Surprised by Paradox
What if certainty isn't the goal? In a world filled with ambiguity, many of us long for a belief system that provides straightforward answers to complex questions and clarity in the face of confusion. We want faith to act like an orderly set of truth-claims designed to solve the problems and pain that life throws at us. With signature candor and depth, Jen Pollock Michel helps readers imagine a Christian faith open to mystery. While there are certainties in Christian faith, at the heart of the Christian story is also paradox. Jesus invites us to abandon the polarities of either and or in order to embrace the difficult, wondrous dissonance of and. The incarnation―the paradox of God made human―teaches us to look for God in the and of body and spirit, heaven and earth. In the kingdom, God often hides in plain sight and announces his triumph on the back of a donkey. In the paradox of grace, we receive life eternal by actively participating in death. And lament, with its clear-eyed appraisal of suffering alongside its commitment to finding audience with God, is a paradoxical practice of faith. Each of these themes give us certainty about God while also leading us into greater curiosity about his nature and activity in the world. As Michel writes, "As soon as we think we have God figured out, we will have ceased to worship him as he is." With personal stories and reflection on Scripture, literature, and culture, Michel takes us deeper into mystery and into worship of the One who is Mystery and Love.

Surprised by Paradox Details

TitleSurprised by Paradox
Author
ReleaseMay 14th, 2019
PublisherIVP Books
ISBN-139780830845644
Rating
GenreChristian, Religion, Theology, Nonfiction, Faith, Christian Living

Surprised by Paradox Review

  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    I have learned to love the tension of paradox, the way paradox disciplines me to allow two seeming contradictions to coexist. Jen Pollock Michel admits that much of her writing has been born from the tension between two ideas. This book is her celebration of the many paradoxes of the Christian faith. With her trademark care and eye for detail, Michel sifts through her own memories of the world and her reflections on scripture to celebrate paradoxes she's come to love.I will be writing a more tho I have learned to love the tension of paradox, the way paradox disciplines me to allow two seeming contradictions to coexist. Jen Pollock Michel admits that much of her writing has been born from the tension between two ideas. This book is her celebration of the many paradoxes of the Christian faith. With her trademark care and eye for detail, Michel sifts through her own memories of the world and her reflections on scripture to celebrate paradoxes she's come to love.I will be writing a more thoughtful review soon, but I will mention here that my personal disappointment with the book was that she didn't dwell longer on the nature and beauty of paradox itself. The title should have been Surprised by Paradoxes, because the majority of the writing was about various paradoxes she appreciates. While I enjoyed her tour of the paradoxes that undergird our faith, I was hoping for more time discussing the nature, power, and beauty of paradox. Perhaps I'm the only one who was expecting this, but I wanted a celebration of the way that practicing with paradox can help us be "perplexed but not in despair" when we discover new mysteries (2 Corinthians 4:8). But I generally loved the way she was able to allow paradox to surprise her rather than insisting that mystery submit itself to her own understanding. She models a curious, gentle, persistent faith that longs for truth and revels in complexity.
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  • Catherine Norman
    January 1, 1970
    For non-fiction, Christian books, I often turn to the endnotes to determine whether or not I will read the book. Anyone who quotes Fleming Rutledge and Ta-Nehisi Coates in the same chapter will get moved to the top of my to-read list, and I was not disappointed with Jen Pollock Michel's new book. Divided into four sections (Incarnation, Kingdom, Grace, Lament) that come with reflection questions, this book led with more questions than answers. It was refreshing to consider the great mysteries of For non-fiction, Christian books, I often turn to the endnotes to determine whether or not I will read the book. Anyone who quotes Fleming Rutledge and Ta-Nehisi Coates in the same chapter will get moved to the top of my to-read list, and I was not disappointed with Jen Pollock Michel's new book. Divided into four sections (Incarnation, Kingdom, Grace, Lament) that come with reflection questions, this book led with more questions than answers. It was refreshing to consider the great mysteries of the faith, and be invited into the wondering, as she writes "Mystery is inherent to the nature of the gospel, whose wisdom confounds more than assists."The section on lament resonated with me most deeply, and I would appreciate an entire book on lament, hope, and suffering from the author. There are no easy, pat answers given, only the opportunity to see that lament leads us back to God: "Lament isn't the road back to normal. It's the road back to faith." Thanks to NetGalley for the Advanced Readers Copy in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own.
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  • Andy Springer
    January 1, 1970
    Things aren't always either/or and maybe they aren't supposed to be. Faith can be much more beautiful and reciting when things that seem contradictory are held as true without need for resolution. Jen Pollock Michel does a fantastic job of showing beauty in mystery and uncertainty. God becomes one in whom we are drawn more deeply into through paradox and uncertainty. Our faith is enhanced when experienced as a journey without the constant push to have the correct ideas and understandings.
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  • Michele Morin
    January 1, 1970
    Wild extremes live on the bandwidth that comprises Christian faith. At one end of the scale are those who believe scarcely a thing at all, but even this is not as frightening to me as those on the end of the spectrum who have God all figured out. With algebraic precision, they are able to reduce God to his component parts. Their certainty factors out mystery and puts unyielding parentheses around an orthodoxy with no room for questions–and no surprises.In Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of “An Wild extremes live on the bandwidth that comprises Christian faith. At one end of the scale are those who believe scarcely a thing at all, but even this is not as frightening to me as those on the end of the spectrum who have God all figured out. With algebraic precision, they are able to reduce God to his component parts. Their certainty factors out mystery and puts unyielding parentheses around an orthodoxy with no room for questions–and no surprises.In Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or World, Jen Pollock Michel asserts that biblical faith “abides complexity rather than resists it.” (4) She wonders aloud about doubt and certainty, humility and hope, and then settles into the examination of four themes in Scripture in which paradox abounds:1. Incarnation: God and ManNowhere is God’s delight in both/and over either/or more apparent than in the truth that the incarnate Christ was fully God AND fully man. This is a mystery that defies logic, and it invites believers to delight in our own duality. We are intensely physical beings with appetites and space/time limitations that anchor us in the quotidian and the earthy. And yet, our spirits commune with The Spirit, our souls will live forever, and we have been created in the image of an unseen God who is wholly spirit.The incarnation brings unity to the spiritual and the material, the secular and the sacred, and we find, to our great surprise that “in Jesus Christ, we are more unimpressive than we ever dared admit, more glorious than we ever dared dream.” (57)2. Kingdom: Plain Truth and MysteryJesus wasted no time in announcing that he represented another kingdom, far removed from the Roman Empire or the religious hierarchy of Judaism. Reading his story with the Kingdom of God in mind uncovers “the scope of God’s ambitions. He wills to reign. And he will reign over more than human hearts.” (71)However, it is clear that the righting of our upside down world which began with Christ’s resurrection is not readily apparent and often seems completely missing in a world so larded through with suffering and injustice. In the meantime, those with little find their places alongside those blessed with much, and we all trust for grace to do life with those who don’t look like us, who vote in ways we find scandalous–and who are positively indispensable in our process of learning to set our hope fully in Jesus alone.3. Grace: Rest and ResponseIf God had bones, grace would be in his deepest marrow. This is good news, for how else would any of us find our way into relationship with the Most Holy?The paradox of grace lies in God’s requirement for obedience and his rejection of legalism; the gift of hard words delivered with love; and the invitation to rest while carrying his yoke. The reality of grace means spiritual disciplines that look like work and feel like deprivation are the very thing that clear the channels for grace to flow freely into our lives.4. Lament: Howling Prayer and Confessing FaithNorth American Christians with our lives of relative ease rely heavily upon inspired words for our language of lament. There we find faithful Jeremiah pausing dead center in Lamentations to gulp air, declare God’s faithfulness, and then resume his tearful mourning over lost Jerusalem. Habakkuk and Job sing testy songs of impatience with God’s slow mercy, and psalms of lament read like “nasty letters to the editor.” (155)Ironically, it is only those whom we trust and value who will receive the brunt of our anguish, disappointment, or rage. We affirm belief in a God who is there by railing at him when he feels absent. Our forays into lament keep sorrow from unraveling into despair.God’s promise of And in this Either/Or World means that “just because it can’t be explained doesn’t make it false.” (24) The dissonance we feel when we bump into God’s inscrutable ways is an invitation to worship and to find, buried within the struggle to understand, the gift of wonder.Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
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  • Darryl Dash
    January 1, 1970
    Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian, believed in paradox. He believed that in God we see many traits that don’t seem to belong together: infinite greatness and infinite care, infinite justice and infinite mercy, and infinite majesty displaying itself as stunning meekness. So did G.K. Chesterton, who said, “An element of paradox runs through the whole of existence itself.”I confess I’m not always comfortable with paradox. I like my theology neatly defined. I understand and accept the Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian, believed in paradox. He believed that in God we see many traits that don’t seem to belong together: infinite greatness and infinite care, infinite justice and infinite mercy, and infinite majesty displaying itself as stunning meekness. So did G.K. Chesterton, who said, “An element of paradox runs through the whole of existence itself.”I confess I’m not always comfortable with paradox. I like my theology neatly defined. I understand and accept the idea of paradox, but it sometimes makes me nervous.According to Jen Pollock Michel, author of the new book Surprised by Paradox, paradox isn’t the exception in life with God; it’s the rule. “From the way Jesus’ life unfolds (from the incarnation to his public ministry, and then to his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascent), everything is full of surprise. God upends our expectations along the way, which seems to insist that we must approach theology with a great deal of mystery.”Michel is no enemy of theological certainty. Her book is crisp with theological insight. I’m often taken when I read her by her grasp of good theology and her ability to express it clearly and beautifully. But Michel also knows that Scripture doesn’t resolve every apparent paradox. It leaves room for mystery. We live with tension and perplexity. We must worship with humility, wonder, and trust, understanding that there’s a lot we don’t understand.Surprised by Paradox traces the paradox in Scripture contained within four biblical themes: incarnation, kingdom, grace, and lament. Michel takes us through the major events of Jesus’ life as she also reflects on the tensions and struggles in her own life.Michel does a good job handling these themes, but that’s not the only reason to read this book. It’s also worth reading because it’s written so well. I decided a while ago that I would read every book that Michel writes. This one reminded me how much I enjoy her writing. Michel is artful. There are sentences in this book (for instance, “Pretense in prayer is a lot like kissing with your clothes on”) that made me put down the book and pray that I would one day be able to write half as well as she can.But here’s the main reason I recommend reading this book: because the older you get, the more you will recognize the reality of paradox. “This book began in a counselor’s office,” she starts — and that’s enough to get me interested. Michel does not write in the abstract. She writes as someone who has suffered, someone who has questions, and as someone who can relate to you and to me.I think you’ve probably guessed by now: I loved this book. “As soon as we think we have God figured out, we will have ceased to worship him as he is,” she writes. Well, I want to worship God as he is, and to understand life as it is, and that means living with paradox. This book helps. Read it, enjoy it, and allow it to help you embrace both the certainties and paradoxes of Scripture and life.
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  • Lyndon Jost
    January 1, 1970
    In consideration of God, his ineffable world and ways, Jen Pollock Michel begins where most of us leave off: once we’ve given every possible answer to why and how divine realities and worldly complexities (paradoxes!) are what they are, we finally admit mystery--or “paradox”--as though admitting loss in Logic’s cruel game. Pollock Michel, on the other hand, repositions paradox from logic’s end to its beginning. Paradox here is not the unfortunate final word but an opening better word (or “postur In consideration of God, his ineffable world and ways, Jen Pollock Michel begins where most of us leave off: once we’ve given every possible answer to why and how divine realities and worldly complexities (paradoxes!) are what they are, we finally admit mystery--or “paradox”--as though admitting loss in Logic’s cruel game. Pollock Michel, on the other hand, repositions paradox from logic’s end to its beginning. Paradox here is not the unfortunate final word but an opening better word (or “posture”) which rightly positions us to see, hear, and receive God’s Word and world in all the rich complexities each offers. Put differently, she begins by presupposing that paradox is built in to the world as God has given it, and this opens us up to receive rightly and appreciate more fully the wonder of our great God and the world He’s made.
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  • Anita Yoder
    January 1, 1970
    Simple and profound writing--a paradox in itself! I've loved Jen's writing ever since her first book, and she's only getting better, more succinct, more practical. Post-modernists and millennials will warm to the concept of paradox. Fundamentalists might be disturbed by it because it allows for truth beyond propositions. To my strong tendencies to extremes and all-or-nothing way of living, Jen offers a gentle invitation to consider another way of looking at life, people, and God. It's freeing, b Simple and profound writing--a paradox in itself! I've loved Jen's writing ever since her first book, and she's only getting better, more succinct, more practical. Post-modernists and millennials will warm to the concept of paradox. Fundamentalists might be disturbed by it because it allows for truth beyond propositions. To my strong tendencies to extremes and all-or-nothing way of living, Jen offers a gentle invitation to consider another way of looking at life, people, and God. It's freeing, beautiful, and true.
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  • Angie Thornton
    January 1, 1970
    Jen once again produced an excellent text for much reflection in "Surprised by Paradox." I was expecting this book to be a pleasurable read (I wish I could write like her!). What surprised me was just how riveting it was. I couldn't put it down! I'm already looking forward to reading it again in order to ruminate on the subject matter more fully. Jen writes with such depth and passion. She seems to have such ease in weaving beautiful word pictures to help bring to life theological concepts that Jen once again produced an excellent text for much reflection in "Surprised by Paradox." I was expecting this book to be a pleasurable read (I wish I could write like her!). What surprised me was just how riveting it was. I couldn't put it down! I'm already looking forward to reading it again in order to ruminate on the subject matter more fully. Jen writes with such depth and passion. She seems to have such ease in weaving beautiful word pictures to help bring to life theological concepts that could be onerous to consider if penned by a less gifted author. In our polarized world of black and white, Jen forces us to step back and ponder the possibility that there is perhaps more nuance and uncertainty than we would like. But that in the midst of our questions, we will discover a deeper, more reverent love for our Triune God, who cannot be fully comprehended nor narrowed down to serve our simple minds. While I could share more quotes than the characters permitted here, this one was gold:"Maybe the mystery of suffering isn’t only that this world could be so fragile; maybe it’s also that God could be so close, bending his ear to the earth to let every grieving heart crawl inside and find rest. Not answers, but comfort. Not certainty, but trust. And perhaps this is enough to tide us over till the dawning of a new world when the heavy boots of death are sent straight to hell and everything fragile is made unbreakable again, where falling becomes rising and faith becomes sight."​
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  • Johanna
    January 1, 1970
    In the book Surprised by Paradox, Jen Pollock Michel examines four of the different paradoxes that are a part of the Christian faith. She argues that we need to learn to be comfortable with the word "and" when it comes to describing what we need and that accepting paradox does not mean that we are doubtful. Rather, it is a way to embrace the complexity of Christianity. I found the sections on grace and lament to be the strongest towards supporting the arguments of the book. Both of these section In the book Surprised by Paradox, Jen Pollock Michel examines four of the different paradoxes that are a part of the Christian faith. She argues that we need to learn to be comfortable with the word "and" when it comes to describing what we need and that accepting paradox does not mean that we are doubtful. Rather, it is a way to embrace the complexity of Christianity. I found the sections on grace and lament to be the strongest towards supporting the arguments of the book. Both of these sections deal with important paradoxes that are often overlooked on one side or the other in American evangelicalism. Michel supports her arguments with Scripture and thinkers both ancient and modern. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in a deeper study of how the seeming paradoxes of Christianity can actually lead us into a deeper faith.
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  • Nicole Senft
    January 1, 1970
    Surprised by Paradox by Jen Pollock Michel is quite an interesting book. I thought this book would be really interesting from reading the description when the publisher sent over the excerpt of the book to join the book launch team. When I read the description, I sort of ignored the title. I didn’t think much of the book. It was not until I was invited to join the launch team that I realized the book was called Surprise by Paradox. The words surprise and paradox do not seem positive. When sharin Surprised by Paradox by Jen Pollock Michel is quite an interesting book. I thought this book would be really interesting from reading the description when the publisher sent over the excerpt of the book to join the book launch team. When I read the description, I sort of ignored the title. I didn’t think much of the book. It was not until I was invited to join the launch team that I realized the book was called Surprise by Paradox. The words surprise and paradox do not seem positive. When sharing those sentiments in with the book launch team, Jen asked about why the words are negative and off-putting. For surprise, I personally don’t appreciate surprises. I like to know what is going to happen and when. Paradox is such an off-putting word. The very nature of the word tells me to be contradictory to what is the truth and what I know.The book was so good. It brought up many different things that caused me to think through many things. I really enjoyed the first chapter a lot. It’s hard to boil down the good parts of this book. I highly suggest reading it. There are so many different paradoxes that Jen brings up throughout this book. If I were to tell you one paradox in this whole book that really was enjoyable is the Great I And."The incarnation is God's burning bush: a mystery demanding a closer look" (24)- this is a really interesting idea. Not something that I would have ever thought about. It makes sense though with the knowledge that Moses did go up to the burning bush to check it out. I would say the incarnation is something that causes me to see the paradox of "The Great I And". The use of Psalm 19 in this chapter was done really well. I think that it is used well because it shows evidence for the incarnation of God being a burning bush.I really appreciated and enjoyed the lines “In the incarnation, God embraced contradiction in his own being and sustained tension in his own flesh. The incarnation suggests to God’s people the holy possibilities of and, this little word that rests at the bottom of every paradox” (28). The paradox of Jesus being fully God and fully man as he became incarnate to walk with humanity is both a contradiction and tension.I highly recommend this book and I am so thankful for the opportunity to have had the opportunity to be a part of this book launch team. The theology of paradox is complex and not very easy to understand. It is not something that I am afraid of but something that I really want to dive into further. There are so many different paradoxes throughout the scriptures. I received an advance reader copy of this book from the publisher Intervarsity Press for my honest review of this book.
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  • Dorothy Greco
    January 1, 1970
    Jen Pollock Michel is both an astute writer and theologian. One of the things I love about her is that she takes a familiar concept or passage of Scripture and then turns it inside out and upside down so that we can understand it more deeply. In the process, she empowers us to ask hard questions and wrestle with our faith. Her third book, Surprised by Paradox, invites readers to explore the mystery of believing in a God who cannot be contained or controlled. She believes that if we’re willing to Jen Pollock Michel is both an astute writer and theologian. One of the things I love about her is that she takes a familiar concept or passage of Scripture and then turns it inside out and upside down so that we can understand it more deeply. In the process, she empowers us to ask hard questions and wrestle with our faith. Her third book, Surprised by Paradox, invites readers to explore the mystery of believing in a God who cannot be contained or controlled. She believes that if we’re willing to embrace the paradoxes of a now but not yet God, our faith will become more robust and compelling—and I totally agree. Don’t miss this book!
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  • Matthew
    January 1, 1970
    If a pat answer has ever left you wanting, this is the book for you. In place of a faux optimism or grim stoicism, Jen Pollock Michel suggests a turn towards hopeful faith in the God who subsumes the contradictions."My interest is in the crooked lines, the irregular shapes, the open circles—which is to say, not the proofs but the problems."
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  • Nicole Walters
    January 1, 1970
    Surprised by Paradox is an invitation into the mystery and largeness of a God that is intensely knowable while so far beyond human comprehension. Michel brings a depth of theology and scholarship to the apparent contradictions of the Christian faith without losing touch with what makes that faith personal. I appreciated that she drew us into a place of wrestling with faith without giving easy answers.
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  • Sharla Fritz
    January 1, 1970
    Surprised by Paradox resonated deep in my soul. I push back against books that try to put God in a neat little box or explain Him in a three-point outline because God is so much bigger than that. The Bible and creation reveal much about His character, but we can never understand Him completely with our puny human minds. Jen Pollack Michel wrestles with four key mysteries of God: incarnation, kingdom, grace, and lament. While she sheds much light on each topic, she doesn't claim to know all the a Surprised by Paradox resonated deep in my soul. I push back against books that try to put God in a neat little box or explain Him in a three-point outline because God is so much bigger than that. The Bible and creation reveal much about His character, but we can never understand Him completely with our puny human minds. Jen Pollack Michel wrestles with four key mysteries of God: incarnation, kingdom, grace, and lament. While she sheds much light on each topic, she doesn't claim to know all the answers. Instead, she asserts that paradox can form humility in us, bringing us to our knees because we have a God much bigger than we can comprehend.
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  • Tai
    January 1, 1970
    Today's Evangelical church displays a preference for easy, simplistic, often dogmatic answers to complex problems. We consistently favor, as Jen puts it, certainty over mystery. As I've spent time encountering both God's Word and the deeper, difficult experiences of life, I've often found myself wondering if the solution I've held as set in stone is sufficient to answer to the full scope of Scripture and life. Timidly, in the secret places of my heart, I've whispered, “What is there's more to th Today's Evangelical church displays a preference for easy, simplistic, often dogmatic answers to complex problems. We consistently favor, as Jen puts it, certainty over mystery. As I've spent time encountering both God's Word and the deeper, difficult experiences of life, I've often found myself wondering if the solution I've held as set in stone is sufficient to answer to the full scope of Scripture and life. Timidly, in the secret places of my heart, I've whispered, “What is there's more to this…?”In Surprised by Paradox, Jen begins the complicated but freeing process of raising those awkward questions, stretching our hearts and minds to consider an AND answer to what has always seemed like an either/or problem. Rather than relying on proof texts or “chirpy” answers, Jen unflinchingly investigates those very passages that seem, at times, most at odds with each other. Deftly weaving in experiences from her own life, she connects the depth of scripture with the depth of human experience.Because Jen asks questions but doesn't always answer them, this book is an invitation, an open door, the first mile of a journey towards a generous, beautiful, heart-healing wonder of the One who authored Scripture and fashioned the heart.
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  • Diane
    January 1, 1970
    First I would like to say that I was given a copy of this book to read before release date. This book knocked my socks off. I never thought about paradox and Christ in this way before. This is a reread book.
  • Detta
    January 1, 1970
    Loving it. Not. Finished at the moment, about halfway there! Fresh look and some age old questions.
  • Brandon
    January 1, 1970
    Michael Card sang to us to “surrender the hunger to say you must know and the courage to say, ‘I believe,’ for the power of paradox opens your eyes and blinds those who say they can see.” (Listen to “God’s Own Fool” – you’ll thank me later). Paradox can be intimidating. It is a complexity that disrupts our comfort. It is a tension line between pillars of truth that feel impossible to grasp equally. It is mystery that requires revelation, and after revelation, trust. Yet, paradox is also freeing. Michael Card sang to us to “surrender the hunger to say you must know and the courage to say, ‘I believe,’ for the power of paradox opens your eyes and blinds those who say they can see.” (Listen to “God’s Own Fool” – you’ll thank me later). Paradox can be intimidating. It is a complexity that disrupts our comfort. It is a tension line between pillars of truth that feel impossible to grasp equally. It is mystery that requires revelation, and after revelation, trust. Yet, paradox is also freeing. It releases us to believe things that at face value seem contradictory. It opens the door to deeper faith as we learn to accept the wisdom of a God who will always be too great for us to comprehend. Most especially, in times of sorrow and struggle, it provides a place for wrestling, which is needed most when we feel powerless.Jen Pollock Michel approaches paradox on her knees, a Jesus-follower seeking to walk his path, bowing humbly at every monument on the road. Her prose is rich and beautiful, and she intermingles personal stories with Biblical stories with theological depth. It makes for a relatable, familiar read that puts a very solid and earthy context to the truths of Scripture. Jen talks about the Incarnation as a disciple fascinated with the mystery of the God-man. She talks about the Kingdom as one who longs to see its arrival. She talks about Grace as one who knows she needs it, and who has felt its power. She talks about Lament as one who has walked dark roads and knows the oppressiveness of the silence of God, yet trusts his goodness even when it is the hardest thing to do.If I had to level any criticism, it would be these two things: The first is that Jen makes perhaps too liberal a use of the word “paradox.” If paradox is the tension between two truths that seem at face value to be mutually exclusive or contradictory, then some things Jen calls paradox really are not. For instance, at one point she remarks that it is a paradox that grace sometimes requires hard words but insists we not deliver them harshly. That is really not a paradox – most people, Jesus-follower and non-follower alike, at some point learn that hard words and harsh words are different things, and that hard words spoken in love are a good thing. It may be uncomfortable to us, at times, but uncomfortable is not the same as paradoxical. On the other hand, a few pages before this example, Jen talks about the paradoxical tension between Law and Gospel and unfolds that balance beautifully, illustrating how that tension helps us avoid both legalism and antinomianism. Trevin Wax said it well in his review of this book, that Jen is at her best when she speaks about paradox in theological terms. The second criticism may seem minor, but it is worth noting. A number of times Jen refers to listening for God’s voice and hearing him speak. In the context of Jen’s writing and her professed beliefs (she notes in the book that she’s Presbyterian, and based on her theology I’m assuming she means PCA, a.k.a., the Biblical branch of Presbyterian), I understand her to mean that she looks for God’s wisdom and guidance, and those reminders and signs that God gives his followers to help them discern his will. I think (and I hope I’m not putting words in her mouth) that she would reject any notion that God reveals his will apart from or in contradiction to his Word. (In some ways, this is a paradox all its own – it is right to say that God speaks only through his Word. It is also right to say that God speaks to us through our fellow believers, through his angels, and through our own memories and understandings. The balance between the two is to remember that the Word is the clearest voice of God given to people, and all other voices are only his when they serve the Word, and never when they seek to separate from or be master of it.) I bring up this concern because reading a book like this can be raw – it is a spiritual workout. Raw experiences like these can easily send our flawed brains spinning in odd directions, and I could see someone mistaking Jen’s “hearing God speak” for permission to look for divine validation for very wrong-headed ideas. Unfortunately, I did not feel Jen said enough clear words surrounding those to head that off. My caution to the reader, then, is to understand that the voices, urgings, and inclinations you might hear are only as true as the Word itself that God has already given. If ever you aren’t sure, stick with the Word.Despite these two criticisms, I have no hesitation in recommending this book. It is an excellent read. Each chapter is broken down into several sections, with regular enough breaks that you can get through a chunk in a short sitting. Jen’s writing style is easy and enjoyable to read, so it never feels like a slog. At times, her wording is so well-crafted it feels like reading a work of art. She is truly a gifted writer. Each chapter ends with several questions for discussion, which would make this an excellent book for a small group or a book study. If you are looking for a book to gently take you deeper into God’s truth, this is a good choice. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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  • J.
    January 1, 1970
    Human beings long for a system of thought that can give clear-cut answers to our painful existential problems. Sometimes, we make our worldviews to be like a tight mathematical syntax which given a particular input, provides a particular output such as 1+1=2.But we know in our human experience that life is much more complex and beautiful than simplistic mathematical equations. And If this is the case with human life, how much more is this true of our faith in the Godhead who not only created us Human beings long for a system of thought that can give clear-cut answers to our painful existential problems. Sometimes, we make our worldviews to be like a tight mathematical syntax which given a particular input, provides a particular output such as 1+1=2.But we know in our human experience that life is much more complex and beautiful than simplistic mathematical equations. And If this is the case with human life, how much more is this true of our faith in the Godhead who not only created us mysterious beings but also this beautiful world which is full of beauty.In Surprised by Paradox, Jen Pollock Michel wants to help us see that our faith has some room for mystery. This might make some Christians uneasy. But its worth mentioning that Michel doesn’t say that we don’t have any certainties in Christian faith but rather that while there are certainties in our faith, at the heart of the Christian story is also paradox.She labours to help the readers understand that Christ Jesus bids us to embrace ‘and’ rather than ‘either and or’ paradigm. For her, the Son of God encourages us to abandon the polarities that we often tightly hold on to. For instance, she underscores that the reality of the incarnation (the beautiful paradox of God and human), body and spirit, heaven and earth, grace and law, life and death, suffering and joy compell us to hold onto tensions rather than easily resolving them by embracing simplistic synthesis.The hope is that by clinging to paradoxes, our worship will deepen and we will come to see God not as an object that needs to be dissected but as the one who is complex, beautiful, and inexpressibly indescribable and worthy of our worshipIn essence, Michel wants to help us enlarge our categories to include some room for mystery.I thank IVP for providing me with a complementary copy of this book.
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  • Michelle Kidwell
    January 1, 1970
    Surprised by ParadoxThe Promise of “And” in an Either-Or Worldby Jen Pollock MichelInterVarsity PressIVP BooksChristian , Religion & SpiritualityPub Date 14 May 2019I am reviewing a copy of Surprised by Paradox by Intervarsity Press and Netgalley:I found by Surprised by Paradox to be a well written book, that would be great for personal use or in a Bible Study setting.What if certainty isn’t the goal? In a world full of challenges many of us are searching for a belief system that provides st Surprised by ParadoxThe Promise of “And” in an Either-Or Worldby Jen Pollock MichelInterVarsity PressIVP BooksChristian , Religion & SpiritualityPub Date 14 May 2019I am reviewing a copy of Surprised by Paradox by Intervarsity Press and Netgalley:I found by Surprised by Paradox to be a well written book, that would be great for personal use or in a Bible Study setting.What if certainty isn’t the goal? In a world full of challenges many of us are searching for a belief system that provides straightforward answers tohelp us through the difficult times. We want our faith to act like a neat set of truth claims designed to solve the problems life throws at them.Jen Pollock Michel helps readers imagine aChristian Faith that is open to mystery. There are certainties in Christian Faith at the heart of it there are paradoxes as well. Jesus invites us to abandon the polarities of either in order to embrace the difficult wondrous dissonance of and the incarnation. The paradox that God made humans teaches us to look for God made human teaches us to look for God in the body and spirit, heaven and earth. In the kingdom, God often hides in plain sight and announces his triumph on the back of a donkey. In the paradox of grace, we receive life eternal by being active participants in death. And lament, with its clear-eyed appraisal of suffering alongside its commitment to finding audience with God, is a paradoxical practice of faith. Each of these themes give us certainty about God while also leading us into greater curiosity about his nature and activity in the world. As Michel writes, “As soon as we think we have God figured out, we will have ceased to worship him as he is.”I give Surprised by Paradox five out of five stars!Happy Reading!
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  • Neva Davies
    January 1, 1970
    “A kingdom life is always a nonconforming life, and subversion is a form of witness.”Often, when we think about what the Kingdom of God will look like, we forget that we are called to be witnesses of that kingdom, and we forget that that kingdom is already here among us. Surprised By Paradox by Jen Pollock Michel does a wonderful job explaining the concept of paradox in God’s kingdom, reminding us that God’s kingdom is an upside down one, where the righteous are not the rich but those who are po “A kingdom life is always a nonconforming life, and subversion is a form of witness.”Often, when we think about what the Kingdom of God will look like, we forget that we are called to be witnesses of that kingdom, and we forget that that kingdom is already here among us. Surprised By Paradox by Jen Pollock Michel does a wonderful job explaining the concept of paradox in God’s kingdom, reminding us that God’s kingdom is an upside down one, where the righteous are not the rich but those who are poor, where children are to be heard and not just seen. As I read through Surprised By Paradox and reflected upon the questions at the end of each segment, I found myself longing for this upside down kingdom, and hope that my life begins to act as a witness to that kingdom. Everyone should read this book out of longing for an upside down kingdom, one where tears are no more but one where everlasting joy and peace reign. The only way for this kingdom to be made among us is for the kingdom to change us first. We can’t change others using fear or suffering, but when we meet others in their suffering,there we’ll see change. We should not fear the mystery of the kingdom life; rather we should embrace it, reminding ourselves that in the mystery, God is found. In the mystery, we worship the God who sees, who knows our suffering, and who knows our hearts’ desires. May Surprised By Paradox remind us that the mystery of God is not a terrible thing, but is a gift that blesses each of us who seek God diligently, as we strive to see Him face to face.
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  • Alexis
    January 1, 1970
    Surprised by Paradox is a book that entered my life at just the right time. As an individual prone to sort life into trite dualisms, this book reminded me of the greatness of God and the complexities of faith we are called to hold in tension.Jen Pollock Michel again brings her narrative voice and theological wisdom together in a blend of beautiful, accessible writing that will challenge and expose our hearts. The book is split into four sections, exploring the paradoxes of the incarnation, kingd Surprised by Paradox is a book that entered my life at just the right time. As an individual prone to sort life into trite dualisms, this book reminded me of the greatness of God and the complexities of faith we are called to hold in tension.Jen Pollock Michel again brings her narrative voice and theological wisdom together in a blend of beautiful, accessible writing that will challenge and expose our hearts. The book is split into four sections, exploring the paradoxes of the incarnation, kingdom, grace, and lament—effectively tracing the paradoxes of the entire Biblical narrative while addressing the aches and longings of our culture. Michel writes with a graceful honesty that invites the reader to explore the brokenness of their own heart as well as to the difficult, but worthy way of Jesus.I would recommend this book to both men and women tired of pat answers and either/or divisions within their faith conversations. For book groups looking for challenging material packaged in a smooth, engaging read, Surprised by Paradox is ideal.
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  • Alex Rea
    January 1, 1970
    Generally speaking, we’re a people that doesn’t like mystery. We want clear-cut answers. Michel’s book, “Surprised by Paradox” reminds me of Aslan’s statement at the end of “The Last Battle,” where he charges the other characters to go “father up and farther in.” As we read Scripture and come to know more about God, we also realize that there’s much that remains mysterious. Still, in an effort to love God with our minds, we’re to continue growing in our knowledge and understanding of him. With t Generally speaking, we’re a people that doesn’t like mystery. We want clear-cut answers. Michel’s book, “Surprised by Paradox” reminds me of Aslan’s statement at the end of “The Last Battle,” where he charges the other characters to go “father up and farther in.” As we read Scripture and come to know more about God, we also realize that there’s much that remains mysterious. Still, in an effort to love God with our minds, we’re to continue growing in our knowledge and understanding of him. With that, however, we come face to face with a tension of sorts. There are some things of God we’re just unable to wrap our minds around. Michel uses this book to outline four themes: incarnation, kingdom, grace, and lament. She, poetic in her prose, forced me (multiple times!) to read and reread a sentence or paragraph, and simply meditate on the thoughts (e.g., “Grace is the gravity of our God-breathed world”).I also appreciated Michel’s transparency throughout the text, as she allows us readers into her history and the lessons she learned through her mistakes. God, as Creator, owns all and is over all. On this, Michel writes, “If the kingdom is good news, it surely isn’t safe. Because there is no square inch of our lives that Jesus doesn’t intend to rule.” (This truth, to me, nearly reads as an amalgam of CS Lewis and Abraham Kuyper.)“Surprised by Paradox” is challenging, thought-provoking, convicting, and encouraging – all in one. The Christian God is one who is mysterious, but that mystery should drive us to embrace the limits of our understanding, while praising him for his revelation. This revelation, of course, is chiefly shown in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3).I’m thankful for Michel’s work here and am looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.*Note: I received an advance copy of the text in exchange for my honest review and feedback.
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  • Katherine
    January 1, 1970
    As I read through Paradox, one of the things that I kept coming back to was how rich—and so very true—Michel's thoughts were. She's obviously well-read and knows scripture backwards and forwards, and in light of this seems to have a mountain of information to draw from. Take a thoughtful, wise, inquisitive person and add scripture and books and life in general and you have someone I certainly would love to spend an evening in front of a fire talking with. There's nothing pat in this book. The Ch As I read through Paradox, one of the things that I kept coming back to was how rich—and so very true—Michel's thoughts were. She's obviously well-read and knows scripture backwards and forwards, and in light of this seems to have a mountain of information to draw from. Take a thoughtful, wise, inquisitive person and add scripture and books and life in general and you have someone I certainly would love to spend an evening in front of a fire talking with. There's nothing pat in this book. The Christian life is a paradox and Michel gathers together all the ways we need to stop, think, and include 'and' in the way we understand things. The ramifications of this can be life-changing. It's an important read.
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  • Rebecca Stevenson
    January 1, 1970
    The idea of paradox is no small thing to undertake in any limited form, and a study of the paradoxes of the Christian faith could conceivably fill volumes. But in her new book, Surprised by Paradox, author Jen Pollock Michel accomplishes great things.Her careful exploration of Christianity's fundamental incongruities results in a comprehensible framework, and this framework helps us see mysteries that we might otherwise ignore or reject. At the same time, Michel maintains her own sense of wonder The idea of paradox is no small thing to undertake in any limited form, and a study of the paradoxes of the Christian faith could conceivably fill volumes. But in her new book, Surprised by Paradox, author Jen Pollock Michel accomplishes great things.Her careful exploration of Christianity's fundamental incongruities results in a comprehensible framework, and this framework helps us see mysteries that we might otherwise ignore or reject. At the same time, Michel maintains her own sense of wonder and invites us to develop the same. In her capable hands, these paradoxes open us to the potential for a more honest relationship with God--one that recognizes he will not be fully understood and yet can also be --and desires to be-- known.
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  • Stephanie Reeves
    January 1, 1970
    Jen P Michel has broken the taboo of talking about things of faith that have no answers—and we should be OK, and even enthusiastic about that. There are things in Scripture that we just can’t explain, and if Paul and Peter and James and John and other great writers of the Scriptures were OK with that, why do we think we need all the answers? Surprised by Paradox will challenge you to know who it is you’re believing in, and to be satisfied with “and” rather than “either/or.” Don’t be afraid to ha Jen P Michel has broken the taboo of talking about things of faith that have no answers—and we should be OK, and even enthusiastic about that. There are things in Scripture that we just can’t explain, and if Paul and Peter and James and John and other great writers of the Scriptures were OK with that, why do we think we need all the answers? Surprised by Paradox will challenge you to know who it is you’re believing in, and to be satisfied with “and” rather than “either/or.” Don’t be afraid to have questions. It doesn’t mean you’re doubting God. It means He’s bigger than our minds can imagine. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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  • Courtney Ellis
    January 1, 1970
    A thoughtful, honest, engaging guide through the mysteries of faith.With the wisdom of a theologian and the skill of a master storyteller, Pollock Michel weaves together the "and" stories of Scripture. From the incarnation to lament, from the sinner/saint paradox to the joy and suffering of Jesus, this book will stand the test of time. For churches and individuals wishing to study it, there are guides at the end of every section with discussion questions. This will be a stalwart in my library, a A thoughtful, honest, engaging guide through the mysteries of faith.With the wisdom of a theologian and the skill of a master storyteller, Pollock Michel weaves together the "and" stories of Scripture. From the incarnation to lament, from the sinner/saint paradox to the joy and suffering of Jesus, this book will stand the test of time. For churches and individuals wishing to study it, there are guides at the end of every section with discussion questions. This will be a stalwart in my library, and I look forward to rereading it and referencing it in the years to come.
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  • Tatyana Claytor
    January 1, 1970
    This book is timely in that I have thought about and had numerous conversations about this topic. As Christians, we want things to fit neatly into boxes. We want happy endings and resolutions that make sense. God will not be put in a box though. Michel expertly unveils four areas of Paradox: the incarnation, the kingdom, grace,and lament. Prepare to be challenged and encouraged in your understanding!
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  • Nathan Reschke
    January 1, 1970
    This was a great book! I recommend it strongly! It's about the paradoxes found in the Bible and in Jesus' life. It gave me a lot to think about and helped me grow closer to Jesus. I can't think of a better recommendation then that! :)
  • Erin Straza
    January 1, 1970
    I love mystery and feel oddly at home where truths are present but not always connected or clearly obvious. In such situations, whatever clarity is lacking, I presume it to be simply unseen or undetected by me, rather than completely nonexistent. This is a form of that “negative capability” that Keats spoke of, that ability to rest in the unknown and uncertain—for the Christian, this should not be too difficult because what we don’t know (all the whys and hows of life) is beautifully dwarfed by I love mystery and feel oddly at home where truths are present but not always connected or clearly obvious. In such situations, whatever clarity is lacking, I presume it to be simply unseen or undetected by me, rather than completely nonexistent. This is a form of that “negative capability” that Keats spoke of, that ability to rest in the unknown and uncertain—for the Christian, this should not be too difficult because what we don’t know (all the whys and hows of life) is beautifully dwarfed by what we do know (Christ crucified and raised to life again). In light of all this, Jen helps us pause and wonder at all that doesn’t make sense and line up, and then points to the firm foundation of the things that not only make sense but also hold the whole world together:“Mystery is inherent to the nature of the gospel, whose wisdom confounds more than assists.”“We cherish the rich complexity of our faith and its frequent refusal to be bargained unto aphorism and geometric proof.”Paradox isn’t something to fear but a mystery to embrace and wonder at.
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