"Wisdom Hunter" is one of the few books I have ever read twice in my life. It's not the finest piece of literature you have ever seen, but it truly is a great story. It's one of those books that gets you on page one and keeps you to the end of the book. As you can see in my review below, I have a few caveats, but I recommend the book highly. I have spent some time around the types of fundamentalists that Arthur describes in this book and so it was helpful to me in seeing where fundamentalism goes bad. And, I think it is fair to say, and I hope Arthur would say, that not all fundamentalists get as bad as the ones in this book. Still, this will cause you to re-think legalistic Christianity.
The protagonist of this book, Pastor Jason Faircloth, was everyone's worst nightmare as a pastor. He fit the caricature of the arrogant, self-absorbed, uncaring, unfeeling fundamentalist pastor that we often hear about. He was one who felt that he knew the Bible well, he knew God's will, he was called by God and as such, he was unassailable. He ruled his church and his family with an iron fist. This worked well in the church - his church was able to grow. The mindless people who followed him accepted and appreciated his demagogery, but this didn't go over too well in his family. I'll stop there so as not to tell the whole story, except to say that he ends up losing his family.
This loss of family forces a crisis in his life - he re-examines his faith and nearly abandons it. What he ends up abandoning is his extreme fundamentalism. What he ends up embracing is a faith that is more relational and compassionate, less structured in terms of theology and less denominationally oriented. He completely abandons anything that smacks of tradition in favor of what seems to be a pure biblical faith.
This pure biblical faith is lived out in the lives of the pastor and members of a church he joins in Norway. It is there that he is exposed to what he perceives to be true and pure Christianity.
The backdrop for his search for an authentic faith is his search for a granddaughter he has never met, and his search for a stunning Norwegian blonde he meets on an airplane while searching for his granddaughter. Along the way he makes stops in London, Cyprus, Norway and New York City. The book has a very poignant ending that is worth waiting for.
All in all it is a very enjoyable and fast paced book. It is hard to put down. It grabs your attention at the beginning like a good fiction work should and does a good job of holding it.
The book's value is in showing the dark side of extreme fundamentalism. I use the adjective "extreme" here because not all fundamentalists are as extreme as Jason Faircloth was. However, I have been around a few of the extreme fundamentalists and know enough to know that some are pretty close to Jason Faircloth.
However, even though most fundamentalists are not as bad as Jason Faircloth, most share one important similarity - the focus on externals. Fundamentalism started as a good and proper doctrinal reaction to modernism but in its extreme forms it has descended into an externally based version of Christianity where one's spirituality is measured in terms of what they do or don't do. Although most real life people will never experience the extremes that we see in Jason's family, this story does do a good job of showing the impossibility of living by legalistic externals.
What is missing in the life of Jason Faircloth is grace, and this is where the book has value for those who are caught up in fundamentalism.
While this book tells a good story of the dangers of extreme fundamentalism there are some caveats that should be mentioned. First of all, if you are not a fundamentalist, please don't assume that all fundamentalists are like Jason Faircloth and the people in his church. Most fundamentalists are sincere Christians seeking to be faithful to Christ as best they can. They may err on the side of legalism from time to time but most folks are sincerely seeking Christ.
Also, in his search for authentic Christianity Jason throws off everything that smacks of tradition. It is true that traditionalism can be as binding and deadly as extreme fundamentalism, but a rejection of all tradition is as dangerous as becoming a flaming traditionalist. Those who reject tradition usually do so out of a desire to find pure Christianity and they assume that they can find it on their own with just their Bible and the Holy Spirit. What they fail to realize is that the Holy Spirit didn't begin speaking when they became a Christian, He has been speaking and teaching the bride of Christ for thousands of years, and it won't hurt to listen to the voices of Christians who have gone before.
Also, there is a subtle downplaying of the importance of preaching in this book. It is subtle - the author contrasts churches which are mere preaching stations with churches that are alive with what I would call body life. This is a false dichotomy - the preaching of the Word of God is central in any church and it can foster body life, rather than hinder it.
I have two a favorite quote from the book - at one point, Jason's mentor says this:
"If Christianity present in a country for a long time, and becomes tightly intertwined with the culture, is it possible that Christianity in that country could become more defined by the culture's qualities than by the actual teachings of the Bible." Overall, this is a good book - if you keep the caveats I mentioned in mind this book can help you see any legalistic tendencies in yourself and follow Jesus more fully.