Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 01/06/2009 by Trevin Wax.
Recommended. A stimulating, well-written, balanced set of meditations on the Church.
Timothy J. Stoner acknowledges the validity of many of the concerns raised by those in the Emerging Church. But unlike some in the Emerging movement, Stoner is able to address these concerns without abandoning historic Christian convictions.
His book, The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditations on Faith, is thoroughly enjoyable on a number of levels. First, it is very well-written. Secondly, it uses humor as a way to communicate serious truths. And best of all, Stoner uses personal stories to help him make his case.
Tim Stoner is a dad who has seen the Emerging Church up close. A Michigan native, he has witnessed the rise of Emerging preacher, Rob Bell (who might resist the label, but seems to fit the description nonetheless). But curiously, Stoner confesses:
“I was Emergent before it was cool. Now that it’s cool, I’m not.”
Stoner’s negative view of Emergent does not lead him to bash those who advocate Emerging theology. In fact, he appreciates many aspects of the Emerging conversation.
But Stoner believes the Emerging movement ultimately delivers reductionistic picture of God. He worries that the Emerging Church downplays the wrath of God and leads to a lopsided vision of God that ignores essential aspects of his character.
“We are not only invited guests but the blushing Bride. And our Groom is a heroic King, a mighty warrior who is good and just and stunning in his beauty. He is so full of passion and blazing emotion that he burns - and yes, smokes in the ferocity of his infinite, holy love that compelled him to give it all away for his Bride. And he who gave it all for us is worth giving ourselves completely to.”
So we worship a God who smokes - a God whose passionate jealousy for the glory of his own name is an integral aspect of his glorious love for creation.
Stoner is a terrific writer. I think I enjoyed the writing of this book as much as the concepts. His choice of words causes images to leap from the page. Take this for example:
“From [Jesus'] carpenter’s tool belt there also hung a sword.”
“Life is not a riddle, but a romance.”
Or this description of God in his glory:
“God really believes that he is the most worthy, most majestic, magnificent, glorious, stunningly beautiful being in the universe. And he is fixated on the certainty that only he deserves worship - that to him alone belong honor, glory, and praise forever and forever. With red-rimmed, stinging eyes and burning hair, all we can say is - he is right. He is astonishingly beautiful, utterly majestic and perfect in the symmetries of justice and righteousness, knowledge, and wisdom. He is as hypnotically compelling as a surging forest fire and ten times as dangerous. He is out of control - ours, not his.”
Stoner’s biggest criticism of the Emerging Church centers on the tendency for some Emergent leaders to negate the exclusivity of Christ for salvation. But Stoner does not argue for Christ’s exclusivity by turning to a couple of Bible texts. Instead, he shows how our understanding of the marriage covenant between the Church (the Bride) and Christ (the Groom) should influence our understanding of exclusivity.
In the end, Stoner does not base Jesus’ exclusive claims in philosophical speculation about there being “only one way.” He makes his case relationally, with the underlying message being this: you go soft on Jesus as the only way, and you are being unfaithful to your Groom.
The only thing I would change about this book is its length. Near the end, there are a few chapters about various topics unrelated to the main subject of the book. Stoner talks about the need for Christians to be “secret agents” in the art world. He also addresses issues of sexuality. I enjoyed these chapters, but felt as if they were a digression from the main theme of the book.
The God Who Smokes deserves a wide audience. Tim Stoner has accepted the Emerging invitation to dialogue, and what results is a picture of God that is more biblical (and exceedingly more satisfying) than the pictures painted by many in the Emerging Church today.