It isn’t often that I find myself reviewing a book. Usually this has nothing to do with the quality of the book; it more has to do with my selfish desire to use my time for other things. This book caught my attention enough to make me want to invest some time back into what I had just read. The author of this book, Richard Dahlstrom, recently spoke at a worship event at SPU. What he had to say resonated with me, so I ended up visiting his church (www.churchbcc.org) on Easter Sunday (my church was meeting rather far away). Hearing him speak a second time, I realized that he has the uncanny ability to speak truth that doesn’t find its root in the extremes of cynicism or idealism. So, without further ado, The Colors of Hope.
The Colors of Hope, by Richard Dahlstrom, was a refreshing read, to say the least. It seems that our generation has thrived on extremes and controversy. Names such as Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Joel Olsteen, and John Piper come to mind, causing one to wonder how the Christian faith is viewed from the outside. If Christian leaders can’t stop fighting amongst themselves, can’t stopped getting wrapped up in theology while ignoring the larger problems of our world, why would we ever expect anybody to subscribe to this faith that we call Christianity? Dahlstrom’s book, in many ways, rises above this status quo of extremism that we as Christians have come to accept. From the start of his book I found myself resonating with his thesis; Christians should live a life of experience and artistry, seeking to live out the words of Micah 6:8, which call us to act justly, love mercy, and to walk in humility with God.
The book, as well as this review, is in a three part format; with part one being a setting of the “canvas” that Dahlstrom uses to paint the rest of his book. Part two takes the three exhortations of Micah 6:8 and expands on them. Part three switches gears to a practical level, giving some advice on how to apply what has just been read. All three parts are well written, and tied together well with an artist metaphor that carries through the book. Enough with format though… part one.
“They don’t know how to paint the gospel on the canvas of their culture, because they don’t know their culture.” Page 40
Dahlstrom is an artist at heart. This makes sense, considering his music composition background that he had in college, but you would be able to tell by the text in this book even without knowing that information. In part one, he is setting the canvas and context in which Christians are called to paint their lives upon. He makes the contention that we as Christians need to learn how to see people and situations in the same manner that an artist learns how to see objects. An artist doesn’t see an object at face value. They recognize that objects are made up of lines, shadows, curves, colors, and numerous other small details that work in tandem to define the object. So often we see an individual and apply a label to them that fills in the details; Dahlstrom would contend that this is backwards! As soon as we have labeled people and filled in the details we can allow excuses to free us from loving them like Jesus would. So to understand people, we need to understand the details and circumstances that make up their lives. To understand circumstance, we must understand culture; something that many Christians have been more than happy to ignore. Dahlstrom, however, is happy to point out how even Paul paid attention to culture in his ministry in order to better understand the people that he was ministering to.
Dahlstrom moves on to address the subject that we use to frame our lives and world. He argues that Christians need to be Kingdom focused… not merely for the future, but for now! This is the Gospel that compels people to drop everything and start to experience Christ as a subject and example for how we treat others. In Dahlstrom’s artist metaphor, it is what compels people to start to color and paint in the world. To those who say that this world is temporary and not worth fixing, Dahlstrom makes a compelling argument that this world and heaven will someday unite, and Christ will reconcile everything. He ends Part 1 with the words, “In Jesus’s kingdom, everyone’s an artist. Everyone.”
Overall: With his ability to use a very good metaphor to effortlessly showcase the complexities of his argument, Dahlstrom’s introduction to the canvas that we call life will easily hold your attention and leave you plenty to think about. An excellent section that ends up tying in very nicely with his thesis and the rest of the book! (10/10)
“I’m a pastor as well, but I did “pastor things” for nearly a decade without even thinking about “doing justice.” What I learned during that decade is that when you only have two colors on your palette, the pictures you create distort God’s good news.” (Page 85)
If this world is a canvas and we are the painter, then we need colors to fill our canvas with. Dahlstrom says that the primary colors that we paint this canvas with are justice, mercy and intimacy with God. He goes on to write a very good section on justice. Dahlstrom likes to tell stories in his writing. Many of them are quite inspirational and heart-wrenching, and they usually fit the point that he is trying to make; even if sometimes it may feel like he leans a little bit to heavily on them. This section on justice especially has stories that help convey his message in an urgent and compelling manner. The section on justice could, in my opinion, stand alone; it is very well written and concise. But that isn’t the point. Dahlstrom goes on to talk about mercy, or as he likes to call it, “lovingkindness.” If we are just focused on justice, and don’t include mercy, then we as Christian’s have missed the point. Mercy embodies things such as forgiveness and loving those that are hardest to love. His argument is that mercy and justice complement each other in such a way, that each is incomplete without the other. He states that Christ brought both to the world and so should we. Both of these things however are incomplete without intimacy with God. I think one of my favorite lines in the book are when he says that God will use broken people to spill the colors of justice and mercy throughout the world. That brokenness comes through intimacy.
Overall: His argument stands very well, though I feel like the section on intimacy is slightly more fragmented and unfocused when compared to the sections on mercy and justice. The point is not lost, however, that all three are colors that God is using to do his work in the world. Heavy use of stories that are both heartwarming and relavant. (9/10)
“If we’re to be artisans of faith we need to be weaned away from our addictions to the spectacular and realize instead that simply showing up, day after day, and creating splashes of beauty and grace will eventually bring fruit.” (Page 195)
Part three seems to be a “What now?” section in which Dahlstrom talks about how we can take the things we learned from the first two sections, and apply them while life is happening. One thing that I appreciate about Dahlstrom, is that he is a realist. He doesn’t fall into the trap of cynicism, yet he recognizes that things will not always be ideal. There are chapters that talk about identity, the condition of the soul, condition of surroundings, and change. Dahlstrom draws from his life experience in order to inspire and counsel. It never really feels like a ‘self-help’ book, but sometimes it strays a little in that direction. My favorite part from this section is when he states that in our life painting we should find where the world’s greatest need meets our heart’s desire. This section is an excellent complement to the book, and a strong ending.
Overall: While sometimes feeling like it is straying towards a ‘self-help’ book, Dahlstrom manages to keep the reader engaged and uses well placed stories that show how the primary colors that we use can be applied to life. It is motivating, and Dahlstrom is personal and real with the reader. A strong ending, but not the strongest section of the book. (8/10)
Read this book! I really think that in a world of polarization, Dahlstrom understands that people are yearning for a unity in Christian faith; even if it isn’t easy. The standard that Dahlstrom sets is one of a trajectory towards a life of justice, mercy and intimacy with God; recognizing that the final destination will come when Christ restores the world! He doesn’t toe a party line and instead writes with a conviction that will make both people from the Christian left and right uncomfortable at times. He has an attention to detail that always focuses outwards on the big picture of reconciliation. Finally, Dahlstrom is genuine. I think this, above all, will speak to people who are tired of fake Christians that are telling others how to live. He sure managed to convince me, and I can be as cynical as they come. Dahlstrom, to borrow his metaphor, is truly painting his canvas with the primary colors of God; he lives what he writes. That, friends, is refreshing.
FINAL VERDICT: Strongly Recommend (9/10 overall)
Update: You can purchase Colors of Hope here from Amazon. I strongly recommend the kindle version if you have one (or are thinking about buying one). Save some trees by lowering demand for print copies and get the convenience of instant delivery!