“There are things that need to change in me; they just won’t be changed by feeling bad about myself or trying really hard to fix them. That isn’t how wholeness works. The journey of wholeness is not a self-improvement project. It’s a journey of loss, trust, transformation, and eventually hope.” – Whole by Steve Wiens.
Honestly, before reading Wiens’ book, I would have hesitated to read something about “wholeness.” I’ve read about it a lot! It’s almost a buzzword, as is “brokenness,” and “journey,” which together make up the main themes and threads of Whole. Wiens, however, is not your typical writer. He doesn’t waste time defining terms, and while he speaks clearly about the need for a journey, the greatest thing Wiens does through dazzlingly beautiful, almost poetic language, is bring you along with him on the journey, exploring the depths of what it means to be broken and then put back together.
With all the pain and suffering in the world and an ambitious subtitle that promises the restoration of it all, you might expect a weighty book, and it is, though only in the depth is displays. Whole is eminently readable, and throughout my reading I always had a sense of hope, which is clearly a reflection of the author’s hopefulness in Christ. These words perhaps capture the tone of the book best: “I am more convinced than ever that what restores us most fully is the belief that Jesus wants us to be with him, exactly as we are and not as we should be…”
Wiens builds the first part of the book around five questions, both biblical and personal. These questions must be asked as one moves through brokenness and toward wholeness:
Where Are You?
Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
What Are You Seeking?
Where Are You Going?
What Will You Bring?
In his exploration of the questions, Wiens reminds us of the personal, communal, and global dimensions of human sin and our need for the ongoing work of salvation.
The last part of Whole completes the journey, pulling us through exodus and wilderness toward the promised land. Many books tend to trail off at the end, but Whole is the opposite, mirroring the biblical story in building to its final note. To the final chapter, Wiens stays committed to the human struggle, noting astutely that the promised land is not quite what we always expect or want it to be.
“The Promised Land is not a cure-all for everything that has gone wrong previously in our lives. If that were true, the words that God gave to Joshua wouldn’t make any sense. We don’t need to be strong and courageous to drink milk and eat honey all day.”
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Perhaps the best thing about Whole is the storytelling. If you read it, you will be pulled into great stories, sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes funny, always honest. Besides the fantastic personal stories, Wiens also includes a number of imaginative re-tellings of scripture. This may not sound like a big deal, but it really is! His retellings are bold, fresh and sometimes risky. In particular, his retelling of the temptation of Jesus by the devil is stunning. It challenged me to really think about how I have understood that story, and made me reflect on what it meant that Jesus was tempted, and in the end, what it means for Jesus, and all of us, to be human.
Steve Wiens displays all the signs of a master, skillfully weaving story, scripture, and prose to take the reader on a journey upon which every Christian, or rather every person, ought to embark. I cannot recommend Whole enough.
Matthew Brough is the Pastor of Prairie Presbyterian Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, serving initially as Church planter, and then leading through a merger with another congregation. He married Cheryl in 2000 and their daughter, Juliet, came along in 2010. Matthew hosts the Spirituality for Normal People Podcast and is the author of several books, including Let God Be God, Let God Be Present, and the Del Ryder books, a fantasy adventure series for middle grade readers.