Book Review: It’s A Dance By Patrick Oden

Patrick Oden's New Book

Fuller Seminary grad, and fellow blogger Patrick Oden has a new book coming out on November 1st, “It’s a Dance” with Evangelical Friends’ Barclay Press. I remember meeting Patrick three years ago when I was just starting to TA for Ryan Bolger’s Emerging Churches class. We’d been reading each other’s blogs prior to the class and then had the opportunity to meet face to face in class. One thing that stood out to me about Patrick was his interest in the Holy Spirit and his knowledge of Quakers. While not a Quaker himself, he admitted to being deeply influenced by the tradition and appreciating a lot about it. He was also conversant with the Emerging church and came down to sit in on Ryan’s class and hear more about what was getting said there. Enter his new book,

It’s A Dance

, a grand mixture of pneumatology (theology of the Holy Spirit), the emerging church conversation and Quaker ideas splattered throughout.

Oden borrows from the structure of Bolger and Gibb’s book, Emerging Churches as he uses the nine practices of these churches to frame his own ideas. The book itself while espousing theological ideas is not your typical theology book, while not necessarily a narrative (though it has narrative elements in it), it stands more as a theological dialogue. The dialogue takes place between a newspaper reporter, given the assignment to report on all the churches in the area, and some folks at an emerging church/pub/coffee shop called the Upper Room. While it’s all fictional, there are certainly elements to the story that anyone who’s grown up in church will be able to relate to.

The strengths of this book are clear from the start. It’s not a theology book and doesn’t get bogged down with theological lingo which is important for the subject it focuses on. Think of this book as the emerging church taking seriously and working out a pneumatology. This is what Oden sets out to create and I think he succeeds in it. He is obviously informed by the theologies of Jurgen Moltmann, Veli Matti Karkkanien, and Wolfgang Pannenberg, to name just a few, and it’s nice to see someone take these great thinkers, boil them down a bit, and put some legs on their ideas.

I am not sure what Oden’s experience is in the emerging church but I think he does a pretty good job treating the subject: it’s about people living out their faith in today’s culture, not getting caught up in being “churchy” but being faithful to the Gospel, questioning the status quo (of Christianity and American culture) and thinking outside the box when it comes to being creative in our approaches to theology and worship.

Where Oden’s book stumbles is almost rooted in what makes this book stand out. While I appreciate the dialogical nature of the text and the narratives found therein, I think it suffers from not having more narrative and less dialogue which is in agreement with AJ’s critique. I found it difficult to read this much dialogue in long sittings. But then again, it’s that framework that makes his book more easy to digest than one that is written like a standard theological argument.

I can see using this book in an undergradute class on spiritual practices or theology as well as in a youth group or college age ministry setting where you’d like to get at some of these grand ideas in an accessible way. Overall, I think Patrick’s done a great job and I enjoyed picking up insights couched within his narrative.  I hope the book does well and am really excited to see what Patrick does next.