Friday, August 10, 2007

The Grand Weaver Review

I just finished The Grand Weaver, Ravi Zacharias' newest book. Subtitled, "How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives," the book is a theological and philosophical examination of precisely that topic: the ways in which God uses the happenings of our lives to conform us to His image, to make us holy as He is holy. Published by Zondervan in July, the book is Zacharias' answer to the question posed on the back cover: "Are the threads of our lives accidentally tangled or intentionally arranged?"

The book consists of an introduction, eight chapters each approximately twenty pages long, and a brief epilogue summing up the thoughts Zacharias has just walked through. He begins with a few stories illustrating both the need for an answer to the questions we all struggle with - of meaning and purpose for the seemingly random events of our lives - and with a Scriptural basis for his answer to these questions. He then moves through the remainder of the book slowly expanding on this theme both from Scripture and from various experiences (both his own and others'). His message can be summed up with the notion that your life experiences matter; indeed, each chapter is titled in precisely that way: "Your DNA Matters," "Your Morality Matters," and so on. God's actions in our lives are not purposeless, nor are any events in our lives. Each has meaning and fits as part of the pattern being woven by the Grand Weaver referenced by the title: the merciful, loving, and ultimately sovereign God of Christianity who ensures that "all things work together for the good of those who love [Him], to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Zacharias approaches the book much he would an address to a crowd. Despite its deep theological and philosophical underpinnings, the text is easy to read and extremely well written (as I have come to expect from anything written by him). Despite addressing complex topics with great acuity, Zacharias never strays into language that is overly complex, though he is not afraid to use a higher vocabulary than is common in most of today's texts. He writes succinctly but forcefully, much as he speaks. The text reads like a series of well-constructed sermons, moving from the basis of his argument through the outworkings of that argument in various aspects of our lives. Various examples are scattered throughout, and he skillfully uses the same example multiple times to elucidate various aspects of the same point. His style is significantly more mature than Bill Hybels, whose book I recently reviewed, though not necessarily more formal. He simply speaks with great eloquence but in a manner that excises some of the verbiage normally associated therewith, leaving the text with a great deal of force and cogency.

The merits of the book are its clear address of both the theological question of God's sovereign hand in every aspect of our lives and the practical consequences of that answer; and Zacharias' effective writing. Because he clearly addresses the theological question 9and its philosophical implications) early on and gently reminds the reader of them throughout the text, as well as slowly building on that early foundation, Zacharias brings an important theological point into focus - but he does so in a way that makes it easy for any reader to understand. Moreover, he brings home the reality of that point by demonstrating both in theory and practice (by means of examples of actual circumstances) how our response to God's hand working our lives should look. Without the theological foundation, the practical demonstration would lack any reason for application; and without the corresponding practicalities the abstractions of the theology would lack their potentially life-altering impact. Zacharias' writing, as discussed above, is immensely powerful and deeply communicative.

There are two demerits to the book. First is that Zacharias fails to elaborate on some of the examples to a fulfilling extent, leaving the reader dangling somewhat and hungry for more details. This is probably a necessary compromise for a book of this length, which brings me to the second demerit: the brevity of the text. This is very much more a gray area. I would have enjoyed it greatly had he taken the time to further elaborate on the notions he introduced theologically and to further fill out the stories he was sharing. However, at some level this is a merit of the book as well: someone less inclined towards reading or towards deeper theological treatments of subjects such as this than myself will be far more likely to pick up and read this book through than he or she would have had the book been a lengthier and weightier tome. While I believe Zacharias had much more to say on the subject that would have been of value, it might not have gotten heard by so broad an audience as this book may had it been any longer.

I highly recommend the book as generally good reading. I particularly recommend it for younger believers, for whom much of the information might be newer and the various explanations encouraging. As a relatively short, extremely clear, and well-written text, the book lends itself well for reading together in a small group setting or as friends on a road trip.

God bless you all and keep you in His perfect peace.

- Chris

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