Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-By Christianity
Jim Palmer has had a fascinating spiritual journal. Though his resume includes working in pastoral ministry at Willow Creek Community Church and pioneering an emerging church in Nashville, Tennessee, Palmer has found his own faith grow wildly by stepping outside the confines of traditional religion and experiencing the fullness of God in everyday life. WIDE OPEN SPACES is the follow-up to his debut, DIVINE NOBODIES, and invites readers to look for a deeper spirituality beyond the status-quo. Palmer believes that the kingdom of God that includes love, peace and freedom is awaiting every follower of Jesus who will open his eyes and hear what God wants to do.
Each chapter of WIDE OPEN SPACES takes a different snapshot of Palmer’s spiritual journey and ideas. The chapter titles play on pop culture phrases and references such as “The Devil Wears Levis 501 Jeans” and “Humankind is from Mars, God is from Venus.” The subtitles, though, more clearly identify the purpose of each chapter-length essay. They ask thought-provoking questions such as “Does It Matter If We Can’t Do It?” “Is the Reality of Evil an Inconvenient Truth?” and “Can We Trust Our Gut?” Along the way, readers get insights into Palmer’s thought process, background and life.
Though well written throughout, the best chapter of the book is also the first, “My God Can Whup Your God! Is God a Belief System?” Palmer writes, “One of the most freeing discoveries these past few years in my relationship with God (and it’s still sinking in) is that God is not a belief system or a fixed set of theological propositions. On the one hand, it seems patently obvious that a list of claims about God can’t actually be God himself. There isn’t a lockbox at the center of the universe containing a divine computer program and doctrinal code. Hopefully we’ve all realized that THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY is fiction and that the number forty-two doesn’t answer anything of ultimate significance.”
Despite such realizations, Palmer points out that for years Christianity was thought of as a well-defined set of propositions and practices. As a result, he spent many years treating his belief system as his savior. While important, solid doctrine is not the basis for salvation; instead, it’s a relationship with Christ. Palmer shares quite transparently that for years his sense of security and comfort came from being right about God. Now he finds his security and comfort in knowing God and discovering His compassion, goodness, favor, forgiveness, beauty, truth and love. As demonstrated throughout the book, he finds it in more places than you can imagine.
WIDE OPEN SPACES is a well-written book that contributes to the emerging conversation on where the church has been as well as where it is going and what that journey looks like in one little Christ-follower’s life. It is recommended to people who are ready to color outside the lines of traditional faith and delve into a deeper relationship with Christ.
Reviewed by Margaret Oines on November 13, 2011