Book Review: The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditations on Faith, by Timothy J. Stoner

The God Who SmokesI picked this one up years ago because it had a nifty title, sweet cover, and what I assumed would be some wrestling with American Christian culture. So, five or six years later, I’ve finally gotten around to reading it. The never-ending lesson: don’t judge a book by its cover.

The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditations on Faith is written by Reformed-Baptist-lawyer Timothy J. Stoner, someone who grew up as a missionary kid in Chile and Spain with 1950’s fundamentalist-evangelical parents, is pushing back on some of his upbringing, and really wants to be a writer. It’s basically autobiographical narrative with quotes primarily from the Bible and C. S. Lewis (or people writing about Lewis). Much of the book rails against Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis, Gregory A. Boyd’s God of the Possible, and Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian, which Stoner uses as his only examples of postmodern Christianity and Open Theism. At the time of writing (published in 2008), much of Stoner’s family lived near, worked for, and/or attended Rob Bell’s church, which appears to have heavily influenced the purpose of writing the book (I think it’s really for his kids). I concur with much of his concern with how he understands these authors, although not having read these works myself and merely working with Stoner’s text and what he has to say in his endnotes, I think he may at times be reading them incorrectly—I don’t know.

Though I am neither “Reformed” or “Baptist” and at times disagree with Stoner, my biggest concern with the book is that it simply has absolutely nothing to do with the title and reads like someone who really wishes he was writing a novel (see above). The idea behind God “smoking” comes from him being on fire, but other than mentioning it at the beginning and end of the book, there’s nothing that I found to actually connect the material to that claim. I’m not sure that even in 2008 most people would consider saying it’s okay to watch movies, make art, dance, and talk about sex to be “scandalous” outside of a few remnants of extreme fundamentalism.

If you know Stoner, then this book may be of interest in learning more about him and his theology; if not, then I find no compelling reason to pick it up (other than misunderstanding the intentionally deceptive title—like me).

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