“Every man, whatsoever his condition, desires to be happy. There is no man who does not desire this, and each one desires it with such earnestness that he prefers it to all other things; whoever, in fact, desires other things, desires them for this end alone.”
– St. Augustine
No one wants a normal life. Normal is almost a four letter word, a bad word. It’s something to be avoided. If we can do anything so that our lives are not a series of the same, we will do it. This aversion to normal comes from a deep seeded feeling, one that is found in all of us: we were made for more.
Where does that compulsion come from? How do we fulfil it? What more were we made for? How do we live a life that is far from normal?
Jonathan Parnell wants to help us with that. With a “proven path to significance and happiness“, this lead pastor of Cities Church in Minneapolis wants to see that we are not stuck in a boring, mundane life. Examining the powerful biblical truths and sharing his insights, Parnell will show us how in Jesus life will be anything but normal.
Never again will we need to be unhappy. Never again will we feel unimportant. Never again will we be stuck in a boring life. We can now Never Settle For Normal.
“The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.”
– Dorthy Sayers
There is a lot that will bother readers about this book; that it isn’t about not settling for normal, that it is a salvation message in a book, that Parnell seems to think that joy and happiness are biblical synonyms. But for the astute reader, there will be things that will be so disturbing that they may not pick the book back up again.
Parnell is right that a life grounded in God should be far from normal, but he quickly deviates from that and seems to throw a wrench into any traditional understanding of God and Trinity.
When Parnell talks about the Trinity, it is either in the language supporting a heirachy, where the Father is loving the Son by way of fellowship of the Spirit (but not anything from Son to Father, or Spirit to anyone), or in ways that reduce the Spirit to an energy between Father and Son. That understanding makes the Spirit a byproduct of Father and Son and not a person in the Trinity.
While I will give it to Parnell (and any other pastor and theologians that try) that putting language to someone as complex as the Triune God, so much more clarity is needed. And if not more clarity, at least a rebuttal to say how you are limited by language or something.
If you are writing a book about how to live a life that is not normal and rooted in God, it is critical that you get the idea of God nailed down somehow. A tall order, I realize, but a faulty, or easily misunderstood portrayal of God is going to lead to a confusing book. Especially when discussing living or moving in the Spirit.
I wish there was more I could say that would uplift Never Settle For Normal. While I applaud his efforts, they seem to fall short. Even his grasp of happiness and joy, not synonyms in a biblical sense, seems to be slapped together from here and there to make his argument work. That isn’t good scholarship. That isn’t proper exegesis. That isn’t the gospel.
A final thought: any time a spiritual leader starts making definitive statements how to get you, or earn you things from God, run the other way. While Parnell may have discovered and charted the spiritual path to significance and happiness for him, it is not a guarantee for everyone. Such exact and precise statements do not have a place when we are talking about the mystery of God, the salvation he offers, or the life that we are called to in Christ Jesus. Life with God is not a science that can be replicated and repeated. A proven path can be a rut if you are not careful.
“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ….The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”
– C. S. Lewis
I agree with Jonathan Parnell that we shouldn’t settle for normal, that a life with Christ is an exciting, dynamic journey. But there is so much more going on in Never Settle For Normal that I cannot agree with. The poor language and misunderstanding of the Trinity and role of the Holy Spirit compels me to give this book a 2 out of 5-star rating.