Surprised by Paradox by Jen Pollock Michel {review}

“That paradox of God’s story is that he’s chosen to write its timelessness in the ticking heart of his Son and that he’s choosing to write it in our ticking hearts too.”

Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or World by Jen Pollock Michel, p 46.

In this book Jen Pollock Michel invites us to consider our faith and God in the light of paradox. Christianity and the Bible don’t fit into the this-or-that stories we’d like. The presence of “and” stretches our humanness to consider more closely God in it all. Michel takes us through four key ways (Incarnation, Kingdom, Grace, and Lament) she sees paradox intwined in the message of the Bible and how these dilemmas of logic or spiritual understanding can guide us back toward keeping our focus on God while holding seemingly opposite expressions of his character or plan in balance.

This book was a insightful, helpful, hopeful and wise, while also feeling a more formal, dense and slow (though only 210ish pages long) than I usually read. I primarily struggled because of the format I read it in (PDF on Kindle is not my favorite), but also because this is a theology-focused book and not story-driven at all so it was a little harder to stay interested. Though I did easily keep reading once I picked it up. And honestly I really appreciate Michel’s formal, well-researched, and professional tone because it keeps her writing solidly in the theology camp instead of sorted into the women’s corner. Overall, a solid book worth reading if you like to read theology or sometimes struggle with apparent dichotomies in the Bible. I especially appreciated the sections on Kingdom and Lament as those were terms that weren’t well-defined or explored in my Christian experience.

Here are some quotes that stood out to me:

  • “It’s a paradox – a predicament, even – that my story, that your story, could be a way of proclaiming the bigger, grander story of God.” p45,
  • “You, follow me: you with your skin, you with your salary, you with your sanguine or melancholic personality. God’s call is not uniform, which makes discerning it a true predicament of faith.” p49,
  • “Maybe the paradox of the kingdom is not just that it can be enjoyed by the poor and the forgotten but that it could also belong to the rich and comfortable.” , p79
  • “The only kind of faith the Bible mentions is obedient faith (Rom 1:5). p139,
  • “Suffering does not obey our ultimatums, but lament reclaims some of our agency. […] There is pluck to lament, pluck to its faith. Lest we think that faith is slack surrender to God’s will, the testimony that we have in Scripture is of faith paradoxically emboldened to ask, to question, to challenge, to complain.” p167,
  • “Lament is an expression of anguish over the suffering we own as well as the suffering we borrow, and it has a way of involving us when we’d rather stand aside.” p176
  • “Part of the practice of modest faith, in times of suffering, is relinquishing our right to answers. God has never promised to explain himself, but has promised to stay near.” 186

(I received an advance pdf copy as part of the launch team thanks to the author and her publisher: Intervarsity Press. All opinions are my own!)

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