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Monday, December 12, 2016

Paradoxology (Krish Kandiah)

TITLE: Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simple
AUTHOR: Krish Kandiah
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (288 pages).

Life is viewed like a paradox because of our limited perspectives. Every situation has multiple interpretations. Every interpretation is subject to changing contexts. When we view life as a paradox, it keeps us humble and open to different understanding. This is what author Krish Kandiah has done for us. By looking at key characters in the Bible, he helps us to learn the nuances of Christian teachings throughout the ages. Simply put, there are no simple answers to the difficult questions we encounter through time. Take suffering for example. Can we explain it or understand why it happens? For if we can understand all the things of God, surely, we will be God. The author begins with the following definition of a paradox: "A paradox, just to be clear, consists of true statements that lead to an apparent or real contradiction in logic or intuition." The key thesis in this book is this:

"Paradoxology makes a bold claim: that the paradoxes that seem to undermine belief are actually the heart of our vibrant faith, and that it is only by continually wrestling with them – rather than trying to pin them down or push them away – that we can really worship God, individually and together."

Continuing to wrestle means learning to appreciate both sides of the divide and the tensions that come with it. In the story of Abraham, we deal with the paradox of a God who needs nothing but still asks for everything from Abraham. It leads us through a range of back and forth propositions before the reader realizes that in demanding our all, God is actually bringing out the best of us for us. On Moses, we see how a God who seems so far away is brought near. Moses is one of those rare individuals privileged to get up close and personal with God. Knowing how to hold two truths, God being everywhere and yet at times so far away requires a healthy tension brought together in faith. On Joshua, we learn about the tensions of understanding how a compassionate God could ask for the destruction of the Canaanites. Often, the desire to want straight and rapid-fire answers will render us clueless as to what God is doing. If we are impatient with God, we have missed understanding that God has been most patient with us in the first place. The Job Paradox presents us a strange picture of God who seems to be distant and inactive. It is an opportunity to see how God does not answer human questions with answers, but how He reveals Himself through even more questions. Kandiah begins the Hosea Paradox by describing his faithfulness to Liverpool Football Club, to usher us into the truth of how despite man being unfaithful to God, God still remained faithful.   The Habakkuk Paradox is about trying to understand an unpredictable God while the Jonah Paradox shows us how God is both selective and also non-discriminative. The Esther Paradox is how a God who was never mentioned in the Book of Esther seems to have His fingerprints everywhere. On the New Testament, Kandiah presents five paradoxes:

  • The Jesus Paradox: How God is both fully divine and fully human
  • The Judas Paradox: Tension of being truly free and yet that liberated.
  • The Cross Paradox: How God wins even as He seems to lose
  • The Roman Paradox: How God appears so ineffective, yet He is most effective.
  • The Corinthian Paradox: Encouragement amid Disappointment.

The power of paradox defies our pet ideologies and questions our old assumptions that have become fragile and archaic. While the truth is always truth, the way we see it can often change according to our contexts and circumstances. That's what life is about. From updating languages to changing tastes and lifestyles, we change because we are always growing. The Word of God is living and God reveals as much truth as we can possibly or willingly take. The key strength in this book is that the author dares to ask tough questions about some of our assumptions and still provides a way forward in learning. The subtitle of the book can be misunderstood. I know of people who often tend to say "Keep things simple" or "Life is not so complicated" kind of statements. As a result, they prefer not to dive deeper into the difficult parts of the Bible on the basis of this simplicity conviction. Kandiah takes the approach of a paradox lens to help us sift through the mass of multiple interpretations and questions. It is not the only way but is a highly effective and refreshing way to read Scripture. Not only that, once readers get the hang of plowing through the difficult passages, they might even be challenged to come up with different strategies which make for greater learning and appreciation. God's Word is living and we will continue to be nourished by the Word as long as we keep at it.

I suspect that one reason why people prefer to read and re-read choice passages in the Bible is because it is easier to understand without having to deal with the needed nuances they bring. For instance, take the eternal security debate about whether one could ever lose salvation. Those who believe so will stick to passages that support their view. Those who believe otherwise will do the same with their own passages. By failing to deal adequately will the whole story of Scripture, they lose out by self-congratulatory pats with having a partial picture. I have one main critique and that is the title itself. I feel that the "para" attached to "doxology" could render an alternative if not more negative understanding of worship. While the idea is about the -ology of a paradox, it could project erroneously a diminished view of "worship and praise." That is not the intent of the author but I suppose as a book about paradox, it could very well challenge us to think about worship as well, that even as I attempt to find out great things about God, it's a good reminder that knowledge cannot end in itself. The final goal of all knowledge and learning is worship: Doxology. Apart from this, I strongly recommend this book for reading, teaching, and learning.

Krish Kandiah is the Founding Director of Home for Good, a young charity seeking to make a real difference in the lives of vulnerable children. He is an author, an adjunct professor, as well as an activist on various charities.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Inter-Varsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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