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

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  273 ratings  ·  81 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
Paperback, 192 pages
Published May 14th 2019 by IVP Books (first published May 2019)
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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
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.
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
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
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
Jan 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley, 2020-books
Surprised By Paradox

I am always on a lookout for theologically sound women authors. I read Michel’s contribution in the book Our Secular Age and appreciated her work there. I picked this book up with perhaps a lot of expectations. Here are some things I liked about it:

- her explanation of lament and its place in our Christian suffering.
- her chapter on the kingdom and exhortation to be counter-cultural.
- her emphasis on grace, both as givers and recipients of it.
- her not shying away from calli
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
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
Angie Velasquez 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.
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
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
Nicole T.
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.
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
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."
Charity Craig
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In Jen Pollock Michel's third book, we see this author pulling on themes she explored in her first two books, but this time from a posture of wonder, awe, and mystery. She doesn't write about paradox from "the other side," as someone who used to be confused about how two seemingly opposite issues could coexist ... but now she's the expert who understands. Instead, Michel takes readers by the hand and walks them through a world where paradox is everywhere, into a faith that seems to thrive on par ...more
Cheryl Wimberly
Aug 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a compelling book on the tension that we face as believers. There are paradoxes to our faith that we must learn to wrestle with as a means to knowing God more deeply. I particularly loved her section on lament. “Lament tells us there are complaints worth raising, and God’s suffering assures that someone hears.” This entire chapter on “A Suffering God” reminds the reader of Hebrews and our sympathetic high priest. Such an encouragement.
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I've read in 2019. Jen Pollock Michel looks at the idea of paradox in 4 areas of Christian faith - grace, the Kingdom, lament and the incarnation. Her language is stunning and profound and she communicates the mystery and beauty of the Christian faith in ways that are relevant and accessible for everyday people. I am recommending this book to so many people as it recognizes the tension so many of us feel in faith - but instead of drawing us away, draws us closer to ...more
Bill Williams
Dec 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
I do not finish many books and want to reread very few.

This one I finished and will read. Her incredible writing style challenged me.

But the paradox of thinking about “and” caused me to rethink connections in my life and in scripture.
Steven Robertson
This is a wonderful book! Refreshing, encouraging, challenging, and full of faith.

Highly recommended.
Matthew Manchester
I honestly don't know how to review this book so I'll leave a few thoughts.

The book is more spiritual formation than it lets on. However it is no where in the same class as Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. Again, the author will barely discuss paradoxes in the Bible (one of my favorite subjects). Rather, it's more about moving beyond "either/or" situations.

The writing is good, but it's not as fluid. It's like she's writing an article for TGC instead of a personal spir
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
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.
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.
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
Jeanne Higgins
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is among the best books on discipleship I have ever read. Absolutely worth reading.
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
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 straig
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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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Are you having a difficult time reading these days? If so, you're not alone. Since the pandemic began, I've found it harder to concentrate on...
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“Part of the practice of modest faith, in times of suffering, is relinquishing our right to answers. God has never promised to explain himself, but he has promised to stay near. I will never leave, he says; I will never forsake. I am the friend that sticks closer than your brother. Do not think me unmoved by your grief. These are the faithful assurances of God as we have them in Scripture, and here is even more hope available to those willing to search it out. But let’s not be fooled to think that God has promised things like: it will get better, you’ll soon see the purpose behind this pain, there’s never more than you can handle. Often it does get better; often we do see purpose; always there is sufficient grace. But lament must practice the modest faith of finding sufficient that which God provides, even if, in seasons of great sorrow, it may not seem like enough.” …” 2 likes
“Here is the sole effort we must make: we must give grace as much access to our lives as possible. First, in some quiet pocket of our day, let’s immerse ourselves in the true and surprising story of God. Let’s wear out the bindings of our Bibles, irreverently spill coffee on their pages, and ask God to drive his words straight through the bone and marrow of our thinking and intending and desiring. Let’s turn to God with all the prayerful hope that his grace is sufficient to meet us in our wondering and wandering. With God’s help, let’s then put on new habits of being: honesty, sexual purity, generosity, courage, patience. Let’s take up the ancient disciplines of solitude and silence, prayer and fasting, worship and study, fellowship and confession, never thinking that God’s business is information but transformation. As there is failure, let us confess; as there is renewed intention, let us seek accountability and help. (We’re damned to think that a godly life is a solitary one.) Let’s join the great company of sinners and saints in a local congregation and commit together to put one foot in front of another every day for the glory of God. Here is the sole effort we must make: we must give grace as much access to our lives as possible. God is a speaking God—and we are meant to be his responsive people. All of it is grace.” 0 likes
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