A debut book offers a meditation on contemporary faith and examines new ways of viewing God.
“I had looked my own mortality in the eye. And I flinched,” Harlan writes about her time in the hospital with heart attack-like symptoms. She then weaves together moments from this episode with tragic deaths of family members, her divorce, and a childhood Bible that triggers memories about the first covenant she ever made with God. A covenant she drifted away from, but now with these musings has recreated to be “written not only on the pages of my Bible, but on my heart.” From there, Harlan leaves behind autobiography to instead express how contemporary Christianity in America weighs on her own heart, in particular the hypocrisy and infighting she sees among today’s denominations and how these issues limit Christians’ understanding of who God really is. Starting with Isaiah and then moving through specific moments of the Gospel, Harlan cites well-chosen verses and then employs them in strong arguments for a fundamental reassessment of God, Jesus, and the structure of the church, following up each idea with discussion questions for Bible studies. She takes particular care to introduce new perspectives, either historical or linguistic, on the disciples, the words of Jesus, and on the Israel of Christ’s day. In a standout moment, she reinterprets the well-known story of Lazarus’ resurrection, asserting it to be not about Jesus’ power, “but rather [about] his genuine love and compassion.” Those two traits drive all of her arguments, both in content and style. Harlan is careful to never be too abrasive, accusatory, or overtly political, but she also refuses to shy away from calling out contradictory conservative viewpoints on war and poverty in America. She often addresses the reader directly and in the second person, writing like a passionate friend with strong convictions who is respectfully calling for reason, inclusiveness, and fresh perspectives on well-known doctrine.
Carefully and thoughtfully constructed arguments about contemporary Christianity and the questions believers should ask themselves in today’s world.