look at people and wonder what it would take? to give up something to help another? what would it take for me in various seasons of my life? my willingness? i look at my girls and want to flame what i see, for they naturally are drawn to reaching out.

    i live in a very wealthy county. when i've mentioned that i think we should live in moderate homes and purchase other homes for those who cannot afford them and simply give them away, i get interesting responses. while we do need to be responsible with what God gives us and not give without discernment, we also need to give without needing to control what the recipient does with the gift. we are responsible to God to give; they are responsible to God for what they do with that gift ... be it a ride to the grocery store, clothing, food, a night out, a vacation, or a house. i've found that the more people have, the more they want to control what happens to what they have after they give it ... money and talent and gifts.

    interesting book. a flowing thought process that is always going on somewhere on some level inside me.


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