By far, the most compelling chapters of "It's Really All about God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian" are the Prologue and the Epilogue. In the intro, Selmanovic grabbed my attention and piqued my interest with the story of a Wiccan woman praying for evangelical pastors, a selection from the Sufi poet Rumi, and challenging questions like, "Is a God who favors anyone over anyone else worth worshiping?"
At first, it seems that Selmanovic is preparing to deliver a comprehensive theology of religious pluralism. He states that,
"the presence of the other in all its beauty, fragility, dignity, and need is demanding our answers. If God created all humanity but gave life-giving knowledge - usually referred to as 'revelation' - to only some of humanity, could God in any meaningful sense be though of as the One God and not only as a god?...To say that God has decided to visit all humanity through only one particular religion is a deeply unsatisfying assertion about God." (pg. 9)But even in the prologue, the author quickly moves away from an academic approach and instead invites the reader to ponder his "reflections" (as the subtitle of the book says). He offers many questions, ideas and snippets to challenge the reader to seriously consider his premise: "For religion to recapture human imagination, the theology and practice of finding God in the other will have to move from the outskirts of our religious experience to its center. The heart of a religion that will bless the world is going to beat at its edges." (pg 13)
It is literary images like this last one - "the heart of a religion beating at the edges" - that are, at first easy to read, but jar the reader enough to go back and read them again, wondering about the significance of such an idea. Throughout the book, Selmanovic has the gift of putting into words the back-of-the-mind and deep-in-the-heart intuitions that many believers share, but have a hard time expressing (for one reason or another).
As previously stated, this is not an academic book. The typeface is large and generously spaced, and most pages have text boxes with short selections from the chapter. Most chapters begin with a personal story from the author's childhood or background in Yugoslavia. Initially, I was surprised and bit frustrated to have to read through these anecdotal accounts. I wanted more content and less fluff. But eventually I realized that the writing approach was intended to demonstrate several key points of the book.
First, the author successfully shows that he came as an outsider to Christianity and even religion at all. The stories of his family disowning him because of his faith and literally kicking him out of their home successfully provide a sort of "street credibility" to his later pronouncements about religious life. He can talk about "the other" because he has been "an other" in more ways than one. In a world often filled more with speculation than actual life experiences, I began to appreciate these stories because they made me realize that the author is not only offering a way to live that could be better, but he has actually lived this way for most of his life and now is sharing his experiences.
Second, by including personal stories in each chapter, another key point is subtly underlined again and again: This theology of "finding God in the other" can only be a reality in as much as it comes to life every day in each of us. It cannot be theoretical, it must be experiential. The personal stories of the author are a continual invitation to the reader to realize that my everyday life is also an experience of "finding God in the other," if I choose to live it that way.
Finally, while this book is not a self-proclaimed "emergent" book (published by Jossey-Bass, and not in one of the EV book series; it also sports no endorsements from any of the typical EV leaders), I think it goes as far as any emergent book written thus far in helping to explain what an emerging Christianity must (and does) look like. It is not a book solely considered with a theology of religious pluralism. Instead, the chapters address such topics as "The Secret of the Ordinary" (chp. 2; akin to "Transforming Secular Space" in Gibbs/Bolger), "The Blessing of Atheism" (chp 7; reminiscent of "a/theism" in Rollins), and "God Management Systems" (chp. 3; similar to the "New Kind of Christian" series by Brian McLaren). In short, the book aims to be as comprehensive as its title, attempting to offer a new way to understand how we understand and live with God, engage other people and their religion, and experience spirituality in a postmodern world.