Occasionally, I encounter a book that is unlike what I expected. As this was my experience with Enjoying God in Everything, I wanted to offer a note of clarification. Based on the term “guide” in the title, I thought the book would fall more into the how-to/devotional genre. In conjunction with the synopsis, I was expecting to encounter tangible examples of how to find beauty in the everyday, which in turn points to God. Based on my own preferences, I was expecting a conversational work, supplemented with a good deal of anecdote.
Enjoying God in Everything has more of a philosophical bent, and I would describe it as argumentative in nature. The main thrust of the book is to build a logical argument, with each chapter building on its predecessor, in support of the idea that God is the origin of beauty, and therefore all praise for beauty belongs to Him. Beauty is referenced in the classical sense, as in the “goodness, truth and beauty” trio.
In the process of writing this review, I spoke to my mom, and she was so helpful in empowering me to clarify and articulate my own thoughts and response to the book, which I’ll discuss more, below.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.Col. 1:16-17
What to Expect
One of my strongest takeaways from talking to my mom is that this book really reads as a printed sermon. The linear argumentation, the pointed second-person directives, the interweaving of evidence– as a whole, it comes across as something I would hear preached from the pulpit. And that makes sense, because author Steve DeWitt is a pastor. I wasn’t expecting to read a sermon, and probably wouldn’t have selected this book if I had known that I would be reading a sermon. However, I think that, if this were a sermon I was listening to, I would appreciate it more than the average sermon.
The book is short— just under a hundred pages before back-of-book materials (acknowledgements and end notes), and consists of nine chapters: three focusing on beauty (that of God, Creation and Christ, respectively), two focusing on wonder (its relationship to beauty, as well as to worship) and two about enjoyment (of God in His Creation and of Him in our creation). The other two chapters are the introduction and the conclusion. Body chapters include questions for reflection and discussion.
What I Liked
One of DeWitt’s central arguments is that we cannot find lasting fulfillment and satisfaction outside of God. As DeWitt points out, we are mistaken in believing that we can be filled by any sort of human relationship, or by any earthly thing. Amen to that! This is such an important truth, and it is refreshing to see that truth so boldly spelled out. As each successive chapter builds on the ideas presented in the earlier chapters, this theme is pervasive throughout the book.
I also enjoyed reading certain quotes that DeWitt pulls in support of his reasoning. References to Blaise Pascal, St. Augustine and C.S. Lewis, among others, enriched the argument. Likewise, I appreciated the specific calls to wonder, provided in the Clyde Kilby reference. These were both practical and awe-evoking. Just as the first point is about remembering our smallness in God’s vast world, the Lord has ministered this truth to me in moments of anxiety, when I need to hear it, and I think Kilby’s daily resolution is a delightful plan.
Overall, I agreed with the author’s arguments and his individual points, as well.
As mentioned above, my mom helped me to recognize that this book really reads like a sermon. Talking with my mom also helped me to recognize my opinion that the sermon format may not be the most effective for the subject matter, and delivery, of the book.
First, regarding subject matter, I have mixed feelings about a sermon that, in some ways, seems to dissect the ideas of beauty and wonder. In his “Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis describes a sense of “indecency” when “speaking of this desire for our own far-off country.” Although the longer passage alludes to something we have not yet experienced, I feel that beauty and wonder are the very signals of this desire. And for me, personally, I was not led to a greater experience of beauty, by reading an in-depth argument about what beauty is.
(A quick disclosure: I have not read “The Weight of Glory” and came across the quotation in a fantastic commentary, The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis, by Jason Baxter. I will be reviewing this title, very favorably, in the near future.)
Second, with respect to the style of delivery, the sermon format introduces second-person directives, which make assumptions about the audience’s knowledge and experiences. For instance, the speaker infers that his readers’ understanding shifted over the course of a chapter, and asks how we might “respond differently” to a recent situation. This approach makes sense, assuming that the reader has reached a new understanding, but makes less sense if the arguments are familiar to the reader. The speaker also informs the reader about which sort of questions we need to ask, in the course of inquiry. This tone, while natural for a sermon or scholarly work, contributes to my concern that the book is dissecting beauty, rather than inviting readers to enjoy it.
With these things said, I do want to provide a disclosure of my personal bias. I do not think I am the intended audience for the book. As someone who lives in a very creative household, witnessing the birth of poetry (and artwork; my mom is a poet and our incredible home is full of her murals, not to mention designs/landscapes) on a regular basis, I am steeped in beauty and I was raised, from a young age, to recognize that beauty originates from God. While I do not always remember to thank Him for it, I am very aware that that is the fitting response. For this reason, the book’s arguments felt very obvious to me. For this reason, also, I had been hoping that the book would be more about entering into the experience of beauty (as I find fiction and poetry to do so powerfully), rather than discussing beauty, at length.
I should also disclose that, while I read a lot of books that discuss classical goodness, truth and beauty, during my college experience, these are NOT the kinds of books I gravitate towards, for pleasure reading.
Although this book was not what I expected it to be, I do feel that Enjoying God in Everything may be of interest to readers who really enjoy sermons and philosophical readings, and could especially benefit those who do not recognize (or feel uncertain about) the relationship between God and beauty.