Courageous but flawed attempt by Woiwode (Indian Affairs, 1992, etc.) to examine Christian culture and his own faith in the light of Acts, ``the most overtly narrative book of the New Testament.'' Woiwode's grit lies in his willingness to discuss Christianity despite—as he hammers home—the bias against religion among America's cultural and academic elite. He ponders the task of the Christian writer and finds it, as did Dante, Tolstoy, and Eliot before him, to be a search for ``a way to live the life Christ calls us to live.'' The best compass here, says Woiwode, remains the Bible. Thus his interest in Acts, toward which he takes a Protestant approach (Woiwode is an rthodox Presbyterian), paring away doctrines that he sees as excrescences to get at the unvarnished revelation. His technique, a combination of common sense and writerly savvy that ignores biblical scholarship, gets him into trouble at times. For instance, while it's charming and even instructive to call Peter's account of Judas's suicide ``an elaboration, in a sophisticated accreting manner that would please a Robbe-Grillet,'' it's naive to believe that the numbers in Acts (e.g., 40 days as the span of Jesus' post-Resurrection appearances) must be literally true because, as Woiwode claims, Luke has a novelist's eye for factual detail: Such literalism ignores the different aims and methods of modern and ancient writers. Similar exegetic goofs pepper the text, but no matter; far more exciting is Woiwode's ability to connect the ancient dramas of Acts to modern life. In so doing, he plucks away at the nature of sin, baptism, miracle, and other issues, and tells of his own religious conversion and return to the land, always in the same shimmering prose that marks his fiction (``I pressed a footpedal that released a pyramid of fifteen finished bales, outlined white-gold in a sudden gate of sun''). Pretty shaky as scholarship—but a tough, moving personal testament.
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