The Hidden Life of Trees | Peter Wohlleben

The cover of Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees

In the woods just north of the house I grew up in lived a massive hemlock, about ten feet off the main trail. During winter the snow would pin its lower branches to the ground. If you tucked the collar of your coat up under your toque, you could sneak through the branches without getting too much snow down your back. Once inside those perimeter branches, you entered a different world. The frigid wind and cold was gone and the snow that made walking so difficult was less than an inch thick. Every time I walked that trail in the winter, I made sure to pause underneath that hemlock.

Trees have always fascinated me which is why I was quick to pick up German forester Peter Wohlleben’s book. The Hidden Life of Trees is interesting reading. Did you know that trees can feed nutrients to the stumps of their fallen comrades, keeping the stump alive for centuries? Did you know that trees communicate with each other, warning their neighbours of pests?

Wohlleben convincing demonstrates that trees are far more complex organisms than we have understood. A fully functioning forest—forests that take five centuries to develop—are perfectly balanced examples of biodiversity.

Unfortunately, Wohlleben’s fascinating information and observations about the forests are mixed with overly anthropomorphic ideas. You get the impression that Wohlleben has spent a little too much time in the woods alone! The Hidden Life of Trees walks the fine line between research and romanticisation, falling too often into the latter.


Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate; Discoveries from a Secret World. Translated by Jane Billinghurst. Vancouver, BC: Greystone Books, 2015.

Dogs and Clocks | Chuck Klosterman

Chuck KlostermanAs a species, the concept of “infinity” might be too much for us. … I suspect the human conception of infinity is akin to a dog’s conception of a clock.

—Chuck Klosterman, But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past (New York: Blue Rider Press, 2006), 104.

Heaven Below | Grant Wacker

The cover of Wacker's Heaven BelowHistory slides quickly into myth and legend.

In 1901, Agnes Ozman received the “baptism with tongues” in Charles Fox Parham’s school in Topeka, Kansas. Parham’s own baptism followed quickly. Two years later Parham took his school on the road to Houston where he taught William J. Seymour. Seymour took the message to California where the new movement exploded in 1906.

In Heaven Below, Grant Wacker tells the story of that first generation of American pentecostals. Since almost every new expression of pentecostalism had its corresponding magazine and mailing list, Wacker mined a mountain of primary material to arrive at his nuanced understanding of the pentecostal movement.

Wacker described his overall thesis in one sentence:

The genius of the pentecostal movement lay in its ability to hold two seemingly incompatible impulses in creative tension. (10)

Wacker shows how through a variety of topics (women, tongues, worship, war, testimony, etc.), pentecostals were able to be both primitivists (people who returned to what they considered the New Testament faith) and pragmatists (people who thrived in the world).

Context always influences research and Wacker is up-front with his. He was raised pentecostal but now identifies more broadly as an evangelical Christian. He confesses, however, that “in many ways my heart never left home” (x). He is neither a dispassionate sceptic nor a fawning hagiographer.

Now, a word about the context of this reviewer. I too was raised as a pentecostal and still identify as one—I pastor a Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada church. Wacker’s research opened my eyes to the origin of many of the quirks I have encountered over the years.

While reading Heaven Below, I was alternately inspired by my spiritual ancestors who bragged that “the color line has been washed away in the blood,” and disgusted at Parham’s racist insistence that black evangelist William Seymour sit outside the school by the open window so he could get the teaching without mixing his race with the whites inside. The same feelings held true with many other issues: women in ministry, poverty v. wealth, and pacifism v. war to name a few.

That God did something world-shattering in the early pentecostal movement is beyond question—its effects are still resonating throughout the entire word. I hope pentecostals of our day can take inspiration from our mothers and fathers in the faith while at the same time repudiating the errors that have become clear with the benefit of hindsight.


Wacker, Grant. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Perfecting Creation | Colin E. Gunton

Colin E. GuntonGod the Father perfects his creation in and through time, through his Son and Spirit enabling particular acts, events and things, from bits of pottery to noble and self-giving actions, to be themselves, and thus to be particular anticipations of the final perfecting of all things.

—Colin E. Gunton, The Christian Faith: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2002), 119.

Fire from Heaven | Harvey Cox

The cover of Cox's Fire from HeavenFire from Heaven is one massive mea culpa! In 1965 Harvey Cox released The Secular City where he presupposed the arrival of a post-religious age. In the preface to Fire from Heaven, Cox acknowledged that now it is “secularity, not spirituality, that may be headed for extinction” (xv). The growth of worldwide pentecostalism is a major factor in this flip-flop of opinion.

For Cox, pentecostalism represents an outbreak of primal spirituality that had been repressed by the formalism of religion. Through the recovery of primal speech (glossolalia), primal piety (signs and wonders), and primal hope (endtime eschatology), pentecostalism has proven to be the form in which humanity’s latent spiritual desires took shape.

As a container for primal spirituality, pentecostalism is exceedingly adaptable. Cox shows how pentecostalism welcomes liberation theology in Latin America, shamanism in Korea, and even tribal healing practices in Zimbabwe. Far from being an achilles heel, Cox understands this tendency toward religious syncretism as pentecostalism’s great strength.

Fire from Heaven is part spiritual autobiography and part history. Cox’s willingness to pen his own thoughts adds a sense of genuineness to the story. This same autobiographical sense also colors his interpretation. In the chapter “Music Brought Me to Jesus,” Cox developed an extended analogy between jazz music and pentecostalism (Cox is a jazz saxophonist). While some of the points are fitting, there are a couple major flaws with this argument. First, the actual music of pentecostalism has always tended toward simple folk, roots, and rock styles. More importantly, jazz is highly a sophisticated form of music—an ethos in direct contradiction with pentecostalism’s underprivileged roots.

Another obvious flaw in Cox’s book is the way he only criticized North American pentecostalism. His examples deserved the criticism he delivered, but surely a more unbiased view might find reason to critique other expressions of pentecostalism outside the author’s continent.

Cox has delivered a highly readable interesting analysis of global pentecostalism. His central thesis, that pentecostalism is the vehicle for an outburst of primal spirituality, is thought provoking and could very well be true. Time will tell whether his conclusions in Fire from Heaven weather better than Secular City.


Cox, Harvey. Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-first Century. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1995.

The Prophethood of All Believers | Roger Stronstad

The cover of Stronstad's The Prophethood of All BelieversThe genre and theology of Luke-Acts is fundamentally different from the other three gospels. Luke-Acts is “the only self-consciously written, self-designated historical narrative in the New Testament” (4). As such, it must be read on its own terms.

In The Prophethood of All Believers, Stronstad focuses in on the unique viewpoint of Luke-Acts. He demonstrates that Luke uses a host of literary devices to point to the fact that the entire eschatological Christian community is made up of prophets. Prophethood for Stronstad is not limited to Spirit-inspired speech, but goes beyond to word and deed. Just as Jesus was anointed as a prophet, powerful in word and deed, the disciples are anointed by the same Spirit to do and witness to what Jesus did.

One of Stronstad’s fundamental views is that Spirit-baptism in Luke-Acts is not salvific, but empowering. This is a long-standing Pentecostal/Charismatic distinction that comes into clarity when Luke-Acts is taken on its own terms.

The majority of Stronstad’s slim volume is taken up with a close exegesis of Luke-Acts. The most inspiring (and controversial) part comes in the last three pages where Strongstad offers a brief contemporary reflection. He lambastes the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement for usurping mission with personal experience:

This shift in focus from vocation to personal experince, from being world-centered to self-centered, renders the service of the Pentecostal, charismatic movement just about as impotent as the service of the contemporary non-Pentecostal, non-charismatic church. This focus on experience rather than on service is like selling one’s birthright of Spirit-empowered service for the pottage of self-seeking experience and blessing. (121)

Stronstad closes with the desire that the entire church, Pentecostal/Charismatic and beyond, would recapture the world-changing doctrine of the prophethood of all believers.


Stronstad, Roger The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology. Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2010.

Christian Salvation | Amos Yong

Amos YongChristian salvation includes both the transformation of human beings into the image of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit and the transformation of all creation into the new heavens and new earth by the triune God.

—Amos Yong in Mark J. Cartledge, The Mediation of the Spirit: Interventions in Practical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 152.