Review: When God Becomes Small

February 28th, 2014

In his new book When God Becomes Small, author Phil Needham invites us along the way of the God who makes the divine Self known especially in the less likely places and moments of life (Abingdon Press, 2014). He invites us to reflect upon our habit of rushing off in pursuit of headlines and highlights rather than these “smaller” places where spotlights rarely shine. Needham realizes how well accomplished we are with seeking glory in all the wrong places. He reminds us to step away from the lesser gods of our own passions and distractions for a more truthful and intimate encounter with God. Particularly pointed is his critique of social media where “the ever-externalized feedback and the resulting self-image-crafting” of tweets and FB posts rarely fosters “true attentiveness” (p. 109).

Needham returns our gaze to the places and spaces where God is more likely to be awaiting us: nature, the mundane and the places where we find a more balanced, authentic spiritual life awaiting us. Embracing the more quotidian, Needham observes, “Our lives are lived in small moments. More often than we recognize, those moments are open windows” (p. 69). Needham wisely counsels us to seek “what will give us the only real satisfaction in the end: the enduring treasures of intimate relationships, love expressed, mercy given, encouragement offered [and] gifts shared” (p. 20). Along the way, he asks us to downsize our vanity, and he calls us to ‘right size’ our understanding of God, humanity, and our own hearts and minds.

Throughout the book, Needham weaves scriptural texts and the writings of fellow wise Christians. Exploring the kenotic (humbled, self-emptying) servant ways of Jesus (see Phil. 2:5-11), Needham draws us back to a vulnerable, companionable Jesus, ready to walk alongside us in the bread line or other times of challenge. One is drawn into a generous image of God, almighty yet divinely determined to be in the midst of the world on a level we can better comprehend and engage.

The book arrives appropriately at this year’s season of Lent. Readers who follow the rhythm of the Lenten season would do well to take and read this book as part of their forty days’ journey. The themes of Lent are woven throughout this book: self-examination, humility, contemplation, and a gradual turning away from self and to Christ alone. A pastor would be well advised to consider quoting Needham this season. One line in particular would serve in part as a particularly splendid “assurance of pardon” for the Lenten pilgrim: “The God of generosity and grace awaits patiently and lovingly for those who are willing to take a fresh look and begin again” (p. 135). Reading this book, I am reminded of Iraneaus’ oft-quoted line “the glory of God is humanity fully alive!”

Needham served many years with the Salvation Army, retiring from active ministry as the Territorial Commander of the Southern United States Territory. His book serves as a good reminder of what should be the end result of a long time in ministry or Christian service. With no trace of sanctimony, Needham reveals the fruits of his lifelong devotion to Christ, pointing not to himself or to the world, but to God made known in Christ Jesus.

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