cover image ONCE UPON A TREE: Answering the Ten Crucial Questions of Life

ONCE UPON A TREE: Answering the Ten Crucial Questions of Life

Calvin Miller, . . Howard, $18.99 (208pp) ISBN 978-1-58229-257-1

If Christian readers can survive the first few dark chapters of this book, a substantially revised version of a previous publication, they will be rewarded with some wonderful insights on deepening their commitment to Christ-like living. Miller, a best-selling author and Baptist professor of preaching and pastoral studies, puts the crucifixion front and center in this book, and does not shy from using vividly violent imagery to describe the bloody act. His writing is sometimes incoherent and choppy, but it improves toward the end, and its tone is always passionate and sprinkled with poetry from his personal journals. The book's unfortunately pretentious subtitle refers to what Miller labels the 10 "fearsome doctrines of our lives." These are a seemingly arbitrary list of topics: human meaning, salvation, grief, the need for community, betrayal, accountability, death and dying, self-sacrifice, pain and transcendence. Some of his best sermons come in his chapters on community (the idea that the "community of the cross" is a frontline fellowship, not a rearguard camaraderie), betrayal (we must set friends free from the necessity of being loyal just as Christ set Judas free) and dying. The crucifixion is a difficult subject to digest in book form because of its relentlessly serious nature: indeed, Miller has little patience for those who "prefer something that gently massages their narcissism with 'how-to' and 'fix-it' messages." His book is for evangelical Christians willing to take a difficult look at their own complacency and set it aside in favor of the lessons of the Cross. (Sept.)