“You can do it. We can help.” We can take the popular Home Depot tagline and twist it just a bit to fit the way that most American Christians think about God. “You can do it. He can help.” Too many of us view our lives as a movie and we are the star. Everyone around us is playing a bit role to help us shine brighter. Even God is not the star of this movie. He is our cheerleader, helper, and friend whose main goal is to get us where we are going.
This view of life, which you can find all to easily in American Christianity, is not what we see pictured in the Bible. God is not a role player and he is not a cheerleader for our greatness. He is something much bigger and Stephen Altrogge wants to help us understand this in his new book Untamable God: Encountering the One Who is Bigger, Better, and More Dangerous Than You Could Possibly Imagine. He believes our vision of God is too much like us and not enough like who He really is. Altrogge summarizes his reason for writing when he says, “My main concern is that we as Christians (and I include myself) have put God into a box. We have tamed God. Shackled God. Caged him. Made him fit into a mold of our own making. We don’t see God as he truly is. We have smeared our already dim mirrors with a veneer of our own ideas. We have made God safe, comfortable, easy, and accessible, as if he exists to serve us and make us happy. He is like a comfort blanket to us. He is a divine butler who promptly responds to our every beck and call, a glorified genie who likes to grant us wishes. Each of our boxes looks a little different, but all of us have stuffed God into a box.”
Each of the eight chapters in Untamable God unpacks an attribute of God that we rarely think about when we approach him. Altrogge’s project is not a complete listing of the attributes of God, but rather an attempt to shake up our view of God as the helpful cheerleader. After introducing the subject in the first chapter, he attacks our tendency to put God in a box in the second chapter. This chapter particularly assaults the idea that God is “simply being a much more powerful version of us” and focuses on God as wholly other and separate from us. The reader is reminded that because God is God and completely in control, we can trust Him and rest in Him. The third chapter is closely related, as Altrogge explains that God created the whole world and us in His image. The unspeakably big God of the universe created us individually and guides the story of our lives. Because we are made by God, everything that we do in our lives has significance and is meant to glorify God.
Chapters 4-6 present a picture of God that many find to be at odds with each each other. The first of these three chapters focuses on the love of God for all , including those who are the most unlovable. While every human being who has ever lived is a spiritual adulteress, God loves us all deeply. This is made all the more amazing by the subject of chapter 5. God judges those who sin against Him. This is most clearly seen in the places in the Bible where God kills people. These were not the acts of capricious deities who had somehow come unglued. They help us to see the burning holiness of God who is dreadfully opposed to sin. How do the love and wrath of God relate? How can these two realities exist in the same person? How can God love us if He should crush us? Altrogge answers this question in chapter 6 as He talks about the cross of Jesus. Jesus bore the wrath of God for our sins on the cross in His own body. At the cross love and mercy met so that sinners can go free. More than this, Jesus was raised from the dead to give us new life.
The final chapters speak of the life of hope and faith that the Christian is called to live. Chapter 7 reminds us that God is not impressed with us. We cannot pull ourselves up to Him when we consider that He came down to us. The Christian lives a life of faith and humility remembering that we have not earned HIs love and mercy. The final chapter is a reminder that King Jesus wins. The enemy of men’s souls has been crushed already in the death of Jesus and will ultimately be crushed when He returns. Those who follow Christ live with this ultimate hope until the day of His return. Altrogge beautifully reminds us of this in his closing words. “He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. He will make all things new. And we will see our Untamable God face to face.”
There is much to commend in Untamable God. Altrogge challenges readers to remember God’s rough edges. I don’t know any other way to put this. God is a big, glorious, loving, consuming fire. Christians need to be reminded of His majesty, His might, His justice, and His mercy. This only happens by wrestling with God as He presents Himself in the Bible. This is the book’s greatest strength. Altrogge points to passages all over the Bible to show who God is. He covers the Pentateuch, the Historical Books, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles, and Revelation. The point was not to give an exhaustive exegesis of everything that these passages say, but to let them speak clearly about who God has revealed Himself to be.
Untamable God is also accessible. Coming in at under 100 pages, it is not overly intimidating for the person who has never read theology. In fact this is who the book will work best for. Those who are not accustomed to thinking about God and the Bible receive a challenging introduction to who God is and what it means to follow Him. Altrogge writes casually, interacting with popular trends and weaving in stories from his own experience. This helps convey deep truths in a manner that any person can read and understand.
There was one thing that I wanted to criticize initially about Untamable God, but I have since changed my mind and decided that it is a positive. This book does not cover any new ground. If you have read Knowing God by J.I. Packer or Gruem’s Systematic Theology, you are not going to read anything that you have never read before. There are concepts with which you will be familiar, but that is the problem. We are on dangerous ground when we treat God as familiar and treat our knowledge of Him as boxes to check off and say, “yes I know that about God.” At the end of the day, this is the thing that I have come to appreciate the most about Untamable God, I had to come face to face with God again. I needed to read about who He is and be jarred by Him all over again.
(I received an advanced digital copy of Untamable God in exchange for an honest review of the work.)
You can read more book reviews and notes here.