I’m way late to be posting about this book, but I still operate under the “better really late, than even later than that” motto. I was sent “The Divine Commodity” by Skye Jethani, editor of leadership journal, [Powell's affiliate link embedded] shortly before we packed up all our stuff and moved to the great state of Washington. My initial take with books to review is that I give them an hour or two of skimming and then I’ll write the 150-300 words required, which usually takes me another half-hour or so. I figure this is the best way to make sure I break even with a free book, but Skye’s book blew me away. I read every page carefully, I couldn’t put it down. It is very well-written, engaging and fun to read.
The basic premise of the book is that the narrative of American consumerism is all too powerful in scope and is shaping and sapping the church’s imagination. The book is part American-cultural history, part theology, part art history based on the life of Vincent van Gogh. It deals with topics such as branding, the power and influence of Disney on the imaginations of children, consumerism, mega-churches, isolationism, and desire. Jethani draws on many voices from the church from Augustine, to Brother Lawrence, to the Quaker Thomas Kelly, to the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier to the fourth century Egyptian peasant Pachomius. The book presents troubling signs of consumerism within the church, suggested practices (such as the practice of silence) for resisting these pressures, and Vincent van Gogh as a model for the church to recapture its imagination. Every chapter ends with a discussion around van Gogh’s life and work, and includes color illustrations of various paintings of his. For Jethani, van Gogh’s art was different from both Realism and Impressionism, one hand Realism tried to paint reality according to the naked eye, whereas Impressionism was more about emotion. Instead van Gogh “believed art should do more than present reality; it should represent reality by uncovering the truth that is not apparent to the naked eye.” Accordingly, the church should follow suit and not live as reality is, but as it should be, unmasking, disentangling, the many narrative threads in our lives, drawing upon the light of God, rather than the darkness of human greed, excess and consumption.
This is a very important book for the church to read and Jethani has done a good job preparing it for use in our communities: it is accessible, comes with handy discussion questions, and educational in a way that engaged many pop culture references. I highly recommend it to all.
Check out the Divine Commodity site as well.
From the Synopses & Reviews on Powell’s Site:
Consumerism, which has invaded the church, has created a culture that values style over substance and image over reality. But through Scripture, history, engaging narrative, and the inspiring art of Vincent van Gogh, Skye Jethani explores an alternative vision of faith that liberates us to live as Christ’s people in a culture opposed to his kingdom.
The human imagination is the key battleground in the conflict between the kingdom of God and the consumer culture. Drawing from the vivid imaginations of Impressionist painters, particularly Vincent van Gogh, each chapter of The Divine Commodity uses personal narrative, biblical exposition, and cultural observation to show how consumerism has shaped our faith, and then challenges the reader to use their sanctified imagination to envision an alternative way of expressing the Christian life in our culture.