Thursday, November 2, 2017

Book Write-Up: Where We Belong, by Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin.  Where We Belong.  Bethany House, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

Where We Belong is set in the nineteenth century.  Two sisters, Rebecca and Flora Hawes, live with their wealthy father in Chicago.  They are based on Agnes and Margaret Smith, twin sisters who discovered a manuscript of the Gospels (dating to 500 C.E.) at the traditional Mount Sinai.  Accompanying Rebecca and Flora are Soren Petersen, who is a servant, and Kate, who came to be with them after trying to steal from them.  The book alternates between their adventures at Mount Sinai and their personal backgrounds.

The adventures at Sinai got rather tedious, but the personal backgrounds were compelling.  Rebecca is an intelligent, scholarly, and deeply-spiritual person, afraid that she will be pressured to marry a man who does not share her passions and is only interested in money.  Flora is a beautiful yet modest lady with a heart for helping the poor.  A love triangle (sort of) develops among Rebecca, Flora, and Edmund, a bumbling, likeable scholar from Cambridge with a solid Christian faith.  Petersen lost his mother when he was a boy and ended up in an orphanage with his little brother, Gunnar, whom he tries to protect.  After a tragic incident, Petersen steers off onto the wrong path, until he is shown grace.  And Kate has an attitude and has experienced downsides of life.  Another character, who does not get his own section but is still a significant figure in the story, is Timothy, a scholar from the University of Chicago with curiosity and a romantic interest in Rebecca.  Timothy is a content agnostic and skeptic, and Rebecca, a devout Christian, struggles over whether she should marry him.

A key subject in this book is Christian apologetics: should Christians attempt to persuade non-Christians of the truth of Christianity through appeals to reason and evidence, or is living a righteous life and encouraging people to listen to God’s voice sufficient?  The book leans towards the latter, while implying that Christianity can stand on its own two feet in terms of the former.  Timothy was not exactly the strongest opponent in his debates with Rebecca, but he had a good retort about Noah’s Ark, after Rebecca had made a snarky comment about Darwinian evolution.  Rebecca seemed to suggest that archaeological finds confirming the historicity of aspects of the Bible supports the religious and spiritual outlook of the Bible; to her credit, though, Lynn Austin referred to archaeological confirmation of Homer’s tales.  The book leaned heavily on the stability of the New Testament text: that the New Testament has been largely unchanged over the centuries.  Even if that is true, does that demonstrate the truth of Christianity?  Austin raises other considerations, as well, but the prominence of manuscripts in the book stood out.

As always, Lynn Austin is an effective storyteller.  Some things were rather rushed (e.g., Timothy could have been better developed), and the end got a little preachy, as Petersen and Kate essentially delivered to Timothy a sermon.  The book was insightful, though, about how God creates people with talents and passions, and ways that people can cope, in a godly manner, with the disappointments of life.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

Search This Blog