Disclaimer – I used to work for IVP, who published this little book, and they sent me a review copy. I hope neither of those facts cloud my review.
A long time, almost ten years, ago, I met the author of this book – Peter was a welcoming presence at University in Nottingham, despite having travelled from his native Northern Ireland to the mainland. When I first met him, he struck me as someone thoughtful, perhaps with a book in him, though I couldn’t have guessed what that book would be about. I was delighted, then, to recently receive a review copy of ‘Travel: In Tandem with God’s Heart’, by the very same Peter Grier. This is a book that seeks to do something that no other book I’m aware of has done to date – to positively and prayerfully engage with the idea of ‘travelling’ from a Christian perspective. Part biblical theology, part personal reflection, Travel is a fascinating first book.
As a voracious reader, it takes quite a bit to surprise me with genuinely new way of writing, or, as regards Christian books, a topic that I hadn’t thought Christian-ly about before. Travel, then, is a book that I hadn’t thought would exist, but am really glad it does. Peter has written a readable book, that, like a good travel story, draws the reader along for a journey. This is a book that takes our culture’s dreams and aspirations about travel seriously: “dreaming… nearly as freeing as being there itself. Dreams that would go on and on and on, until they were fulfilled…“. Along they way, peppered with personal anecdote, biblical and theological reflection (some of it genuinely novel and helpful) we are challenged about some of our cultural assumptions, the way we read the Bible, and the way that our faith is lived out. This is definitely a book that offers a distinctly Christian perspective on the whole concept of travel and travelling – from short city breaks to multi-year odysseys – but it is also a book for people who, like me, enjoy travelling but wouldn’t see it as a key part of what we like to do.
This, then, is why I would recommend this book so widely. It is definitely for those of us struck with wanderlust and wanting to reflect in a Christian, Jesus-shaped and bible-informed way on that. But it is also a powerful toolkit for thinking about how we can take part in the mission of God where we are, wherever we are. The reflection on hospitality that is a key thread in this book makes it well worth the price of admission. So, too, the profound and practical writing on topics as diverse as cross-cultural mission, creation and science, and how to have meaningful conversations with people from a myriad of backgrounds. For example, Peter’s explanation about what it means that we are ‘encultured’:
“You see, we all come from a culture. And none of us can ever shake that culture off. No matter how much travel we do, how many countries we live in, and however smug we may feel compared with those (supposedly) backward people who are still living at home with their parents, we’re still enculturated. Because cultures operate on various value systems that mean that although you can understand each culture, and perhaps analyse it very effectively, it is still impossible to step outside of culture completely, because you’ll still fall somewhere on that value-system scale”
This book makes helpful observations – and almost immediately relates them to practical situations. It is a book that would be useful for it’s most obvious intended audience (Christians going travelling) but also makes for a fresh way of thinking about mission for those of us who live in neighbourhoods where the majority of people don’t know Jesus. In that sense, with its blend of cultural sensitivity and serious biblical theology, it is a great book for people involved in local churches, church planting, and so on. For the travel-minded, the appendices on ethical travel and Ten Tips are also valuable, and thought-provoking.
Ultimately, though, this is a good book because it is focused on and rooted in Christ, and saturated with a passion for Him and His word, the Bible. This is made explicit at one point:
“In the Gospels we find Christ travelling (And refusing to travel) for many reasons:
– He travels to this earth (incarnation)
– He travels to reach people who haven’t heard the good news.
– He travels for religious feasts (John 7:1-10)
– He deliberately travels to controversial places (John 4)
– He travels to escape and rest (Mark 1:35, 3:13, 6:46)
– He sometimes travels to avoid danger, but sometimes into danger.
– He travels towards the cross (Mark 10:32, 33, 38; 11:1, 11, 15, 27; 12:1-12; 14:48-49; John 2:4, 12:4)
– He leaves this earth (ascension)
And I’m sure we could go on. All of the above seem not only very intentional, but also very real and very human”
Travel: In Tandem with God’s Heart is a gem of a book, something genuinely fresh and new in the crowded roster of Christian publishing, connecting the timeless wisdom of Christ and His word to one of the most popular pastimes of (particularly young) people today. As I think about various bits of travel, for various reasons, that I’ll be undertaking in the future, the challenges and prayers in Peter’s book will help and haunt me, reminding me that there is a great deal to do for and with God. I’d heartily recommend this book to you if you like travelling, or if your friends/family are travelling and you’d like to reflect Christianly about that. Beyond that, this book would also make good reading for people wanting to make a difference for Jesus in the places and spaces we find ourselves in on a daily basis. For a sense of why this book is dynamite, I’ll close with some words from Peter’s closing chapters:
“To be sure, trying to achieve a ‘Christian culture’ should not be our goal, so that we can feel comfortable in society. Our goals should primarily be Jesus’ goals for the world. And that might look like being a minority, learning how to engage positively and share good news in a world that is rebelling against Jesus. The quicker we learn not to try and hold on to the percieved ‘Christendom’ of the past in our lands, the more we’ll be able to devote time and energy to shaping the road to come, by being salt and light in every area of the world, including travel.”