UK Christian Bookshops Directory: Christian Book Reviews: Only Human
Only Human Only Human
Christian reflections on the journey towards wholeness

David P. Gushee
ISBN 9780787964153 (0787964158)
Jossey-Bass, 2005

Category: Doctrine and Theology

Gushee's book is described on its back cover as 'a provocative exploration of what it means to be human'. Not quite entertaining enough for popular theology and not rigorous enough for serious theology, this book provoked little in me other than the odd yawn and a gaze out of the train window.

Gushee tackles topics like 'is there such a thing as human nature?', 'why do relationships matter so much?', 'what does moral greatness look like?' in a style that is meant to be accessible but that I found flat, even though the content was not in itself bad. It reads like a journal paper, but it does not really move towards a climatic moment to entice you into finishing it.

Also, there is a sense that Gushee is preaching to the converted - in chapter 4 he asks 'Am I a sinner?' No prizes for guessing what the answer was. He either does not have space to discuss in depth, or he knows that 99% of his readers will agree and so little discussion is needed. However, on the topic of 'Am I free?', there were some interesting points on fate, responsibility, is God in total control etc which I would direct people to if they had questions on this topic.

A study of Jesus' humanity would be integral part of any book with this title. But the thing that most disappointed me about this book was that this chapter was missing: although Gushee refers to Jesus a fair amount, he does not dedicate a chapter to this area of Christology. Perhaps this is because Gushee is an ethicist and it is not where he's most at home, but for me this left a gaping hole just waiting to be filled by some meaty analysis on the personhood of Jesus.

The penultimate chapter made interesting reading - with short biographies of esteemed people who deserve our admiration. But why did Gushee choose 'the old favourites'? Wilberforce and Nightingale are unquestionably classic heroes, but focussing on less well-known ones would have modernised the chapter and given the reader more realistic goals of greatness.

Does this book have redeeming features? Yes. Gushee includes excerpts from the Catholic catechism and quotes from a range of different authors from different backgrounds, and includes his own personal experiences. The final chapter is also a breath of eschatological fresh air as he talks of reconciliation and wholeness at the end of the world rather than heaven and angels. Although the rest of his book felt slightly 'forced', it is perhaps in this part that the real (more provocative) Gushee comes through.

Caroline Wenger, July 2007

Having tried the Alpine life for more than a year, Caroline Wenger is soon to be coming down the mountain to live in a town not far from Zürich. She enjoys reading (albeit slowly), cooking and travelling and finds it sometimes hard to stay awake in sleepy Switzerland.


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