Jen Pollock Michel’s book Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith is one of the most well-written books I’ve read in the last year.
Jen writes for Christianity Today’s her.meneutics blog. You may remember her from last spring when she wrote a review of my book that pointed out that I didn’t do a good enough job of giving a sufficient theology of productivity for women. I thought she made a great point and blogged about that here.
As I was learning more about her work, I discovered that she was also coming out with a book soon. So I picked it up once it came out and have found it very enjoyable and super helpful.
Jen takes up a theme that is especially important to me, as someone who holds to what John Piper calls “Christian hedonism.” That is, I believe that the pursuit of joy is good, not bad, and that our quest for joy finds its ultimate fulfillment in God. A key corollary to this belief is that desire, longing, and ambition are (when directed toward God) good things.
Yet, we are often afraid of actually wanting things, thinking it may be unspiritual. And, of course, sometimes it can be. But it doesn’t have to necessarily be so.
This is where Jen’s book comes into the picture for me. Jen does a fantastic job for us in her book of redeeming desire and showing its rightful place in the life of faith. She shows that desire is good when it is redeemed, and reflects on it in relation to fear, courage, grace, the gospel, Scripture, prayer, community, and commitment.
She shows that we are not to cast discipleship as “a dreary matter of [merely] thinking right thoughts and acting accordingly.” We are guided in life by what we love, not just what we believe, and so it is actually essential to have a proper understanding of desire and its place in the Christian life. We need to reorient our loves and desires toward Christ and his kingdom and be captivated by him.
This is great news. And the best thing about the book is that it is something you want to read. Jen has made the book emotionally engaging, as well as truthful, thereby enabling the book itself to live up to its own message. It is filled with helpful personal stories and a writing style that makes the book a joyful discovery. Bethany Jenkins rightly said in her endorsement that this is “one of the most beautiful nonfiction books I have ever read,” and I would have to agree. I wouldn’t even know how to write as Jen does.
Sometimes, however, a great writing style is not matched with an equal reality of truthfulness in the content. Jen does not fall into that error. The book is wonderfully written while also being reliable, insightful, and deeply biblical.
If you are looking for a refreshing and truthful read on a much-overlooked subject that is nonetheless central to the life of faith, it’s worth getting a copy of Teach Us to Want.