Scouting the Divine by Margaret Feinberg

“While some dismiss the Bible as a dusty old book, I view its pages as portals to adventure. Not only is the book chock-full of clever plots and compelling stories, but it’s laced with historical insights and literary beauty. When I open the Scripture, I imagine myself exploring an ancient kingdom . . . With every encounter, I learn something new about their life journeys and am reminded that the Bible is more than a record of the human quest for God: it’s the revelation of God’s quest for us.”

Isn’t that a wonderful beginning? (Okay, no more Princess Bride quotes.) It’s from the preface of Scouting the Divine. Unfortunately, the book did not live up to that promise. Not that it was bad, just that it was mostly unremarkable. Margaret Feinberg explored life with shepherds, farmers, beekeepers, and at a vineyard to discover more about God’s messages on those topics in the Bible. To me, the book seemed very much like a Christian version of Eat, Pray, Love, though Feinberg is a much more appealing (and less selfish) narrator than Elizabeth Gilbert.

What I did like about the book was that Feinberg obviously put a lot of work into preparing for her experiences in those different locations, thinking through what it might mean that there are so many Biblical references to sheep and wine and honey. For the most part, I enjoyed her writing (though some of her conversations, especially with her husband, were a bit too cutesy for my taste and should probably have been edited out) even though the book itself didn’t necessarily provide any insight that blew me away. Perhaps it didn’t resonate with me because I have more experience in the country than she seemed to. Although I have never specifically cared for sheep or bees, I did grow up around farmland and feel aware of some of the dependence on God and the appreciation for all the small ways that creation works together to produce our food that the farmers were emphasizing. I personally enjoyed some of her thoughts from her time at the vineyard the most, especially some of her thoughts on communion and, of course, John 15.

The one thing I disagreed with was that she took the time to go to a vineyard and then, out of respect for the people reading the book who oppose drinking alcohol, chose not to drink any of the wine. I felt that she actually ended up being disrespectful to the vintner. In addition, the Bible clearly encourages enjoying the gifts of the earth, including the gifts of the vine, all in moderation. In my opinion, she would have been better off spending time with a fisherman talking about the disciples and the story of Jonah if she wasn’t actually going to commit to the vineyard experience. If she personally chose not to drink because of her own convictions or experiences, that would be one thing. But she makes it clear that her decision was based on her readers, which felt to me like she was compromising the story.

In general, though, experiential non-fiction is a genre that I appreciate (think Barbara Ehrenreich or A.J. Jacobs), and if you enjoy those types of books and would be interested in one with a Christian bent, this might be one worth picking up.

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