The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan

Buchanan, Mark.  The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath.  Nashville, Tenn: W Publishing Group, 2006. 
As Mark Buchanan was venturing through a much needed sabbatical, he came up with the idea that he should write about his experience of seeking and finding rest.  What resulted was a book full of interesting arguments about man's need for rest, rejuvenation, and play.  Few would disagree with Buchanan--man does need rest, rejuvenation, and play.  However, Buchanan takes his argument a step further and twists in the thread of Sabbath.  The Rest of God seeks to encourage readers to rest as well as understand Sabbath a little differently.  

The book opens with an assumption that the reader holds either one of two positions: a legalistic view of Sabbath or no understanding of Sabbath what-so-ever.  From this assumption, Buchanan sets out to move the reader away from either position.  In order to better make his argument, each chapter concludes with a section he calls Liturgy.  He recognizes that the word liturgy comes with images of "robes and candles and prayer books and lectionaries"; however, Buchanan defines liturgy as "gestures by which we honor transcendent reality" (8).  He argues that the low church has its liturgy too, even if it does not look like what we are accustomed to.  Liturgy of the low church is found in its austerity, spontaneity, and informality (8).  "It helps us give concrete expression to deepest convictions" writes Buchanan of liturgy, "It gives us choreography for the things unseen and and allows us to brush heaven among the shades of earth" (8).  

Each chapter is filled with examples and illustrations as well as attempts to tie his points to biblical concepts. But Buchanan did not set out to write a book about burnout, rest, or productivity--he set out to write a book that teaches his readers to restore Sabbath so they will restore their soul.  "The argument of this book," writes Buchanan, "is that we uniquely take up his invitation by keeping Sabbath, both as a day and as an attitude" (18).  Buchanan fell short of this goal. 

While I absolutely agree that we need rest, recreation, and play, Buchanan's biblical foundation of Sabbath is somewhat weak.  Rather than building a foundation of Sabbath by spending some time early in his book dealing with the variety of times we see sabbath practiced in the Old and New Testaments as well as how Jesus dealt with Sabbath, he uses a large number of examples and illustrations about the importance of resting and slowing down.  Instead of breaking down God's instruction on sabbath so we better understand it, we read stories of sleeping cats and busy author/pastors and guys pushing the danger envelope to jump off bridges and feel alive.  The picture painted by Buchanan is that Sabbath is not a thing to be obeyed but a thing to be done so we get something in return--rest.  Rather than a day of Sabbath or an attitude of Sabbath as something to draw us closer to God, it becomes something only to restore us so we can get back to the work of God and our own happiness.  It even seems at times that there is a hint of finding our strength within ourselves and going to a source of rest in order to be recharged rather that finding it all from God.  His idea appears to be that Sabbath is "a command given to save us from ourselves" (115).  So he argues that Sabbath is doing something different than we do on the other six days; only, he does not seem to stress that even while we are doing this different thing,  Sabbath is really about bringing glory to God and seeking God's face in a rest provided only by God. 

Chapter Nine, for example, is a story of Buchanan and a guy named Nathan.  Nathan takes Buchanan swimming where they spend the day jumping of high bridges and cliffs into rapid water. At one point Buchanan feels like he's going to die.  The result is that he feels alive.  He enjoys life. It's a taste of heaven he says.  His argument in this chapter is that play is necessary to life, which few would argue against.  He says that play shows us what it is to have fun. Who would disagree?  Play interrupts our working routine.  Yes.  But then Buchanan says that "Sabbath is for play" (140).  This is extremely challenging if by play he means a joy found in ourselves and our own adventures apart from God.  "Play and Sabbath are joined at the hip," he writes, "and sometimes we rest best when we play hardest.  Whether it's more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten, you can never make up your mind" (142).  But there's a huge glaring problem.  Buchanan writes the entire chapter, all of Chapter Nine, without mention of God.  He makes no connection between Sabbath and the Creator of Sabbath.  Instead, he offers a definition of Sabbath that has no need of God.  With this definition of Sabbath, an atheist could strictly keep Sabbath.  By this understanding, the snow and dirt worshipers of Utah and Colorado are doing a fine job of finding "the rest of God" without God.  This is a problem and it is not a biblical picture of Sabbath. 

I also find it somewhat ironic that during his time of rest and desire to seek Sabbath, the author of other books produced a book on the topic of rest and Sabbath.  This does not seem like much of a sabbatical to seek rest, but instead an opportunity to continue working within his normal routine of authoring books.

On the other hand, had Buchanan written this book apart from his attempts to define Sabbath and his use of Scripture, he could have written a very good secular book on the need for rest in our rest-work cycles.  If it were not for a godless picture of Sabbath presented in its pages, I would have no problem recommending Buchanan's book to work-alcoholics everywhere.

*I have no material connection to this book, financial or otherwise.  However, this book was recommended to me as part of my ordination process.