Review: Never Settle for Normal by Jonathan Parnell

 

What the book is about:

This nonfiction lifestyle book is aimed at the person seeking to understand what Christianity is about.

In the book, Parnell breaks down the basic elements of Christianity and presents them in a simplified way, taking care to not saturate it with names of theologians that seekers wouldn’t know while still using the quote he wants. He also uses Scriptural references in a way that is accessible to someone who is familiar with the Bible or Christianity.

Parnell covers a wide range of topics from understanding who God is, he devotes an entire chapter to understanding sin, talks about Jesus and the importance of the resurrection, and explains these all in terms that I believe an unbeliever can understand, even if that person has a hard time believing it.

What I liked:

  • Chapters are a good length. While there is lots of information in each one, they aren’t dragged out to include everything, but are distilled down to include the greatest essence of the topic. A good summary of some really big and complex topics.
  • The gospel is presented in a manner that is easily digestible and flows logically.
  • He doesn’t skip or gloss over hard topics, like sin, but instead dives in and talks about the hard and complicated stuff too.
  • His tone is conversational and not overly authoritative. He takes care to make the material accessible to those who aren’t on his spectrum theologically or spiritually speaking.

What I didn’t like: 

  • At times, I felt Parnell’s theology to be just a little off. For example, he describes God as a Happy Father who Loves. That Happy, Father, and Love are God’s three basic characteristics. I had a really hard time with that simplistic warm and fuzzy description of God who is far more complex than that.
  • The title of the book is called Never Settle for Normal, but he doesn’t talk about normal beyond the very first chapter. Instead, he emphasizes that we should be happy like God is happy and that we can find our happiness there. There are some good theological things in there, but there are definitely some questionable things too.
  • I found the first chapter to be difficult to engage with. It took me several chapters to understand who he is writing the book to – seekers – and that I am not in his target audience. Because I am not in his target audience, and because of some theology issues, I struggled to stay engaged with the book at all.
  • Several times, Parnell seems to make the case that Christianity is about us as humans, which again, is theologically unsound. He does indicate in a few places that it’s more about God than us, but the overall tone and language of the book much more strongly advocates for Christianity being about the happiness of the human.
  • He quotes other people a lot and I sometimes found myself asking if he had thoughts of his own on the subject. I don’t mind one or two key relevant quotes, but sometimes there were three or four quotes right in a row.
  • I didn’t care for his understanding and description of the Trinity, which was described as really a relationship between God and Jesus with a sprinkling of the Holy Spirit. I got the impression that he didn’t actually understand the function or role of the Spirit in the Trinity and so tried to gloss over it a bit. With the Trinity being understood as three distinct and equal persons within God, I was disappointed that he spent almost no time in the book talking about, but focused nearly exclusively on the Father and Son aspects of the Trinity.

What to incorporate in your own writing:

  • Know your audience – once the book really got rolling and I identified his audience, he stayed true to talking to that person. He continued to keep the book at a level his audience could understand.
  • Use ample support – he cites Scripture frequently and uses quotes from generally accepted spiritual people in Christian circles.

How I came across it:

I received Never Settle for Normal from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Overall thoughts and opinions: 

This was a really difficult book for me to read. It’s quite short but I struggled to get through it. I understand that I am not the target audience and therefore wouldn’t connect with the book as well, I’m theologically knowledgeable enough to see issues with his treatment of some fundamental Christian elements.

I had some pretty serious theological issues and was disappointed by his treatment of explaining who God is and how the Holy Spirit really fits into the Trinity. I also find the title of the book to be misleading as he doesn’t talk about how normal fits into the book beyond the first chapter. He spends much more time talking about how we are seeking significance and happiness through the trifles of the world – I suppose it could be considered the normal, but I think he does a poor job of really pulling in the title theme into every chapter.

He emphasizes our own happiness as humans while trying to introduce God, which I think is misleading. Yes, God likes to see us happy, but I don’t think that’s God’s main aim in life. He first wants us to be in relationship with Him, to be obedient to Him, and to be faithful with our ministry work. It seems a little too “prosperity gospel”, or I suppose in this case “happiness gospel” than true Gospel to me. While he does share the gospel itself and breaks down how to come to a relationship with Christ, the ultimate angle and reasoning seem just enough off to me to turn me off to the book completely.

So, while there are some good elements in there, there are enough incorrect theological elements that I struggled with it. Add to that the lack of tying the title theme throughout the chapters, I can only give this book two stars.

2 star rating

Find more about Jonathan Parnell and Never Settle for Normal.

 

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