Why I Believe You Should Wrestle with "Beloved Dust"
I have a core belief: God created us to be more than we are. I stick to that. How Christians get to that end, honestly, can vary.
Do the right thing morally, and you will find God's more.
Believe the right doctrines, and you will find God's more.
Go through the proper "order of salvation" and you will find God's more.
However different the paths might be, the core idea is the same: God created us to be more, which necessarily means that we AREN'T that more yet.
The "not more" principle is what Kyle Strobel and Jamin Goggin address in their book Beloved Dust. The subtitle, "Drawing Closer to God by Discovering the Truth About Yourself" is accurate as the authors are both gifted and equipped to explain the realities of why we aren't that "more."
The thought that strikes you immediately is this one: "The Christian life is being with God who is always with us." (xvii)
The rest of the book is a cascade of theology and bright imagery that walks the path of both describing God and defining us.
In this "being with God", we have to realize that we were created to be with God but we bear the quality of "dust" - we are created from earth and in order to live as we were intended to live we must come into the presence of God. While we have ways of coming into God's presence - prayer, Scripture, and worship - those can be problematic because of our "dustiness" or broken and dysfunctional quality. The authors say,
Perhaps nothing is as subtle and deceptive as the east with which our forms of worshiping God can be used for our own self-worship. This is so subtle and deceptive that we don't even know it is there. We can become aware of this self-worship when we pay attention to our desires. (4)
Here is where I believe the struggling begins.
While I agree with the author's thought, and as you read this book you will pick up on a decidedly Reformed theological slant (Kyle was INCREDIBLY good to discuss this with me via email, great appreciation there!), there is a sort of "devotional paranoia" that can descend on us if we take this too far. The pushing of depravity - dustiness, in the author's image - is helpful in reminding us of our place before God as created and dependent but it can also put us into a state of constant wondering - am I praying because I want to be in God's presence or out of self-worship? How do I know? I'm looking at my desires, but honestly I'm dusty so how much can I trust my desires anyway?
The struggle I have with this book can be summed up by one statement on the topic of prayerlessness where the authors state, "Prayerlessness is always the fruit of idolatry." (26) While I'm willing to grant general statements to books, when we invoke "always" we are playing with specifics that we can't be secure in. The context is that we often believe we can grasp power and control and therefore create a life of meaning on our own, which in the authors' minds leads to prayerlessness.
In this sense, yes, prayerlessness is clearly idolatry but to make such a wide and sweeping argument about prayer (in a book that admittedly is not a book on prayer) seems to be overreaching for the point they are trying to make.
Throughout the book, the authors convey the fact that most of the issues we have in drawing close to God are primarily our constant fault as created beings - as dust - and while that makes sense there is an unhealthy extent to which that idea can be taken. The hard and fast sequence of how they lay out the Christian life doesn't seem to match the experience of discovery and question that leads us to love God with everything we have.
"The subtle lie of dustiness (my explanation: our frail created position) is that the Christian life is in our power to live, and therefore everything ends up revolving around us." (49)
To this statement I would say, "Yes, but..." We as disciples DO HAVE A PART TO PLAY. What is that part? In the assessment of the writers, it is simply to "maintain a posture of neediness before the Lord..." (49) What I would have loved to have seen is what this looks like in practicality. How does a person do this?
Is it more prayer or more focus on God in prayer? What's the plan or the next step?
While I have some criticisms, I do believe you SHOULD WRESTLE WITH THIS BOOK.
Too often we don't read what we disagree with, and we lose out tremendously for that. So I recommend that you read for the metaphors, the goodness of the discussion, and ultimately for the goodness of God.
You'll be glad you did.