Friday, April 01, 2011

Book Review: "Sabbath" (Dan B. Allender)

AUTHOR: Dan B. Allender
PUBLISHER: Thomas-Nelson, 2009, (214pp)

SabbathIf there is one phrase to sum up this book, it will be four words: "Let There Be Delight." Some books on the Sabbath tend to focus more on it being a commandment to obey, lest there be consequences. Others deal with the Fourth Commandment as a command to rest and follow a list of don'ts. Not Allender. In this book, the author advocates something that is along the lines of play and delight. He builds his house of delight using the four 'Sabbath Pillars':
  1. Sensual Glory;
  2. Holy time;
  3. Communal feast
  4. Play day.
He then fills this house with three kinds of 'purposing' about how 'sabbath play' looks like. It is about three major shifts. Firstly, it is a shift from a life of dividing loyalties, to one of peaceful unity. Secondly, it is an abandonment of a life of destitution, to embrace one of abundance. Thirdly, it is to exchange despair for joy. All of these purposes are ways in which delight can be achieved.

In Allender's final part, he deals with 'Sabbath Performance,' with some practical applications on what a house of delight looks like. There are rituals and symbols to represent Sabbath keeping. Inwardly, there are ways to practice the Sabbath through personal meditation and silence. Outwardly, there are ways to practice Sabbath through maintaining justice in Jubilee and freedom from being enslaved to our everyday society of non-stop work and restlessness. 

My Comments
Allender makes a strong convincing case about seeing Sabbath as a delight, rather than merely a commandment to obey. It turns one from simply following a set of do's and don'ts to a life of willing celebration in enjoying God's special day what what it is.

My favourite part of the book is Part I, where Allender describes the four pillars of delightful play.  The obvious alliteration techniques in his book helps reading flow. I like the way the author builds his case for delight. This is a needful corrective in a world where the days of the week are seen as a laundry list of to-do's and not-to-do's.  Toward the end, Allender is to be commended for opening the reader's awareness to see the wider world where justice is needed. He helps to remind readers about the dangers of being trapped unwittingly in the cycle of non-stop work and restlessness. Most importantly, he teaches us that keeping the Fourth Commandment is not a chore but a delight. This point alone is worth the price of the book.

Having said that, there are weaknesses in the book. Firstly, it is written more for a Western cultural mindset. Theologically, the creation is not limited to the West. Ancient practices should be able to apply to all cultures. Secondly, some parts of the Sabbath practice appear disjointed. For example, in the practicing of Sabbath in terms of Sabbath Justice, when Allender describes the plight of the Karen people, it appears anti-climactic, just to say "There is no need to ask 'What Can I Do?'"  While I appreciate his argument for using Sabbath dreaming to establish empathy, such abandonment of the 'What Can I Do' question can sometimes let the casual reader off the hook too easily. The problem with many in the Western evangelical world is not aggressive empathy, but excessive apathy.

Finally, with regards to delight, whose perspective are we looking from? This is where I register my strongest critique. There is a danger that readers use Allender's thesis as a justification toward self-fulfillment and narcissistic concerns. Sabbath practices is not simply freedom to delight for delight's sake. It is freedom to delight in anything for Christ's sake. As a metaphor, I like to adapt Martin Luther's thesis about Christian liberty for the Sabbath.
A Christian freely delights in all things, dutifully.
A Christian freely limits all things, delightfully. 
Whatever the Christian chooses to do, it is to Christ he delights.
In summary, this book is a fresh look at Sabbath as delight, and an excellent resource for modern readers to understand the ancient commandment to keep the Sabbath.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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