Monday, March 1, 2010

Book Review: Dancing with My Father

book cover

Dancing with My Father
by Sally Clarkson

Trade Paperback: 223 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
First Released: 2010

Publisher's Book Page

Source: Review copy from the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
Let Your Soul Dance with Delight in God

Are you overwhelmed by weariness, fear, or discouragement? Do you wonder, "Where can I go to claim the promise of Jesus that my joy could be made full?"

When Sally Clarkson noticed a lack of joy in her own life, she realized how easy it can be, especially for women with overloaded to-do lists, to feel weighed down by drudgery and disappointment. But rather than slogging through her days, Sally wanted to know the delight of God's presence. She began prayerfully exploring how to cultivate deep-rooted joy even in the midst of difficult seasons.

Weaving biblical insights with real-life stories that reflect every Christian woman's deepest longings, Dancing with My Father reveals how any woman, in any circumstance, can daily live in joy and peace.

Dancing with My Father was partly a memoir and partly a Christian Living book. The book seemed disjointed and inconsistent due to the way it was written. For example, in chapter two, there was an underlying emphasis on performing well for God and the author heaped praises on David for what he did when trusting God, but chapter nine was all about how God doesn't base our worth on our performance. The ideas, as presented, didn't strike me as balancing each other but as conflicting with each other.

When giving examples from her life (which took up about half of the book), the author put in so much detail and her stories lasted so long that I often lost track of what point she was trying to make. These sections often turned into 'sharing her memories' (i.e. a memoir) rather than 'real life illustrations.'

She also sometimes used terms in an odd way. For example, she said in chapter two that we need to see with our hearts. "Heart" usually refers to our emotions, and that's how she used it later, but here it became obvious she meant that we needed to see events from God's perspective. I don't think she meant that viewing life through our emotions gives us an accurate view of God's perspective (which isn't biblical), but I'm not sure why she used "heart" here.

Another thing that baffled me was her apparently changing view of the Bible. At the very beginning, while making some points based on a children's story version of the fight between David and Goliath--and she even summarized the story--she apologized for using the Bible so much. In my opinion, she didn't use the Bible much at all, though she did have plenty of verses on joy somewhat randomly spread throughout the book. She mainly made her points based on her personal experiences and the advice of her friends. Ironically, this works since her friends based their advice off of what the Bible teaches.

She then made a jab at people who like to study and discuss the Bible as only having head knowledge about God rather than a relationship with Him, as if the two can't co-exist. Later, she again criticized those who dared to discuss the Bible with others as only having head knowledge. (She never confined her criticism to only those who say, "you're not a Christian if you don't agree with my theology.') She emphasized "heart knowledge" as superior, though she admitted we needed head knowledge, too. (BTW, I believe we need both in balance and one isn't superior to the other.)

In chapter five, she focused on finding joy in God's created things. She said that if we want to know what God is like, then one of the best and most complete teachers is nature (p.91). I was left thinking, "Um, what about Jesus? He was God made flesh. And the Bible gives us a much more specific knowledge about God. And don't you think He'd like us to find joy in HIM and not just the things he created?" After a long wait, chapter ten was a lovely chapter on finding enjoyment in God Himself and on the importance of reading the Bible to get a right idea of God and to guard our hearts. Again, it didn't feel like one idea balanced the other but more like the book was inconsistent.

By the way, she rarely referred to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. She did say we should study and follow Jesus' example, but not because He's God and therefore knows how to be joyful better than anybody, but because he was 'a man anointed with joy.'

The book made a lot of good points, but I'm still feeling baffled by the lack of internal consistency in places. It's also mainly about the author's life and was focused on what we do. The glances toward God and His direct role in our joy seemed few and brief. So it's not a bad book, but I'm sure there are better-written books out there on this same subject.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

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