Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: Unchained by Noel Jesse Heikkinen

A couple of weeks ago, I was skimming through my Twitter feed, and I noticed somebody writing about a book that Noel Jesse Heikkinen wrote called Unchained: If Jesus Has Set Us Free, Why Don't We Feel Free. I thought that the title was intriguing, and I have known Noel for several years and I have always been impressed by the thoughtful ways he communicates our common faith. While we have never had any lengthy one on one conversations, I have appreciated his authenticity and his unconventional speaking style. David C. Cook Publishing sent me this copy and I really wanted to read the book quickly and get a review up. Noel is primary preaching pastor at Riverview Church near Lansing, Michigan, and serves as the board chair for the mission agency I used to work for, Reliant.

First off, I'm grateful for the fact that Noel writes in the same style that he speaks. His wit is ever present, and his way of providing a fresh look at faith in practice has been one of the best aspects of this book. The focus of the book is looking at multiple facets of freedom that come from faith in Jesus, and the irony that many who practice the Christian faith are not experiencing this freedom in their daily lives.

But the book starts a few steps before this freedom to talk about what it is to not be free, and what we have been freed from and for. Noel shares both personal story, examples from pop culture and history, and quite a wide array of scripture to ensure that his points are made. The book walks through what exactly Jesus has freed people from, and also explains some of the ways we exchange our freedom for various forms of slavery. Noel provides counterarguments for some of the popular misunderstandings and errors in thinking that lead people to submit themselves to what amounts to slavery to new activities, slavery to guilt, and slavery to shame (among other forms of slavery). He also differentiates a popular definition of freedom that is very self centered from a definition that opens up the fact that our freedom exists in a place where we have never been, and makes it hard for us to comprehend what it even means.

Noel unpacks very thoughtfully and thoroughly the challenges experienced by what theologians call our positional and our conditional realities, and he unpacks these not as an academic, but as a fellow sojourner and "recovering hypocrite" who wants to see others set free from guilt and shame so that they can live a more joy-filled life of faith. He doesn't prescribe a list of practices that make this transition possible, because that in itself can become another form of slavery; rather he points out the fact that this freedom is the Christian's reality, whether they feel like it or not.

As good as the text itself is, I really love the fact that this book has discussion/reflection questions at the end of each chapter. Sometimes, it is really easy to speed through a book, but not take time to consider deeply what one reads. I know that unless I intentionally carve out space to reflect, it is all too easy to be on to the next topic, book, blog, or activity.

In addition, the afterword of the book was very different from any afterword I've ever read. I won't tell you what it says--you'll have to read it yourself, but the content of the afterword really says something about Noel's faith, and his desire for other people, especially but not only his friends, to experience it and experience it richly.

Regardless of one's faith perspective, I believe readers will enjoy Noel's writing style, his heavy (but not overwhelming) use of scripture to make his case, as well as his wit and humor as they take time to savor the truths being presented by the text.

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