When the Game is Over When the Game is Over
It all goes back in the box

John Ortberg
ISBN 9780310253501 (0310253500)
Zondervan, 2007

Category: Christian Life & Discipleship
Reviewed by: Phil Groom

As a bookseller I've sold dozens of John Ortberg's books, but until a preview copy of this one came along I'd never read any. Somehow the titles — in similar vein to this, such as If you want to walk on water, you've got to get out of the boat and Everybody's normal till you get to know them — have put me off: mildly amusing statements of the blindingly obvious, they've struck me as somewhat flippant.

My mistake. Whilst there's plenty of good humour helping to make the author's point, it's rarely flippant; although, as a Brit, I do feel compelled to take exception to his comment about scorekeeping in cricket, p.37: "The British keep score in cricket, but no one has figured out how. Or why." That has to be hitting below the belt — but, as I've said, it helps to make the point, the point in this instance being that all games, including the game of life, involve scorekeeping.

The idea of life as a game is, of course, nothing new; but it's rare to find the idea explored as thoroughly or comprehensively as Ortberg does here. The book has six sections: The Game; The Object; Setup; How to Play; Hazards; and To Win. The first two sections have only one chapter each; after that the game gets serious, with several chapters per section.

Throughout the book we're reminded that in the game of life we're playing for keeps, for eternity. So the things we play for need to be things that last for ever: money, possessions, property — in short, "stuff" — are all temporary, of no more lasting significance than the playing pieces we acquire in a game of Monopoly. We can't take them with us: "when the game is over, it all goes back in the box." But love is eternal: "the good news is, in light of eternity, each day that we live, each act of love, moves from potential good to realized good and will never be lost, not for all eternity." (p.103).

There's even more at stake, however: our very selves — the one thing that never goes back in the box is the human soul. Each person, Ortberg asserts over and over again, is "a being who will never cease to exist. Your spirit—your inner character—is in process of becoming something. Something either unbelievedly good or something unimaginably dark. " (p.49)

There's a certain irony about the book and Zondervan's marketing strategy here: Zondervan have sent out dozens — possibly hundreds — of preview copies and have promised that every advance reader who posts a comment about the book at the author's website will receive a signed copy of the hardback. Yet if we take the book's message to heart, we have to acknowledge that even this is just more "stuff" — and why, if we've read the preview copy, would we want it in hardback as well? Unless, of course, to give it away...

...and looking back at this review 8 months later (April 2008), I never did get my promised signed copy. I wonder if anyone else did??

Phil Groom, August 2007

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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