BOOK REVIEW: "The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything"
Is it possible to have a favorite theologian?
Of course it is.
My love for the work of Miroslav Volf likely began at the same point it began for many individuals familiar with his work - with 1996's "Exclusion and Embrace," a masterpiece (in my opinion) acknowledged by Christianity Today as one of the 100 Most Important Religious Books of the 20th century.
"Exclusion and Embrace" changed my life. As a survivor of significant trauma and one who lives with significant disabilities, I've long had a complex, challenged relationship with organized religion and Volf's ability to write and lecture about the complexities of life, relationship, trauma, and the practicalities of daily living has helped me profoundly in academic, practical, theological, and deeply personal ways.
This has continued over the years with a variety of other works both written and spoken with "End of Memory" particularly impacting my life as a person of faith.
With "The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything," a book that Volf co-writes with Ryan McAnnally-Linz, Volf creates an account of the story of creation, redemption, and consummation through the lens of God's homemaking work. "The Home of God" shows the theological fruit of telling the story this way.
For those familiar with Volf's writing, it will be unsurprising that "The Home of God" has a strong academic tone to it. Volf's exegesis of scripture has always been comprehensive yet intimately woven into the fabric of his discussions. Nearly 1/3 of "The Home of God" is comprised of Volf's sources for the book and the research, which I imagine comes naturally for Volf, is exhaustive and, at least for this markedly less learned Christian, sometimes downright exhausting.
"The Home of God" is a book that required I take it in smaller pieces, absorbing the knowledge yet also absorbing the applicability of the knowledge. Volf, as is always true, doesn't simply share knowledge for the sake of sharing knowledge but also applies that knowledge to Christian living. As I wound down my reading of "The Home of God," I chuckled to myself "He wasn't kidding. This really is a brief story of everything."
Volf believes we need a better witness to the God who created, loves, and reconciles this world, who comes to dwell among us and with "The Home of God" he sets out to theologically and scripturally validate this belief. A systematic theology with flexible boundaries as to what systematic theology means, "The Home of God" particularly dwells within Exodus and John and shares what Jurgen Moltmann calls the "ecology of God." (As a side note, like Volf I am similarly inspired by Moltmann).
It is arguable, I suppose, that "The Home of God" struggles at times to find a balance between academic Volf/McAnnally-Linz and the more literary prose that often flows out of the academics. Truthfully, I somewhat leaned toward a 4-star rating as this occasional imbalance at times impacted my reading experience of "The Home of God."
Yet, time and again as I sat down to write this review and reflection I found myself vividly feeling the words and ideas and beliefs and lessons unfolding in "The Home of God." I found myself returning to Volf's resources here and looking up and learning more. I found myself reflecting upon the applicability of these stories and realizing how immersed in them I'd become. While I don't think, necessarily, that the casual theologian will find "The Home of God" a welcoming read, for those familiar with theological concepts and terminology this is an insightful, well-informed, and absolutely inspirational theological work.
As I began winding down my time with "The Home of God," I began connecting this work to Volf's other works and I began realizing that when I embrace this idea of the indwelling of God within this earth and within our lives that I can also then imagine a God intent on existing within our human experiences whether that be disability or trauma or any other subject that Volf has approached in his work. There is a thread that ties it all together and as I sit here thinking about it I can't help but weep.
Indeed, Miroslav Volf is one of the very few theologians who can stimulate me intellectually and bring me to tears.
He's done it once again.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic