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Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of "and" in an Either-Or World

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4.55  ·  Rating details ·  67 ratings  ·  39 reviews
What if certainty isn't the goal?

In a world filled with ambiguity, many of us long for a belief system that provides straightforward answers to complex questions and clarity in the face of confusion. We want faith to act like an orderly set of truth-claims designed to solve the problems and pain that life throws at us.

With signature candor and depth, Jen Pollock Michel h
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Paperback, 192 pages
Published May 14th 2019 by IVP Books (first published May 2019)
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4.55  · 
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 ·  67 ratings  ·  39 reviews


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Laura
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have learned to love the tension of paradox, the way paradox disciplines me to allow two seeming contradictions to coexist. Jen Pollock Michel admits that much of her writing has been born from the tension between two ideas. This book is her celebration of the many paradoxes of the Christian faith. With her trademark care and eye for detail, Michel sifts through her own memories of the world and her reflections on scripture to celebrate paradoxes she's come to love.

I will be writing a more tho
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Catherine Norman
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
For non-fiction, Christian books, I often turn to the endnotes to determine whether or not I will read the book. Anyone who quotes Fleming Rutledge and Ta-Nehisi Coates in the same chapter will get moved to the top of my to-read list, and I was not disappointed with Jen Pollock Michel's new book. Divided into four sections (Incarnation, Kingdom, Grace, Lament) that come with reflection questions, this book led with more questions than answers. It was refreshing to consider the great mysteries of ...more
Andy Springer
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Things aren't always either/or and maybe they aren't supposed to be. Faith can be much more beautiful and reciting when things that seem contradictory are held as true without need for resolution. Jen Pollock Michel does a fantastic job of showing beauty in mystery and uncertainty.

God becomes one in whom we are drawn more deeply into through paradox and uncertainty. Our faith is enhanced when experienced as a journey without the constant push to have the correct ideas and understandings.
Michele Morin
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wild extremes live on the bandwidth that comprises Christian faith. At one end of the scale are those who believe scarcely a thing at all, but even this is not as frightening to me as those on the end of the spectrum who have God all figured out. With algebraic precision, they are able to reduce God to his component parts. Their certainty factors out mystery and puts unyielding parentheses around an orthodoxy with no room for questions–and no surprises.

In Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of “An
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Darryl Dash
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian, believed in paradox. He believed that in God we see many traits that don’t seem to belong together: infinite greatness and infinite care, infinite justice and infinite mercy, and infinite majesty displaying itself as stunning meekness. So did G.K. Chesterton, who said, “An element of paradox runs through the whole of existence itself.”

I confess I’m not always comfortable with paradox. I like my theology neatly defined. I understand and accept the
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Lyndon Jost
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In consideration of God, his ineffable world and ways, Jen Pollock Michel begins where most of us leave off: once we’ve given every possible answer to why and how divine realities and worldly complexities (paradoxes!) are what they are, we finally admit mystery--or “paradox”--as though admitting loss in Logic’s cruel game. Pollock Michel, on the other hand, repositions paradox from logic’s end to its beginning. Paradox here is not the unfortunate final word but an opening better word (or “postur ...more
Anita Yoder
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Simple and profound writing--a paradox in itself! I've loved Jen's writing ever since her first book, and she's only getting better, more succinct, more practical. Post-modernists and millennials will warm to the concept of paradox. Fundamentalists might be disturbed by it because it allows for truth beyond propositions.
To my strong tendencies to extremes and all-or-nothing way of living, Jen offers a gentle invitation to consider another way of looking at life, people, and God. It's freeing, b
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Angie Thornton
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Jen once again produced an excellent text for much reflection in "Surprised by Paradox." I was expecting this book to be a pleasurable read (I wish I could write like her!). What surprised me was just how riveting it was. I couldn't put it down! I'm already looking forward to reading it again in order to ruminate on the subject matter more fully. Jen writes with such depth and passion. She seems to have such ease in weaving beautiful word pictures to help bring to life theological concepts that ...more
Catherine Blass
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fave-non-fiction
This book was exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it. The most life-giving book I have read in quite some time.
Johanna
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
In the book Surprised by Paradox, Jen Pollock Michel examines four of the different paradoxes that are a part of the Christian faith. She argues that we need to learn to be comfortable with the word "and" when it comes to describing what we need and that accepting paradox does not mean that we are doubtful. Rather, it is a way to embrace the complexity of Christianity. I found the sections on grace and lament to be the strongest towards supporting the arguments of the book. Both of these section ...more
Nicole Senft
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Surprised by Paradox by Jen Pollock Michel is quite an interesting book. I thought this book would be really interesting from reading the description when the publisher sent over the excerpt of the book to join the book launch team. When I read the description, I sort of ignored the title. I didn’t think much of the book. It was not until I was invited to join the launch team that I realized the book was called Surprise by Paradox. The words surprise and paradox do not seem positive. When sharin ...more
Dorothy Greco
Jen Pollock Michel is both an astute writer and theologian. One of the things I love about her is that she takes a familiar concept or passage of Scripture and then turns it inside out and upside down so that we can understand it more deeply. In the process, she empowers us to ask hard questions and wrestle with our faith. Her third book, Surprised by Paradox, invites readers to explore the mystery of believing in a God who cannot be contained or controlled. She believes that if we’re willing to ...more
Matthew
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If a pat answer has ever left you wanting, this is the book for you. In place of a faux optimism or grim stoicism, Jen Pollock Michel suggests a turn towards hopeful faith in the God who subsumes the contradictions.

"My interest is in the crooked lines, the irregular shapes, the open circles—which is to say, not the proofs but the problems."
Nicole  Walters
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Surprised by Paradox is an invitation into the mystery and largeness of a God that is intensely knowable while so far beyond human comprehension. Michel brings a depth of theology and scholarship to the apparent contradictions of the Christian faith without losing touch with what makes that faith personal. I appreciated that she drew us into a place of wrestling with faith without giving easy answers.
Tai
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Today's Evangelical church displays a preference for easy, simplistic, often dogmatic answers to complex problems. We consistently favor, as Jen puts it, certainty over mystery. As I've spent time encountering both God's Word and the deeper, difficult experiences of life, I've often found myself wondering if the solution I've held as set in stone is sufficient to answer to the full scope of Scripture and life. Timidly, in the secret places of my heart, I've whispered, “What is there's more to th ...more
Sharla Fritz
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Surprised by Paradox resonated deep in my soul. I push back against books that try to put God in a neat little box or explain Him in a three-point outline because God is so much bigger than that. The Bible and creation reveal much about His character, but we can never understand Him completely with our puny human minds. Jen Pollack Michel wrestles with four key mysteries of God: incarnation, kingdom, grace, and lament. While she sheds much light on each topic, she doesn't claim to know all the a ...more
Diane
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
First I would like to say that I was given a copy of this book to read before release date. This book knocked my socks off. I never thought about paradox and Christ in this way before. This is a reread book.
Detta
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Loving it. Not. Finished at the moment, about halfway there! Fresh look and some age old questions.
Brandon
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Michael Card sang to us to “surrender the hunger to say you must know and the courage to say, ‘I believe,’ for the power of paradox opens your eyes and blinds those who say they can see.” (Listen to “God’s Own Fool” – you’ll thank me later). Paradox can be intimidating. It is a complexity that disrupts our comfort. It is a tension line between pillars of truth that feel impossible to grasp equally. It is mystery that requires revelation, and after revelation, trust. Yet, paradox is also freeing. ...more
Bob
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Summary: In a world where things are often defined in either-or terms and a quest for certainty, Michel proposes there are many things, beginning with basic biblical realities that are both-and, inviting our continuing curiosity.

Whether it is schism in the church, political divides, or just a good old marital conflict, the parties often have defined things sharply in either-or terms, one way or another. Jen Pollock Michel explains how she began to look for a third way, and to write this book. A
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J.
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Human beings long for a system of thought that can give clear-cut answers to our painful existential problems. Sometimes, we make our worldviews to be like a tight mathematical syntax which given a particular input, provides a particular output such as 1+1=2.

But we know in our human experience that life is much more complex and beautiful than simplistic mathematical equations. And If this is the case with human life, how much more is this true of our faith in the Godhead who not only created us
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Michelle Kidwell
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Surprised by Paradox
The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or World

by Jen Pollock Michel

InterVarsity Press

IVP Books

Christian , Religion & Spirituality

Pub Date 14 May 2019

I am reviewing a copy of Surprised by Paradox by Intervarsity Press and Netgalley:

I found by Surprised by Paradox to be a well written book, that would be great for personal use or in a Bible Study setting.

What if certainty isn’t the goal? In a world full of challenges many of us are searching for a belief system that provides st
...more
Neva Davies
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“A kingdom life is always a nonconforming life, and subversion is a form of witness.”

Often, when we think about what the Kingdom of God will look like, we forget that we are called to be witnesses of that kingdom, and we forget that that kingdom is already here among us. Surprised By Paradox by Jen Pollock Michel does a wonderful job explaining the concept of paradox in God’s kingdom, reminding us that God’s kingdom is an upside down one, where the righteous are not the rich but those who are po
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Linda
Jun 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If I quoted all my favorite passages from Surprised by Paradox, the result would be another book. With theologically sound thinking written with perfectly chosen words and poetic phrases, Jen Pollock Michel invites us on her journey of wondering as she examines the paradoxes and mysteries in the Christian faith.

With great vulnerability, she shares both her own story and God’s story, taking readers through the major of events of Christ’s life. Along the way, we stop and view with awe many of the
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Alexis
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
Surprised by Paradox is a book that entered my life at just the right time. As an individual prone to sort life into trite dualisms, this book reminded me of the greatness of God and the complexities of faith we are called to hold in tension.
Jen Pollock Michel again brings her narrative voice and theological wisdom together in a blend of beautiful, accessible writing that will challenge and expose our hearts. The book is split into four sections, exploring the paradoxes of the incarnation, kingd
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Alex Rea
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Generally speaking, we’re a people that doesn’t like mystery. We want clear-cut answers. Michel’s book, “Surprised by Paradox” reminds me of Aslan’s statement at the end of “The Last Battle,” where he charges the other characters to go “father up and farther in.” As we read Scripture and come to know more about God, we also realize that there’s much that remains mysterious. Still, in an effort to love God with our minds, we’re to continue growing in our knowledge and understanding of him. With t ...more
Rebecca Stevenson
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The idea of paradox is no small thing to undertake in any limited form, and a study of the paradoxes of the Christian faith could conceivably fill volumes. But in her new book, Surprised by Paradox, author Jen Pollock Michel accomplishes great things.

Her careful exploration of Christianity's fundamental incongruities results in a comprehensible framework, and this framework helps us see mysteries that we might otherwise ignore or reject. At the same time, Michel maintains her own sense of wonder
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Katherine
May 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As I read through Paradox, one of the things that I kept coming back to was how rich—and so very true—Michel's thoughts were. She's obviously well-read and knows scripture backwards and forwards, and in light of this seems to have a mountain of information to draw from. Take a thoughtful, wise, inquisitive person and add scripture and books and life in general and you have someone I certainly would love to spend an evening in front of a fire talking with. There's nothing pat in this book. The Ch ...more
Seana
Jun 09, 2019 added it
I rarely finish a book, but this read was like going to dinner with a friend and talking about God and life deeply—and then it turns into a four hour dinner and your husband wants to make sure you are still alive. Jen writes with a deep understanding of biblical nuance and truth. She doesn't assume or skim theological tension. She reads, asks, considers, and explores. Then she writes in a poetic and smooth way where I can see, feel, and consume the goodness of God in a world of paradox—and in th ...more
Shelly Wildman
Jun 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
Jen Pollock Michel is one of the most thoughtful, astute Christian thinkers and writers I know, and this, her third book, shows why. If you've sometimes scratched your head at the inconsistencies you seem to find in scripture, if you've had questions or even doubts about God, if you lament about the suffering all around you . . . you need to read this book. Jen isn't afraid to think deeply about the mysteries in Scripture (of which there are many), and in this book she shares some of what she's ...more
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Hi, I'm Jen, an American expat living in Toronto. (We've been here 8 years now, so it's probably about time to admit that I'm a permanent resident of Canada!)

I've written three books: Surprised by Paradox, Keeping Place, and Teach Us to Want. I've also contributed chapters to essay collections like Our Secular Age, Identity Theft, The Wonder Years, and Everbloom.

Besides books, I write widely for
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